A mnesty International was founded in 1961, to work for the release of ‘prisoners of conscience’ – those imprisoned for the nonviolent expression of their opinions or beliefs.
Since being founded in 1961, Amnesty International has enjoyed active support from artists of all disciplines around the world, including Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Marlene Dumas, Gerhard Richter, Alexander Calder, Rosemarie Trockel, David Hockney, Kiki Smith, Fernando Botero, and Yoko Ono.
And continuing this proud tradition of artistic patronage, this December, Sotheby's Paris will include nine artworks in its Art Contemporain Evening Auction to benefit the organisation. A dramatic line up of names, consisting of Marlene Dumas, Richard Serra, Luc Tuymans, Ai Wei Wei, John Armleder, Michael Craig Martin, Genieve Figgis, Suzan Frecon and Thomas Struth have each contributed an artwork for the auction, offering the chance to acquire a world-class artwork, in aid of a world-class cause.
'Art is the thermometer that measures the degree of freedom granted in a society'
As Titus Eichenberger, the Swiss artist, who came up with the idea for the Sotheby's collaboration explained, 'Art is the thermometer that measures the degree of freedom granted in a society. Dictators know this and therefore are most afraid of artists. Art does not only speak about freedom – but lets us experience freedom through our emotions, through challenging our aesthetic imprints, through creating a fresh perspective on our lives, not only on what there is but also on what could be. Art does not accept restrictions on what we are allowed to think and tell.'
'Art and artists have always supported Amnesty'
Sylvie Brigot, Managing Director, Amnesty International France, and Alexandra Karle, Managing Director, Amnesty International Switzerland talk to Sotheby's about their inaugural collaboration with Sotheby's
How did this collaboration come about?
As the pre-eminent auction house, Sotheby's was our partner of choice. When we first approached Sotheby’s in the summer of 2020 with our idea of an art auction supporting human rights, they were not only interested, but offered instantly to be our partners. They have supported us ever since. We hope that this auction will be the first in a sustained partnership between Amnesty and Sotheby’s in years to come – harnessing the power of art to support, not only human rights, but change for good in our world.
What are Amnesty International's current priorities?
Since, 1961, we have been documenting human rights abuses and violations worldwide, to fight for accountability and justice and campaigning for a world, where human rights can be enjoyed by all. This year we have faced multiple human rights crises simultaneously around the world; the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ongoing war crimes; a resurgent Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its suppression of women and girls; atrocities against civilians in the Ethiopian province of Tigray; Iranian so-called 'security forces' killing children and young people protesting for their rights; and the denied rights to refugees seeking asylum in Europe and elsewhere. And our work will not be done, as our founder Peter Benenson once said, 'until the last prisoner of conscience has been freed, the last torture chamber has been closed, and when the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for all.'
How did you select the artists who are involved?
The artists who have so generously contributed to this art auction, women and men from different countries, are among the most highly regarded contemporary artists in the world. They responded generously to our call for support and have consigned beautiful works of art that represent the best of their art and a strong message of solidarity with Amnesty. For most of them, this is not the first time that they have demonstrated their commitment to Amnesty and to human rights. For all of them Amnesty has always been for art and for artists and the freedom of expression that is the oxygen allowing them to create. And in turn, art and artists have always supported Amnesty.
'The artist's brush, the writer’s pen and the musician’s guitar are insignia of the liberated spirit and are universally recognised as such'
What are your reflections on the artists included in the line up?
It would be invidious to pick out any single artist or work. All represent a disposition: that art helps to create our future. That the effort of creative individuals can promote a new order of understanding in the common mind, an understanding that precedes and prepares for the establishment of new societal conditions and a better, more humane world. They are each fully alive to reality and truthful in their response. They are what poet Marina Tsvetaeyva once called ‘art in the light of conscience’. Art, after all, does not issue from a sense of duty. It is one of the rewards of inner and outer freedom, one of the symptoms of a healthy society, or country. The artist's brush, the writer’s pen and the musician’s guitar are insignia of the liberated spirit and are universally recognised as such, instinctively.
How can we help?
First and foremost, bid on the artworks! We are a worldwide movement of over 10 million people - we are funded by members, supporters, and people like you. We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest, or religion. There are different ways to support us and our work: become an Amnesty member (www.amnesty.fr or www.amnesty.ch), follow us on social media and sign our petitions, take part in our actions or donate. Together we can fight for human rights everywhere. We can stop torture, demand equality for women and girls, and give hope to those facing attacks or imprisonment just because of who they are. Your donation can transform the lives of millions. Every donation you make supports our work across the world – from helping our research teams expose hidden human rights abuses, to funding vital activism and campaigns so that we can challenge human rights abusing Governments and those in power.