"Cultural rights under pressure", International perspectives on culture, art and society

The conference "Crossroads" brought together more than a hundred professionals from the field of contemporary arts, worldwide. Organized by ProHelvetia and SDC, it aimed at celebrating international artistic collaborations and at taking stock of challenges and best practices.

I moderated the panel entitled: "Cultural rights under pressure – a contemporary arts perspective". The discussion brought together Ms Jumana Al-Yasiri, a Damascus-born, Palestinian Iraqi performing arts specialist, now with the Sundance Institute in New York; M. Folakunle Oshun, an artist and curator from Nigeria who founded the first Lagos Biennale; and Professor Patrice Meyer-Bisch, who tirelessly advocated in favor of cultural rights to be considered as central to human development processes.

The panel unpacked the central assumption according to which cultural rights are central to the development of our open and democratic societies. We heard about current concerns, restrictions and attacks on those cultural rights – but also, about inspiring stories on how artists and artistic engagements contributed to uphold these rights. We talked about artists being both necessary ingredients of open and democratic societies and facilitator/accelerators of the cultural rights of others. We concluded that talking about cultural rights was inseparable from talking about human development in the sense put forward by Nobel price winner Amartya Sen: Poverty is fundamentally about the lack of rights and opportunities to develop one’s full potential and capabilities. If so, what better vehicles than literature, visual arts, music and theatre to help us think, dream. engage, imagine, argue, cry and lough -- and in doing so, be fully... humane.


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