In early October, Yale Law School announced a new yearlong initiative to explore the intersection between art and human rights.
The initiative, formally known as JUNCTURE: Explorations in Art and Human Rights, was launched by the Law School’s Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, a body that coordinates human rights activities at the school and provides fellowships to promote activism and experiential learning. JUNCTURE’s programming includes a seminar this semester for students across the University and collaboration with four visiting artists who give lectures throughout the year and collaborate with students on art projects. The initiative also sponsored fellowships for five Masters of Fine Arts students to travel and conduct artwork related to the field of human rights last summer, although the initiative had not yet been formally announced.
“At this moment, artists and writers have great interest in inquiring … more deeply into questions of politics, justice, law and human rights. From that vantage, this program allows artists and writers with such interest to explore the issues in exceptional depth,” said Deputy Director and Curator of JUNCTURE David Kim LAW ’17, who is taking two semesters off from the Law School to plan and carry out JUNCTURE. He added that JUNCTURE will also work the other way, giving law students interested in human rights a broad introduction to creative means for advocacy and how to represent legal ideas through the visual arts.
Kim said bringing together experts and students from art and law frees each group from the standards of their own disciplines. The way that a lawyer makes an argument and provides evidence is very different from the way an image does, Kim added, so together, law students and artists will explore new channels and raise new questions.
Dipika Guha DRA ’11, a playwright and one of JUNCTURE’s four visiting artists, agreed that the initiative has potential to create new ideas. Guha said that because JUNCTURE is open not only to law and drama students but also to students in any of Yale’s other graduate or professional schools, the program will foster broad-ranging interdisciplinary conversations. These discussions will offer her an avenue to introduce new ideas into her work, she added.
Supported by a yearlong grant from JUNCTURE, Guha is collaborating with five Yale students to investigate the relationship between personal trauma and historical or national traumas, as well as to explore how to translate the concept of justice for the stage.
These students come from the JUNCTURE seminar, a 15-person class called “Art and International Human Rights: Theory and Practice” which is designed to combine an academic seminar and artistic research platform. The course is formally offered through the Law School, but it was publicized in the graduate school and other professional schools as well. It is co-taught by Kim and JUNCTURE Director and clinical law professor James Silk. According to the course syllabus, the seminar consists of discussion sessions, studio visits and workshops with the visiting artists.
Of the 15 students enrolled in the seminar, eight are law students, three are Masters of Fine Arts students and the rest come from other fields of study, such as the Yale Divinity School and the Graduate School’s history department.
Silk said allowing law students to explore artistic pursuits such as playwriting is new for law schools.
“There is this kind of playfulness, even though the topics are serious, and I think it is introducing something into the law school that is not familiar to most people who study in this discipline,” Silk said.
Natasha Huang DIV ’16 said the seminar has introduced her to the visual arts and prompted her to rethink how engagement with the arts could benefit social justice efforts by religious communities.
Mauricio Cortes Ortega ART ’16, another student in the seminar and one of the recipients of the JUNCTURE fellowships last summer, said the course has given him an opportunity to engage in dialogue with students in the Law School who are interested in how art can provide a platform for social and political discourse.
Through the JUNCTURE fellowship, Ortega traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to explore immigration issues. He is experimenting with kinetic sculptures that act as rotating containers to symbolize the difficulty of physical orientation when traversing desert regions along the border, he said.
Eli Durst ART ’16, who also received a fellowship, said the seminar has allowed him to see how the separate disciplines of art and law each define human rights, current affairs and complicated issues in artistic representation. The past summer, Durst travelled to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, to explore problems related to Eritreans’ migration to the United States.
“There is so much appetite around the University for conversations across disciplines, but for various reasons, it’s sometimes very difficult to create those connections,” Kim said. “So at an institutional level, I think we are creating a pathway for conversation and collaboration between the Law School, School of Art, the [Yale University] Art Gallery and the Whitney Humanities Center — all of which orbit one another but perhaps don’t connect as directly as they might want.”
In spring 2016, JUNCTURE will organize a public presentation of works and works in progress resulting from students’ collaborations with the visiting artists, as well as from the fellowships last summer.