Monday 29 April 2019


The first thing that will strike pedestrians this month as they approach the Maison de l’Amérique Latine in Paris is the riot of colour – vivid reds, yellows and blues on a massive banner announcing a special kind of party.
One of the posters for the exhibition.
Until May 7, the Maison (or MAL) is hosting Fiesta Gráfica, an exhibition of pulsating graphic artwork by French artist and curator Michel Bouvet and his 26 “friends” who hail from nine Latin American countries.
The show is the fruit of Bouvet’s travels throughout Latin America and of the collaborations and friendships he has formed over the past 30 years. The wide-ranging exhibition includes political posters, graphic novels, cartoons, advertisements and other forms of graphic art, and it highlights a variety of techniques and perspectives, across decades and borders.
Bouvet’s own designs are regularly visible in the Paris Metro and on the city’s Colonnes Morris, announcing La Fête de la Musique or Les Rencontres d’Arles, and he has been a fixture in French graphic art since the 1970’s.
An art fan views works by Cuba's Idania del Rio.
Alongside some of his most well-known affiches, Fiesta Gráfica offers works of diverse artists, 11 of whom work in collectives.
The countries represented include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay, and the artwork provides commentary on social and philosophical issues, among other themes. A notable feature is the presence of many women artists (so often missing from group exhibitions), with striking works by Bebel Abreu of Brazil, Idania del Rio of Cuba, and Marta Granados of Colombia, for example.
As visitors enter the lobby of MAL’s imposing building, they are first greeted by a joyous poster of bold lines and the words “FRIDA & DIEGO” against a yellow background. Meanwhile, the rooms on either side of the lobby are filled with giant-sized works by Bouvet, “in dialogue” with works by artists from a range of countries.
Crowds packed these rooms on a recent Saturday, among them Paris-based artist Randy Dims who gazed intently at each poster, as if absorbing their energy.
Paris-based artist Randy Dims at the exhibition.
“Some friends were raving about this exhibition, and I really wanted to come and see it,” said Dims, who puts his own art on tee-shirts and does portraits of Hip-Hop music personalities. “All the colours and shapes really make an impact.”
The exhibition fills the vast downstairs spaces of the MAL as well. Here, the collage pieces of the collective El Fantasma de Heredia (Argentina), the satirical images of Bebel Abreu (Brazil) and the lyrical, surreal compositions of Celeste Prieto (Paraguay) comprise just a small sampling of the dozens of works by the effervescent community of graphic artists active in Latin America.
Socially engaged and provocative, these artists believe, as the Uruguay militant Pablo Irturralde puts it, that “the poster is a poem”, and a weapon in the fight against injustice. This show is a visual fiesta of colour and content and well worth the visit. – Susan Hamlin / SWAN

Monday 22 April 2019


A teacher enters a classroom and is surprised to find that the students who should be waiting for him are all missing.
“It’s as if their absence is sending a message,” he muses in consternation.
In fact, there is a message. Written on the desks are letters that taken together spell: “STOP GLOBAL WARMING NOW”.
Cartoon by Floris Oudshoorn, done at ICSW 2019.
This is the storyline of a cartoon titled “The Educators” by Amsterdam-based artist Floris Oudshoorn, who participated in sessions on global citizen education during International Civil Society Week (ICSW) - an annual meeting held this year in Belgrade, Serbia, from April 8 to 12.
Co-hosted by the Johannesburg-based global civil society alliance CIVICUS, the event brought together more than 850 delegates from around the world to focus on the protection of “democratic values” and human rights, amidst increasing attacks on rights defenders.
Oudshoorn said his cartoon was a shout-out to the students participating in the weekly climate strikes in various countries, calling on governments to act to decrease emissions and fight climate change.
During ICSW, Oudshoorn produced a series of live drawings that reflected the topics addressed by Bridge 47, a Finland-based organization created “to bring people together to share and learn from each other” with the help of global citizenship education.
This system of civic learning puts emphasis on rights, environmental awareness and social justice - subjects that engaged participants during Bridge 47’s four ICSW sessions, held under the title “Global Citizenship Education: Recalibrating Action for Systemic Change”.
“With members hailing from all continents of the world and a total of 48 countries, the gathering provided a dynamic hub for exchanging experiences and perspectives on the different types of value-based education,” Bridge 47 stated.
Rilli Lappalainen, founder of Bridge 47.
The organization used storytelling, art, communication activities and other techniques to provide its members with “new ideas and tools” to employ global citizenship education for social change.
Rilli Lappalainen, Bridge 47’s founder and steering group chair, said that the Belgrade meeting demonstrated that civil-society groups and others (educators, artists, policy-makers) need to work together.
“It showed how we need to allow the space for dialogue, and that dialogue is the essence of peaceful society. If we really want to make a change, we need to communicate and cooperate, rather than everyone sitting in their own box.”
Besides “getting to know each other and strengthening their work”, Bridge 47 Network members also had the opportunity to explore other topics among the host of ICSW event sessions. These included issues such as shrinking civic space, attacks on press freedom, and the engagement of youth, which Oudshoorn covered in his cartoons.
The Bridge 47 sessions were also open to those outside the organization’s network “in order to further disseminate information” about global citizenship education as well as to “facilitate new, cross-sectoral partnerships amongst the international civil society community”, the group stated.
Bridge 47’s name comes from “Target 4.7” of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set in 2015 for achievement by 2030.
Goal 4 is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
Target 4.7 is to ensure that by 2030 “all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” through education that includes “human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development”.
African educator Bolanle Simeon-Fayomi uses story-telling
for global citizenship education, at ICSW 2019.
Photo courtesy of Troy Bjorkman / Bridge 47.
For the UN, an “indicator” of Target 4.7 is the “extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed” at all levels.
Lappalainen said that formal education “is absolutely needed” for this mainstreaming but that it’s not enough.
“We need to recognize the importance of learning outside of the school system. Part of our work is that we advocate for governments to give the space and respect for this kind of education,” he said.
A key exercise during Bridge 47’s sessions was storytelling, done verbally by lecturers such as Nigeria’s Bolanle Simeon-Fayomi who focuses on literacy for development, or communicated through the written word or art.
In the case of cartoonist Oudshoorn, his work is a means to educate the public by using satire to effect social change, to promote rights and sustainability, and to help defend activists.
“As cartoonists, we’re between artists and journalists,” he told SWAN. “And one of the first things that autocrats try to rub out is journalists and artists. So, I’m in the crosshairs as well.” 
Follow SWAN on Twitter @mckenzie_ale. See also
For more information about ICSW, see IPS news agency stories, including: 

Wednesday 17 April 2019


No sooner had the fire been put out at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris than the backlash started, sparked by the perceived double standards in reactions to disasters of this kind.
When President Emmanuel Macron said that France would appeal for international help, someone tweeted, for instance, that the country should use the money it “stole” from Haiti, referring to the vast sums that Haiti had to pay the colonial power after declaring independence in 1804. The comment was retweeted thousands of times.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, after the fire.
Another Twitter user, "Doe Bitch" (@bacchianbabe), also started a thread of “ethnic cultural heritage sites that have been destroyed throughout history, including in recent years”. The listing comprised a range of sites around the world, with the addition of the 6th-century monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan, which extremists dynamited in 2001. Doe's point was that few of the sites received extensive international attention. This thread has got thousands of retweets and "likes" as well.
A third commenter, based in the Caribbean, slammed the media for the continuous coverage of the fire, saying that “a cathedral" burns, and the press acts as if a major catastrophe had happened.
Further, when the White House announced that the United States would offer "assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization," social media commentators like Dana Vivian White wondered about the missing help for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, and the apparent lack of assistance for destroyed U.S. black churches.
A painting of Notre Dame by student J. De Clercq.
The criticism doesn’t minimise the fact that the damage to 850-year-old Notre-Dame is a tragedy for universal heritage, especially when we celebrate World Heritage Day on April 18. This is a day meant to "encourage" us to reflect on the importance of cultural patrimony to our "lives, identities and communities", according to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

As people packed the area around the cathedral in the aftermath of the April 15 fire, one of the most frequent remarks was that Notre Dame belonged not only to the French but to everyone. The 13 million visitors it receives annually come from all over the globe.
The backlash does indicate, however, that many believe the cultural traditions of some are considered more important than those of others. Looking at the sites inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it’s clear why this is a concern: a few countries dominate the list, with France in fourth place for the number of sites registered, after Italy, China, and Spain.
Numerous countries of the Global South are barely represented on the list, although UNESCO is trying to remedy that, urging member states to put forward sites for inscription. At a press briefing last year, officials said that the UN recognized the issue.
What needs to be stressed, though, is that the world has a stake in protecting monuments that are historically significant, wherever they might be located. Former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, who was in Paris this week as part of her “Becoming” book tour, said in a tweet: “The majesty of Notre Dame - the history, artistry, and spirituality - took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be.”
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay (file photo).
The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, meanwhile issued a statement saying, “Notre Dame represents a historically, architecturally, and spiritually, outstanding universal heritage. It is also a monument of literary heritage, a place that is unique in our collective imagination. Heritage of the French but also of humanity as a whole. This drama reminds us of the power of heritage that connects us to one another”.

She added, "We are already in contact with experts and ready to send an emergency mission to assess the damage, preserve what can be preserved and plan short and medium-term measures".
The statement is actually nothing out of the ordinary, as UNESCO has mobilised resources to support restoration of patrimony in countries from Haiti to Mali, especially when such patrimony is of global and historical value. (We may argue about who decides on such value, but that is another discussion.)
Notre-Dame forms part of the world’s collective memory. As a recent example, in 2010, hundreds filled the church after the earthquake in Haiti, participating in a mass for the victims, coming together in sorrow and grief. Several in the congregation expressed anger toward France and the West in general, for past and continuing injustices; Notre-Dame provided a space to do so. It belonged to all who were there in that moment.
Still, as French tycoons and people around the world donate vast sums to restore the cathedral, we need to think about others' cultural heritage as well. (Haiti's is still in need of rebuilding, nine years after the earthquake.) We need to highlight what has happened in Iraq, Syria, Mali and other countries. We should emphasize that the loss of artistic and cultural heritage has an impact on development.
In 2010, Haiti’s then Minister of Culture Marie-Laurence Jocelyn-Lassègue said, “For us, culture is not a luxury, not an accessory … It is through culture and by culture that we’ll be able to develop certain aspects of our society.” (
We all need to give increased global attention to exceptional monuments in cities less well-lit than Paris, in towns off the beaten track - monuments being destroyed by warmongers, terrorists, state agents, vandals and others; monuments lost to fire; monuments ravaged by hurricanes and other natural disasters. Leaders need to send a clear message that everyone’s culture is important - particularly when it doesn't infringe on the rights of others.
We also need to restrain ourselves from expressing unseemly glee when someone else’s patrimony is destroyed and instead work together to safeguard universal heritage.

As Claire Oberon Garcia, a U.S. Black Studies professor and author, said: Notre-Dame is "a triumph of human ingenuity, aspiration, and longing for beauty and transcendent truths". It has meaning for all of us. - SWAN