Part one of this interview is here
Could you tell us about the recent Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival?
Smashing Times and Front Line Defenders in partnership with Amnesty International, Fighting Words, ICCL, NWCI, & Trócaire recently implemented the 2020 Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival to showcase and highlight the extraordinary work of human rights defenders in Ireland and around the world, past and present, and the role of the arts and artists in promoting human rights today.
In a time of lock-down and physical distancing, Smashing Times moved the festival online and created a dedicated virtual space to share, celebrate, remember and promote the arts for human rights. This year’s festival ran from the 16 to the 25 October and was viewed by thousands of citizens from across Ireland, Europe and beyond and brought together (online) artists, activists and communities to celebrate human rights and equality for all. Creative partners included John Scott Dance, Poetry Ireland, dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum, TheatreMaker.ie, Art Nomads and Trinity College Dublin.
Tell us about how the festival started?
Prior to 2018, Frontline Defenders had been implementing an annual human rights festival in Dublin and in 2018 Smashing Times approached them to see if we could get involved with a view to Smashing Times adding in an arts element. Through a process of collaboration Smashing Times and Frontline then decided to partner and combine the arts and human rights into one main festival which we called the Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival.
Arising out of this we ran the first Arts and Human Rights festival from the 19 to the 29 September 2019 in a range of venues across Dublin including the Samuel Beckett Theatre and Science Gallery, both at Trinity College Dublin, the dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum, Buswells Hotel, Dance House, EU House, Poetry Ireland, National Library of Ireland and Dublin Castle. The festival was a huge success and was very well received.
Our initial contact with Frontline Defenders came about in 2018 when Smashing Times welcomed Mary Lawlor onto the company board. Mary had founded Front Line Defenders in 2001 and she worked with the organisation as Executive Director until her retirement in 2016. Frontline is an International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and supports human rights defenders at risk throughout the world. Mary is a former director and chair of amnesty International Ireland and is currently the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
A key aim of the Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival is to bring artists and human rights organisations together and to join with our audiences to celebrate and explore the arts and human rights. The theme of this year’s festival was Voices of Hope, Courage and Resilience and each of the partners worked with artists and activists and selected a range of topics or issues to highlight and present on.
The arts are an ideal medium for promoting human rights and can offer a space to enable discussion around issues that otherwise might not be easily spoken about. The arts can raise awareness and enable alternative narratives to be told. In this year’s festival we presented over thirty events online, looking at a range of themes including climate change, Black Lives Matter, disability rights, Covid 19, Palestine, women’s rights, positive mental health and well-being, Traveller rights, artists against Fascism and more.
You have moved the festival online as a response to the pandemic?
It has been an immensely difficult time for artists. Because of health and safety concerns, the festival partners made a decision early on to move the festival online. The move to working online was not completely new to Smashing Times as we had already begun working with digital technologies and in film prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Smashing Times works extensively across Europe and internationally and we were very aware of the various technologies that are available. My own back ground is in both theatre and film, I have a degree in theatre and an MA in Film production. Smashing Times initially worked primarily in theatre and the performing arts however since 2015 the company has engaged in film and documentary work and more recently in digital arts practice. For example in 2016 we worked with a film crew for over one year to produce an hour-long television documentary Stories from the Shadows, highlighting the work of Smashing Times as we worked in Northern Ireland using the arts to promote peacebuilding and reconciliation. Prior to the pandemic I had worked on a number of films including Courageous Women inspired by women’s stories from the decade of commemorations.
In 2018 we received a grant from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to establish the Smashing Times online centre for the Arts and Equality and we were in the process of setting up an online digital hub to brings artists and human rights people together, so we had already started to move into the area of producing work digitally. One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that it has pushed artists to move towards producing work online. I find the work exciting and it has a lot of potential. Having said that, in Smashing Times we equally want to return to live performance and having face-to-face connections with our audiences, as that is part of what makes theatre so engaging. The emotions and feelings that emerge when theatre is performed live cannot be replaced by online material. Creating those magical connections that happen in a live performance space is an essential part of what we do. Going forward, I think we will look at how to facilitate both ways of working, creating and presenting work in the live space and online.
Our online experience has been interesting. All our meetings have moved online and we are certainly meeting new people because of this, we are rehearsing online and all the festival activities happened online in different ways, some were pre-recorded, some were presented live, some were livestreamed through different mediums and we have now created an online visual art exhibition space. Working online has helped to increase our reach and for this year’s festival we held a joint event with an arts and human rights festival in Serbia, in partnership with Dah Theatre from Belgrade and we planning to expand on this for next year and to link with other arts and human rights festivals globally.
There is a cost to working online particularly for hosting or streaming your own events and working with digital technology experts can be expensive. I believe however that the new links we have made with web developers and other technology experts are positive and have exciting potential for the future. Having said all that, I am very conscious of the impact on so many artists with the loss of live performance and hopefully performing live will continue again in the future, when the time is appropriate.
Is there any event in particular from the festival that want to draw attention to?
For this year’s festival we presented a diverse range of artistic events and panel discussions. The theme of this year’s festival was Courage, Hope and Resilience and given what is happening to the world today I think we will need all those elements – courage, hope and resilience – to get us through the times ahead. The festival explored the experiences of artists who stood up against tyranny and Fascism during the Spanish Civil War and WWII to the work of artists who are using their artistic practice to promote human rights today as well as highlighting the stories and experiences of human rights defenders working in different contexts. A number of the events are still available online.
The partners presented a number of powerful events including Women in their Place, a film screening hosted by Trócaire about women in Honduras defending their communities and environment from abuse by big business and Women and Racism, a webinar hosted by the national Women’s Council of Ireland, Akidwa and the National Traveller Women’s Forum.
Fáilte Amnesty was an interview hosted by Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty International Ireland, with Miko Czerwinski, an LGBTI activist working at the frontline with Amnesty in Poland where hate fuelled laws and propaganda against LGBTI people continue to lead to violence, harassment and intimidation.
A special event was the Irish Women UN Special Rapporteurs interview hosted by Frontline Defenders. This event featured interviews with three Irish Women who are advancing human rights on the world stage as United Nations Special Rapporteurs. The three women interviewed were Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Professor Siobhán Mullally, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children and Professor Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
For this year’s festival, Smashing Times presented a number of events, some of which can still be viewed online.
Emotional Landscapes is a multi-disciplinary virtual Art Exhibition featuring visual art works, poetry, film, music, text and discussion. The exhibition was inspired by an artistic response to peace, health and well-being alongside influences of the pandemic and themes of health and happiness and time and space in a changing landscape. Emotional Landscapes is made up of work by six artists including two artists from Northern Ireland – Noelle McAlinden who is a visual artist, creative advisor and mental health campaigner and Fiona Bawn Thompson, a writer, actor and choreographer. I created a poem film called In Time which is featured as part of Emotional Landscapes and is performed by Carla Ryan and Kwasie Boyce with original music composed and performed on violin by Lisa McLoughlin-Gnemmi. I wrote the poem after experiencing a serious form of Covid-19 and as I am still trying to recover from the illness, it is a reflection on hope and courage for the future.
Smashing Times presented a virtual art exhibition titled EU 1979: A People’s Parliament and this online exhibition remembers the first 1979 European parliamentary elections through a celebration of the stories and names of the 67 powerful women MEP’s elected at that time. The exhibition features the biographies of all 67 women and a series of articles on the EU and democracy as well as a series of artworks created by artists from Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany and France created in response to the women’s stories.
One of the stories is that of Simone Veil. She was a French lawyer, politician and Holocaust survivor. She had been interned in Auschwitz concentration camp and her mother, father and brother died in the camps. Simone and her two sisters survived and Simone went on to become a famous French politician who advocated for the rights of women, children and prisoners. She became the first president of the European parliament which was elected by universal suffrage across Europe.
Another event was Artists Against Fascism. We screened a new film Humanity in the Ruins based on imagined moments from the lives of artists who stood up for the rights of others during the Spanish Civil War and WWII and whose worlds were impacted by Fascism, war and hatred. Artists whose stories inspired the film are the Spanish poet, playwright and theatre director Federico García Lorca, the German war photographer Gerda Taro and the Spanish photographer Francisco Boix, the Irish poet Charlie Donnelly and Irish choreographer and dance impressario Margaret Kelly and the German visual artist Kathe Kollwitz. I wrote a number of scenes for the film. The film also features an original dance performance called The Shaman Lament created by John Scott, a choreographer and Artistic Director of Irish Modern Dance Theatre and we had original poetry This Sleeping Heart by young writer Féilim James as well as my own piece On the Ledge of Courage. I was delighted to have an original song by Elkin – the wonderful Carla Ryan and Ellen O’Mahoney – which was composed especially for the film.
What information do people need to access the events from the festival that are still available online?
Below are links to a number of events from the festival that are still available online.As part of the festival we ran an Artist professional development programme for all the artists involved to bring them all together to build a partnership regarding arts and human rights going forward after the festival. If artists are interested in becoming involved in an Artists Professional Development programme for the Arts and Human Rights please get in touch by emailing Ciara at email@example.com
In addition, Smashing Times run an international Arts and Human Rights network which is open to artists, activists, organisations, individuals and all those who are interested in the arts and human rights and if you want to join see the link here: http://smashingtimes.ie/centrefortheartsandhumanrights/membership/
2020 Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival
Link to Emotional Landscapes Exhibition – https://exhibition.smashingtimes.ie/emotional-landscapes/
Link to In Time – a poem film by Mary Moynihan which features in the Emotional Landscapes Exhibition – https://exhibition.smashingtimes.ie/emotional-landscapes/in-time/
Link to the Emotional Landscapes Panel discussion which features in the exhibition – https://exhibition.smashingtimes.ie/emotional-landscapes/in-time/ (bottom of the page).
Link to EU 1979: A People’s Parliament Virtual Art Exhibition: https://exhibition.smashingtimes.ie/eu-1979-a-peoples-parliament/
Link to How We Remember War Panel Discussion: https://youtu.be/KQ21kRKC53M
Link to Poetry of Witness Readings: https://youtu.be/nnnUEeR-MYg