Tonight I will present the first Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF) Awards, at 'Arts for Human Rights,' the first Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Benefit Gala. These Awards honor two inspiring figures, and their outstanding contribution to human rights, social justice, and protection of the environment.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, a courageous advocate of human rights and individual freedoms, will receive the 'Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Courage,' in recognition of his heroic dedication to free speech and democratic principles.
We will present the 'Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Leadership' to Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, in recognition of his leadership of the Surui people in their struggle to defend their ancestral land in the Brazilian Amazon.
'Arts for Human Rights' was inspired by Ai Weiwei. Earlier this year, when he was unjustly detained by the Chinese authorities, the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation began campaigning for his release, and created a petition appealing to the Chinese government and to Premier Hu Jintao to end his incarceration.
I was inspired by Ai Weiwei's valiant stand for freedom of speech, and decided to organize the first Bianca Jagger Human Rights Benefit Gala, bringing together my two great passions: human rights and the arts. The aim of 'Arts for Human Rights' is to celebrate and highlight the invaluable role that artists have played in standing up for democratic principles, in defense of human rights, civil liberties and freedom of expression. Throughout history artists have recorded and denounced the abuses and horrors of their time, from the graphic depiction of war atrocities in Francisco Goya's Disasters of War, to Picasso's forceful reminder of the unprovoked attack on an undefended town 'Guernica' to Andy Warhol's haunting image of the empty Electric Chair. Today, artists around the world continue to defend these values.
We are holding an art auction at 'Arts for Human Rights,' to raise funds to continue the foundation's work. Many of the world's renowned artists have agreed to join the committee and to donate works to the auction including: Anselm Kiefer, Antony Gormley, Alex Katz, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn, Yoko Ono, Not Vital, Jason Martin, Sylvie Fleury, Jules Ruyter, Raqib Shaw, Terrence Koh, Mustafa Halusi, Marc Brandenburg, Martin Creed, Ross Bleckner, Francesco Clemente, Ghazel and Francesco Vezzoli. I am so grateful for their generosity. Our work can only continue with the help of friends like these, who share our vision of a fair and just world.
The catalog can be viewed here.
The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Awards
Ai Weiwei and Chief Almir have both shown extraordinary integrity and a profound commitment to their principles: sometimes in the face of threats and oppression, often at grave personal risk to themselves. They are champions of social justice. I would like to take this opportunity to describe their remarkable contributions to the world.
The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Courage: Ai Weiwei
As Chair of the BJHRF I respectfully urge Chinese President Hu Jintao to lift Ai Weiwei's bail conditions, to give him his unconditional freedom, and to allow him to travel to London to collect his Award for Courage. Please join us in our appeal to the Chinese Government to lift Ai Weiwei's arbitrary bail conditions, and ensure his unconditional freedom.
Ai Weiwei is on the 2011 TIME 100 poll of the most influential people in the world. TIME cites the 'compassion' he has shown for his fellow citizens, and how he has 'spoken out for victims of government abuses, calling for political reforms to better serve the people. It is very sad,' TIME said in their profile of Ai Weiwei, 'that the Chinese Government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens.'
Ai Weiwei was detained by the Chinese authorities on 3rd April 2011 as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong. His wife, friends and staff were also held and questioned. Police searched his Beijing studio, confiscated his computer hard-drives and later made allegations of "economic crimes." His unjust incarceration lasted 81 days.
The US, EU, UK, Germany, France, Australia, and many other countries publicly called for Ai Weiwei to be released, as well as many leading figures in the art world. The artist has been an outspoken critic of the government. He was placed under house arrest in November of last year, after resisting the demolition of his studio in Shanghai by the authorities. In 2009 he was hospitalised after being beaten by police for attending a fellow human rights campaigner's trial.
Ai Weiwei was released on 22nd of June 2011. However, he is not free yet. 'They can make me disappear,' he said in an interview from his studio in China in September. 'I have no protection, no lawyer. So I have to be careful... because I may lose my life. I don't think there is any form of law (that) can protect me.'
I am extremely concerned about his future.
Ai Weiwei is subject to bail conditions which entail serious restrictions to his freedom of speech and movement. He is confined to the house between 8 pm and 10 am, and prohibited from leaving Beijing for one year. There are suggestions that his communications, internet access and use of social media are being tightly controlled. According to Jerome Cohen, adjunct senior fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ai has "lost his freedom of speech" for at least a year.'
Ai Weiwei's arbitrary detention and the continued imposition of arbitrary bail conditions are in contravention of his right to freedom, and to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 and Article 9, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which China is a signatory.
A new, disturbing proposed amendment to China's Criminal Procedure Code would 'boost secret detention powers,' allowing "Those suspected of committing state security crimes, terrorist crimes and major bribery crimes" to be held at locations outside usual detention centers, and in state security and other sensitive cases, police do not have to tell the families "if notification could hinder investigations."
Ai Weiwei's wife, Lu Qing, wrote a letter to the legislative working committee of the National People's Congress, asking that they "reject draft legislation that would cement in law police powers to hold dissidents in secret locations without telling their families... If the above measures are passed,' writes Lu Qing, 'it will be a regression for China's legal system, the deterioration of human rights, and will be a hindrance to the progress of our civilization.'
Ai Weiwei is perhaps best known for his collaboration with architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron on the design for the Olympic Bird's Nest stadium. His 100 million Sunflower Seeds exhibit at the Tate Modern in London was a resounding success. Adrian Searle writes, in the Guardian: 'It is audacious, subtle, unexpected but inevitable. It is a work of great simplicity and complexity. Sunflower Seeds refers to everyday life, to hunger (the seeds were a reliable staple during the Cultural Revolution), to collective work, and to an enduring Chinese industry... Ai is the best artist to have appeared since the Cultural Revolution in China.' A retrospective of Ai Weiwei's work will be shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum from October 15 2011 to March 18 2012.
Ai Weiwei's life and work are emblematic of the values we are honoring at 'Arts for Human Rights,' the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Benefit Gala. Ai Weiwei is a hero for free speech and his art could be a symbol of China's growing leadership in the world, but the Chinese authorities have chosen instead to try to erase him from the national and cultural memory.
We must continue to stand with Ai Weiwei, and all those who have been unjustly, or secretly detained in China.
Help us in our appeal to Premier Hu Jintao to lift the arbitrary bail conditions and obtain unconditional freedom for Ai Weiwei. Please sign the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation's petition urging the Chinese government to step up, demonstrate its leadership on the global stage and stop the persecution of political critics. If enough of us take action now, we can make sure that Chinese voices of freedom are not silent forever.
The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Leadership: - Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui
Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, Chief of the Gamebey Clan of the Suruí People of Rondônia in Brazil, will be presented with the 'Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Award for Leadership' in recognition of his visionary leadership of the Surui people, and his courageous struggle in defense of their ancestral land in the Amazon.
The BJHRF recognises and honours Chief Almir's commitment to the protection of the environment, and to the survival of his people.
Chief Almir is a pioneer, who has led the Surui with great wisdom and courage. In 2009 he forged a relationship with Google, who provided the Surui with smartphones, from which photos and videos are geo-tagged, and immediately uploaded to Google Earth. The tribe used the phones not only to create a cultural history, with stories from the tribe's elders on YouTube, but to record environmental abuses and illegal logging on their land, to show the world what was happening to its most precious resource.
Chief Almir is a hero: faced with death threats from illegal loggers who want to plunder the Surui forests, from proponents of the mega-dam project that threatens huge tracts of the Amazon across Brazil, he refuses to back down. 'There's a price on my head,' says Chief Almir, 'somewhere in the forest, someone is planning an ambush.'
Undeterred by the threats, Chief Almir maintains that the Surui are the best custodians of their land. As Joshua Hammer writes, in his in depth feature on Chief Almir in Smithsonian Magazine, 'The stakes are high. If indigenous peoples disappear, environmentalists say, the Amazon rain forest will likely vanish as well... "The fate of indigenous cultures and that of the rain forest are intricately intertwined," says Dr Mark Plotkin, founding director of Amazon Conservation Team "...Without the rain forest, these traditional cultures cannot survive... At the same time, indigenous peoples have repeatedly been shown to be the most effective guardians of the rain forests they inhabit."'
'Illegal deforestation -- carried out by loggers, ranchers, miners and intruders on indigenous territories,' says Chief Almir, 'destroys the forest trees, kills birds by destroying their nests, kills animals that live off the fruits that grow there, and threatens indigenous peoples that live in forests and depend upon them. My people, the Surui Paiter, are living proof of what I say. We have long suffered the wrongful acts of loggers that steal our forests and threaten to kill our leaders.'
Chief Almir is a beacon of hope in an otherwise seemingly bleak future for the indigenous and tribal peoples of Brazil. As his colleague Vasco van Roosmalen says, 'Without Almir, his work and leaders like him, the Surui would probably have joined tribes like the Ariquemes and disappeared into the vacuum of Rondônia history... One has to remember what stakes these people are facing. It is not one of poverty versus riches, but survival in the face of annihilation.'
Chief Almir and Ai Weiwei have in common their unflinching courage, their innovativeness and creativity. In the face of oppression, incarceration and threats, they have made significant contributions to the well being of their people, and to their countries. Today, when most young people have lost faith in politicians and big business, it is my hope that people like Ai Weiwei and Chief Almir can lead the way, and usher in a new era, with new role models, to lead the way in raising awareness, to stand up for human rights.
I am honored that the first Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation Awards will be accepted, tonight, by two such admirable and inspiring figures -- Ai Weiwei and Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui. They are dauntless, upstanding protectors of human rights and the environment; they deserve our support, and gratitude.
Join the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation fan page on Facebook.
Every Friday, HuffPost's Culture Shift newsletter helps you figure out which books you should read, art you should check out, movies you should watch and music should listen to. Learn more