Road Trips with Mayonaka: Art for Rights

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This weekend I had the opportunity to check out Amnesty International’s very first Art for Rights event in New Orleans. The event sought to bring awareness about human injustice across the world by presenting 12 murals by 12 artists from around the world. The end goal for Amnesty International was to inspire attendants to write letters to appropriate officials and take action. I don’t even remember how I found out about it. Surely it was via social media, so Mayonaka and I started up early Saturday morning and rolled through.

The event took place over on the corner of Royal and Press St. – near the location where Homer Plessy was arrested in events that lead to the Plessy v. Ferguson case that challenged segregation laws. In the words of Lil Wayne in “Sky is the Limit,” “ain’t got sh*t to do with this, but I just thought that I should mention!”

Anyway, it was open from 10am – 6pm. Usher (ya know, Usher Raymond, AKA Ursher) was expected to attend later in the evening to speak on the need for reform in the justice system. I figured there would be a huge crowd at that time, so I went early to avoid the madness. My 14-year old self would have jumped at the opportunity just to breathe the same air as Usher, but I’m older, wiser, and way less starstruck. There were a lot of people when I got there some time before 11 am, but it seemed like many of those were volunteers and security.

Artwork by Brandan Odoms

Here are some of my favorite pieces from the event:

Artwork by Katie Yamasaki

Teodora del Carmen Vásquez of El Salvador suffered a stillbirth. She basically started to deliver her baby at work, passed out, and awakened to a dead baby. The police arrested her and she was later convicted of homicide for something that was beyond her control. The government of El Salvador generally view miscarriages and stillbirth as abortions/murder, forcing women who sense that they may be having complications with pregnancy to avoid proper medical care. Can you imagine? I know women who have suffered MULTIPLE miscarriages even with the best medical care, and the simple thought of them being imprisoned for something beyond their control is a hard pill to swallow.

Saman Naseem of Iran
Artwork by Jessica Strahan

Saman Naseem of Iran was arrested at age 17 by authorities and tortured until he confessed to the shooting death of a soldier. He was later sentenced to death even though Iranian law forbids the death penalty for individuals who may have committed a crime while under the age of 18. Although his execution was later quashed and a retrial has been granted, the work is not done. It is up to the people to keep the pressure on the Iranian judiciaries to ensure Saman has a fair trial.

Burkina Faso
Artwork by Alexandre Keto

Obviously, I love a painting with eyes that tell a story. This one tells the story of girl victims of forced marriages in Burkina Faso. These preteen girls are forced to marry men who are well-settled into their old age, many of whom already have a handful of wives.

In addition to the 12 murals, there were some other setups, like a life-size solitary confinement room. I’d visited Angola several years ago, so I already knew what it was all about. Some people don’t realize just how small that room is for human beings to spend 23 hours a day. Can you imagine someone living in that space for over 40 years like Albert Woodfox of Louisiana, another case that was highlighted? That’s enough to lose your mind. I’m only 27, and I get mentally drained if I stay in my spacious apartment all Saturday.

The organization provided postcards for each case where attendants could write a letter to officials or to the victims themselves. The postcards alone were pieces of art, with what looked like watercolor images of each case. I took a moment to write a few messages, and I also kept a few postcards for myself (don’t judge me).

I was very impressed with the work that Amnesty International has been doing to fight human injustice all across the world. If you would like to learn more about all 12 cases that were presented at the exhibit, as well as what you can do to help, click here to go to Amnesty International’s page. This was a great event.

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