Artist Mery Godigna Collet poses with panels from her piece, Pure Energy. Photo by Steph Swope.
Mery Godigna Collet poses with panels from her piece, Pure Energy. Photo by Steph Swope.

Working Group: Human Rights & the Arts

The Human Rights & the Arts working group maintains that literature, music, theatre, dance, and the visual arts hold an integral role in expressing the need for social and political change, in fostering education on social injustice, and in building more just and equitable societies. The working group supports the role of the arts in social justice advocacy through sponsoring performance events and film series, fostering interdisciplinary dialogue at the university, encouraging student research on this topic, and conducting outreach in the community. Made up of faculty and students from diverse departments such as Theatre & Dance, Ethnomusicology, History, Social Work, Art History, Business, and Law, the working group allows faculty and students to integrate the arts into their teaching, research, and advocacy work.

Though the Human Rights & the Arts working group was established in 2010, the Rapoport Center has long advocated the importance of the arts in creating a dialogue around human rights issues. Thanks to the creation of the working group, this commitment to the incorporation of literature, music, theatre, dance, and the visual arts in human rights work is now institutionalized.

Please see below for some of our previous programming.

luis carcamo-huechante
Professor Luis Cárcamo-Huechante

If you are interested in becoming involved with this working group, please email Professor Paul Bonin Rodriguez.

“Film, literature, and the arts are media that enable people to talk about human rights…Thanks to the ambivalence of aesthetic language, artworks are always open to interpretations and, in this way, they offer a democratic, flexible manner to set a conversation in motion.”

– Professor Luis Cárcamo-Huechante (Spanish & Portuguese), former head of the Human Rights & the Arts working group

Film Series

The Human Rights & the Arts working group’s inaugural event consisted of a screening and discussion of Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman’s documentary, Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light). The documentary follows several Chilean women in their quest for relatives who were disappeared during Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian regime (1973-1990). After the screening, Professors Luis Cárcamo-Huechante (Spanish & Portuguese) and Zipporah Wiseman (Law) spoke about the representation of human rights in the film.

Rapoport Center co-director Dan Brinks led a discussion on human rights following a screening of Tropa de Elite (The Elite Squad), directed by José Padilha. The film follows several new members of the BOPE (Special Police Operation Battalion) in their struggle to clear a Rio de Janeiro slum of drug dealers in order for the Pope to safely stay in a nearby hotel during his visit to Brazil. The corruption and incompetence of the BOPE quickly causes the protagonists to become disillusioned with their work. The viewer, in identifying with the struggle of the protagonist to remain true to his principles, must consider the price a society is willing to pay for order.


ricardo dominguez
Ricardo Dominguez

University of California San Diego associate professor Ricardo Dominguez’s work was the subject of the inaugural workshop held by the Human Rights & the Arts working group in the spring of 2012. Dominguez is co-founder of The Electronic Disturbance Theater, a group who developed virtual sit-in technologies in 1998 in solidarity with the Zapatista movement in Southern Mexico. Currently, he is at work on a “Transborder Immigrant Tool,” a GPS-enabled cell phone that facilitates the dangerous desert border crossing between the U.S. and Mexico by guiding migrants to safe routes, to water, and to sympathetic groups while avoiding the border patrol and civilian militias.

Adriana Corral
Adriana Corral

The Working Group hosted a second workshop in January 2013 featuring the work of Adriana Corral, a UT MFA student, which focuses on the femicides in Ciudad Juárez. A preview of her exhibition at Austin’s Mexic-Arte museum can be found here.


For most of 2012, the Rapoport Center doubled as an art gallery for Venezuelan artist Mery Godigna Collet’s Extra Virgin Petrus Oil. The exhibit, composed of three pieces titled Pure Energy, Sweet Oil, and MV Solar I, serves to highlight our intricate relationship to petroleum through the medium of the oil itself. Though oil is the primary material, Godigna Collet also uses patches of sugar cane fiber to represent the emergence of ethanol as an energy source. Karen Engle, co-director of the Rapoport Center, noted how “the artwork has literally ‘framed our year’. Not only does the work address issues of our dependence on oil as an energy source and on the human rights consequences of that reliance, but it does so from the perspective of a female artist.” Collet’s work functioned as a backdrop for the Rapoport Center’s eighth annual conference, Property Rights and the Human Rights Agenda, that took place March 1-2, 2012.

Past events related to human rights and the arts but not under the working group title:

Image, Memory, and the Paradox of Peace: 15 years after the El Salvador Peace Accords

Image from El Salvador's civil war
Image from El Salvador’s civil war. Photo courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

The Rapoport Center’s 4th annual conference centered around a historic collection of photojournalistic work acquired by the Harry Ransom Center that documents El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. In the spirit of the Rapoport Center, the conference brought together a multi-disciplinary group of academics, activists, artists, and policy-makers to explore the relationship between the local and the global, as well as the economic and the political. View the Harry Ransom Center’s Inside El Salvador photography exhibition here.

Aftershocks: Legacies of Conflict

scene from black watch
Scene from Black Watch. Photo courtesy of Manuel Harlan.

A performance of Black Watch, an award-winning Scottish play exploring the experiences of members of a Scottish infantry battalion in the Iraq War, anchored the Rapoport Center’s 7th annual conference, Aftershocks: Legacies of Conflict (February 17-18, 2011). Conference attendants and participants were encouraged to consider the contested legacies of conflict from artistic and historical perspectives in addition to a scholarly interpretation. Learn more about Black Watch here.

El Colegio del Cuerpo

The Rapoport Center, in cooperation with Joe Randel, director of ArtésAmericas, and Lyn Wiltshire, professor of dance, collaborated with Colombian school of dance El Colegio del Cuerpo, established by Colombian choreographer Álvaro Restrepo and co-directed by Marie France Delieuvin. Restrepo founded an arts education program for some of Colombia’s poorest children, conducted dance classes for over 1400 students, and created performances addressing topics such as human rights, sexuality, and drug addiction. Restrepo called the project “a huge success…both as an artistic endeavor as well as a catalyst for dialogue on a variety of important issues facing Colombia today…[the experience] speaks eloquently of the power of the arts to affect change.”

Guantánamo Teach-In

The Rapoport Center collaborated with the Performing Arts Center to sponsor a teach-in on Guantánamo consisting of a photo presentation, Guantánamo: Pictures from Home, a dramatic reading of excerpts from the play Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, and a conversation with Judith Rhedin on the links between human rights and the arts. In the words of Pebbles Wadsworth, director of the UT Performing Arts Center, the collaboration “has the potential to influence future generations to think creatively and outside the box about some of the most pressing issues of our times.”

Living Newspaper Project

The Rapoport Center acted as co-leader of the Living Newspaper project, a series of performances by high school students intended to reinvigorate civic education through dramatization of current human rights issues. The Living Newspaper, intended to be a newspaper brought to life in a theater performance, combines current events research, creative writing, and performance to influence and educate both the student performers and the audience on various issues related to human rights. The program is a collaboration between the Rapoport Center, the Humanities Institute, the Theatre Action Project, and the Performance as Public Practice Program of UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance.

St. Stephen's students perform
St. Stephen’s students perform in “Got Rights?”

Related Events

Project & Publications Type: Working Groups