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Artists Who Champion Human Rights in Their Work

By now, few haven’t heard of dissident artist Ai Weiwei and his 81-day disappearance and detention by the Chinese government. Long before this arrest shocked the world and catapulted him into a recognizable symbol of human rights abuse and censorship in China, Ai was campaigning for workers’ rights, especially those of the migrant workers. In honor of tomorrow’s International Human Rights Day, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite artists whose works deal with the civil rights and human dignity.

Ai Weiwei


Image credit: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

“Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses … They are Beijing’s slaves,” Ai has written. “They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts – and the restaurants and karaoke parlours and saunas are very rich as a result.” Labor itself is a strong theme in his work: Ai became a de-facto factory boss in 2010, when he commissioned 1,600 artisans in the town of Jingdezhen to create millions mock sunflower seeds to line the hall of London’s Tate Museum.

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