Both activists and artists are concerned about the world and engaged in social matters, but they are not often connected in their thoughts and visions for a better future. The Fine Art of Peacemaking is an encounter between those two fields. For this session we invited the artist Olphaert den Otter and Chechnyan human rights lawyer Oleg Khabibrakhmanov.
We started this evening with the work of Olphaert den Otter. He makes paintings out of photographs from newspapers but makes them more bright and colorful. This attracts the viewers to take a closer look and think about the events in the painting. This is a picture from Guantanamo Bay for example. In the photograph he couldn’t see what kind of flowers were covering the fence, but he decided they had to be passionflowers.
Using paintings of Syrian buildings, he explained the difference between essential beauty and natural beauty. Ruins for example have a natural beauty, made by the law of nature. New shiny buildings with precise proportions possess a form of essential beauty.
This explanation was a good introduction to the topic of Oleg Khabibrakhmanov’s
story, who told us about the beauty of glass-towers, brand new asphalt and mosques with golden domes which now cover up the horror of two wars in Chechnya, which left one-fifth of the population dead.
Oleg is a human rights lawyer, working for an organization against torture. Although the war ended ten years ago, the situation is nothing but peaceful. People who are critical towards Putin or to the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov are often subjected to imprisonment and torture. The audience was wondering whether protest actions, like the ones organized by Pussy Riot in Russia, are also happening in Chechnya. Oleg responded by saying that in Chechnya art is allowed, but not political art. In Russia political artists are brought to court, but in Chechnya, people tend to just disappear, without anyone knowing what happened to them. There is no rule of raw.
It was a very interesting evening with many questions from the audience, both about Olphaert’s work and the message of his art and about Oleg’s fight for human rights in Chechnya. People were especially interested in Oleg’s views of the future. Because of the strong oppression he is very pessimistic about the chances of Chechnyans striving for change. Interestingly, he is in favor of the EU sanctions against the Russian Federation. He said Russia has to swallow a bitter pill, but that it is the only way to make the Russians understand what is happening to other people in their country. We were inspired by his last suggestion that perhaps we could arrange an exchange of artists from his region and other areas in Europe.