Unthinkable Tenderness: The Art of Human Rights

Sunday, February 15, 1998 to Saturday, March 21, 1998


  • Luis Cruz Azaceta
  • Claudia Bernardi
  • De la Torre
  • Morales + Nuño
  • Barbara Foster
  • Rupert Garcia
  • Barbara Hammer
  • Hisako Hibi
  • Alfredo Jaar
  • S. Brett Kaufman
  • Käthe Kollwitz
  • Frank La Pena
  • Yolanda Lopez
  • Hung Liu
  • Alice Neel
  • Shirin Neshat
  • John Outterbridge
  • Pamela Shields
  • Tibetan Association of Northern California

Catalog essay:

No one is thinking about the flowers
no one is thinking about the fish
no one wants to believe
that the garden is dying
that the garden’s heart has swollen under the sun
that the garden
is slowly forgetting its green moments
-Forough Farokhzad

1998 marks the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A document eloquent in simplicity, it states: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the inherent dignity and equal unalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace throughout the world.” As the Iranian poet Forough Farokhzad suggests above, our garden – the earth and its humanity – is in peril. As the millennium approaches, we stand at a crossroads in history. It is imperative that singularly and collectively, we don’t forget the atrocities, both historically and contemporaneously, which have occurred globally as a result of the violation of even the most basic of human rights. The artists in this exhibition call on memories both personal and historical and by doing so engage the viewer in a dialogue about humanity.

The history of human rights is a history of oppression, of genocide, and of torture; but it is also an illustration of the tenacity of the human spirit. A tread of resistance runs through this exhibition, for the history of the art of human rights I also a history of resistance, an expression of the spirit in the face of, and in spite of, unimaginable darkness. It is a voice for those who have been silenced, but also, for those who have survived. Claudia Bernardi gives voice to the disappeared of Latin America, while Barbara Hammer speaks for the millions of gays and lesbians in this country who are denied the basic right to legally marry and create family. Alice Neel’s work of 1936 engages a United States that simply did not want to hear, while Shirin Neshat explores the voice of women in traditional Islamic culture.

Finally, this is an exhibition that explores transformation. It is a privilege to bear witness to all of these voices, and to be part of a discourse that offers in 1998, the hope to begin to heal the garden.