A selection of themes drawn from images in UNESCO's Human Rights Exhibition and forming a platform for interrogating contemporary visual cultures, histories, and politics of human rights is presented here.
Forensic Images and the Evidence of Humanity
The campaign to abolish the slave trade and slavery itself occupies a special place in contemporary histories of human rights. Starting with the diagrammatic image of the slave ship “Brookes,” one of the modes by which human rights claims have been visualized might properly be called ‘forensic.’ I ask about the rhetoric of the forensic image, about how it might differ from other claims made with images, and about what has become of it today.
Backdrops of Universalism
Departing from the exhibition image visualizing a view of Earth, with Africa in front, and Adam and Eve „in space“ I want to test to which degree the universalist and evolutionary narrative presented in the UNESCO exhibition appears to rest on these two pictures, the figure of humanity against, but also disengaged from, the backdrop of Earth; and interrogate how Nazism figures here as the negative foil and hinge that shaped post-WWII universalisms and world order.
The Nascent Photographic Statement
of Human Rights
Much had been written on the primacy of the principle of state sovereignty in the discourse of human rights that was shaped in the mid forties, and on the textual precedents to the UDHR – from the Atlantic charter (1941) through the UN charter (1942). Only little, if at all, has been written on the conditions under which this universal language was taught, and on the way it shaped the visual photographic statements (énoncés) of human rights. More particularly, little attention has been devoted to what could be seen by citizens in the late forties as violations of human rights and what was - or was not - presented by sovereign states as violation of human rights. In order to open these questions, I suggest going back in time, to the end of the WWII, when the foundation of the
cold war was laid down.