A NEW WORLD IMAGE
- Exhibiting Human Rights, 1949 and Today
HUMAN RIGHTS are the utopia of our time. They are the lens through which we understand injustice and imagine a better world. But where do human rights come from and how did they consume our moral consciousness?
‘A New World Image’ interrogates these questions in a re-display of the world’s first Human Rights Exhibition, organized by UNESCO in 1949. The exhibition traveled the world with the purpose of disseminating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN the prior year. The current re-display provides unique insights into how the Declaration was first understood and propagated at its inception.
The original traveling exhibition’s 110 images with accompanying photographs and archival documents tell the story of the first attempt to persuade the world of the universality of human rights. In its effort to infuse the abstract Declaration with concrete historical content, the 1949 exhibition constructed a utopian narrative in which human rights were the outcome of humanity’s progress. It thus sought to paint an image of a better world than the one World War II had left behind in which Europe’s self-perception as the center of universal values was shattered.
Denmark submitted numerous images and documents to the 1949 exhibition. In contrast to this historical material, two contemporary photo series depict human rights in Denmark today. The series are selected from a competition organized by the Danish Institute for Human Rights. While Denmark’s contributions to the exhibition from 1949 focused on welfare and the nation-state as the guarantor of rights, the contemporary images thematize globalization and exclusion, through the depiction of refugees and homeless people. This contrast represents a changed understanding in the meaning of Human Rights, and challenges the contemporary conceit that Human Rights are self-evident and universal.