HRF believes that art can provide space for the marginalized to be seen and heard, and that it contributes to social change by expressing alternative viewpoints and raising awareness.
ANGELS & DEMONS was the first event in the Human Rights Foundation’s Art in Protest series. Curated by HRF's chief international curator, Holly Baxter and produced by the artist’s representative, Adam D’Arcy.
Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is a Cuban graffiti artist and activist whose public work has subjected him to ongoing repression and imprisonment at the hands of the Castro dictatorship. He has been detained numerous times for his protest art. Upon Fidel Castro’s death in 2016, El Sexto spray-painted the phrase “Se fue” (“He’s gone”) on the wall of the Hotel Habana Libre. The artist was arrested and spent 55 days in prison. In July 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention deemed his imprisonment arbitrary following a petition filed by HRF. El Sexto has since presented his artwork in Miami and San Francisco.
Angels & Demons featured a performance by El Sexto as he entered a replicated version of his prison cell at Combinado del Este. As a message of solidarity with the people of Cuba, as well as other political prisoners around the World, including Chinese, Russian, Turkish, and Venezuelan political prisoners, El Sexto entered the cell during opening night and remained there for three days on hunger strike, consuming only water. Guests to the exhibit were able to view El Sexto through the bars of the door as he lived and created another round of drawings. El Sexto wished to raise awareness and give thanks to the sacrifice made by other brave individuals, such as Liu Xiaobo, the only imprisoned Chinese Nobel Laureate, and Leopoldo Lopez-- the imprisoned leader of Venezuela's democratic opposition.
Shamsia Hassani is an Afghan street artist and a fine arts lecturer at Kabul University who graffitis over war-torn areas with messages of peace. Graffiti is often viewed as a controversial art form in Afghanistan, so Hassani has developed a process of superimposing her graffiti over photographs of Kabul. Known as the “first female graffiti artist in Afghanistan,” Hassani often depicts images of powerful and ambitious Afghan women in a male-dominated society, and her work has inspired thousands of female artists around the world.
Song Byeok is a former North Korean propaganda artist who creates acrylic pieces that satirize oppressive regimes worldwide. At age 24, Song Byeok was selected to become an official propaganda artist for the Kim Jong Il regime in North Korea. However, he was tortured by the government after he attempted to cross into China to find food and ultimately lost his family to North Korea’s infamous 1990s famine. In 2001, Song successfully escaped to South Korea, and today he paints using a distinct faux-propaganda style that mocks the Hermit Kingdom and other authoritarian states.
Rodrigo Figueredo is an Italian-Venezuelan artist who gained international recognition for his 2014 work “Batalla,” a piece that depicts student protests in Venezuela. Figueredo continues to portray the injustices committed by the Maduro regime and is considered a wanted “militant artist” by the Venezuelan government for his work and influence on social media.