ARTivism: Inspiring Activism Through the Arts

A project of ICAAD
jaspreet.jpeg Jaspreet Singh
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ICAAD’s work is focused on resisting injustice and building equity. We work with local communities and governments to change systems and challenge the root causes of injustice.

A donation to ICAAD is a contribution to building a more equitable future. With your help, we can DOUBLE our impact on behalf of marginalized communities globally. Donations will be matched at 100% until funds run out – so maximize your impact today! Code DVWEEK22 must be used at check-out. 

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ICAAD's ARTivism initiative launched in 2020 to inspire greater public awareness and social action through the arts. The program is based on the belief that art is a powerful tool to communicate across borders and languages, and can combat harmful narratives while building solidarity. 

ICAAD's inaugural resident artist is Harbani Kaur Ahuja, a public interest attorney committed to serving marginalized communities and advocating for human rights in all spaces. She has been involved in many legal, policy, legislative, and advocacy efforts, focusing on civil rights, immigrant rights, and public health. Harbani is also a writer who enjoys creating art through various mediums, including graphic design and poetry. Harbani’s creative work can be found in Her Name is Kaur: Sikh Women Write about Love, Courage, and Faith. 

As an ICAAD ARTivist, Harbani developed a virtual public art project, Dicta, which explores the struggle for human rights by illuminating U.S. Supreme Court decisions impacting women’s rights, immigrant rights and the rights of Black people. Her poems breathe fire into what can often be a difficult medium for lay audiences to penetrate.

Harbani's collections can be viewed as a public arts project through an immersive virtual gallery. The collection serves to educate and inspire the general public in the U.S. to better understand the timelessness of civil rights issues and the importance of engaging in legal activism.

This year, ICAAD welcomed five new resident artists. They come from diverse backgrounds and practices spanning film, cartoons, photography, paint and mixed media, and are creating collections to be released in 2023. Your support will allow us to create public art projects for each artist to share their respective collections with the world and advance social justice. 

Interactive timeline from virtual exhibit

 

  • 11/06/2022

    Exploring the Gap Between Law and Justice

    Do law and justice go hand-in-hand? Have some court decisions taken us backwards? What role can the arts play in making the law more accessible? Whereas legalese tend to be confusing, complicated and get stuck in the brain, poetry might be brief and go straight for the heart of the matter. 

    This month, we collaborated with the Center for Art Law to host an event with our ARTivist-in-Residence, Harbani Ahuja. 

    Harbani presented her poetry collection Dicta: created from redacting sections of key Supreme Court cases in US history. She read selections from her collections on the Rights of Black People, Immigrant Rights and Women’s Rights, and highlighted the tensions between law and justice in the courts through striking visual art. Harbani also discussed her career as an attorney, the reasons she chose to pursue a career in law, and how Dicta has changed her outlook on the law and her legal career. 

    During the event, Harbani explained that her motivation behind creating Dicta was to make the law more accessible and easier to read. She said: "Because the law is so complex, we often just assume that it’s correct, it’s right, it’s just – but it’s not.” She noted that we are often trained to think of the law as just by society, but that the reality is much more complex.

    “Legal systems are a reflection of what people in power deem to be morally right or wrong", Harbani reflected. "So for a lot of marginised groups in this country, the law has even been used as system of oppression." 

    The timeliness for the struggle for human rights in the US country still continues today, and is illuminated by Harbani's powerful works. Her two forthcoming collections, on Indigenous Rights and the Right to Love, will be added to the exhibit in the coming months – we cannot wait to share them with you! 

  • 09/06/2022

    New Poetry Collection Tackles US Immigrant Rights

     

    We are excited to announce the release of a new series of Dicta Legal Poetry, available to view in our immersive virtual exhibit. The Immigrant Rights series highlights critical and shameful features of U.S. immigration – from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the ‘Muslim Ban.’ 

    Whether through laws barring certain nationalities from entering the country, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in internment camps, or the passage of policies to disallow asylum seekers from entering the country, the message across each poem is clear: immigration in the U.S. has never been about inclusion and acceptance.

    We asked Harbani what this collection means to her. She said: “We like to fantasize about how America is a country of immigrants, but if you look at the history of the United States, there have always been marginalized groups of immigrants which have been ‘othered’ and excluded from this country. This collection really goes to show how complex and broken our immigration system is – and just how often laws and policies that are harmful to marginalized immigrant communities continue to be justified in law. In thinking about this, I hope we can reimagine what a just and equitable immigration system should look like.” 

    The Immigrant Rights series joins existing series on Women’s Rights and the Rights of Black People, available in the virtual gallery. Two more collections, on the Right to Love and Indigenous Rights, are forthcoming. 

    Dicta is a product of ICAAD’s Artivist-in-Residence program, which stems from our belief that the arts play a vital role in driving social justice at local, regional and global levels.

    “When combined, art and activism can play a powerful role in connecting people across borders and languages. Supporting the arts has been vital to our human rights work around the world; it helps us tap into difficult emotions, encourages empathy, and unleashes creative thinking,” said Jaspreet Singh, ICAAD Co-Founder and Advocacy Strategist. 

    He continued, “Harbani’s incisive critique of the gap between law and justice in the U.S. is urgently needed – following the Supreme Court’s devastating decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and while new immigration policy easing deportations remains frozen. Dicta is a powerful way for us to reflect on these developments as we work towards a more equitable future.” 

    Dicta is supported by Clifford Chance; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; and Graymatters; and the virtual exhibit has been developed in partnership with digital creative agency, y’all.

  • 02/16/2022

    Educating through Black History Month

    Human Rights Center ICAAD Features Digital Legal Poetry Exhibit for Black History Month

    This Black History Month, international human rights center ICAAD invites you to explore the history of racial justice in the courts through their immersive virtual exhibit, Dicta. The exhibit features the Dicta legal poetry series by Harbani Ahuja and melds poetry, law, and art to inspire activism in pursuit of social justice.

    Landmark Supreme Court cases including Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia are exhibited in the form of found poetry, illuminating the theme of racial justice from the black letter text. Of Harbani’s 40-poem series, ten poems make up the Rights of Black People theme featured this month. The Rights of Black People series was also published in the ABA Journal in 2021.

    Dicta is part of ICAAD's embrace of Artivism as a means of driving social justice at local, regional, and global levels. Artivism, a marriage of artistic expression with activism, often taps into a depth of emotion deeper than words can express and connects across physical and cultural boundaries. The exhibit has garnered sponsorships from Clifford Chance; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; and Graymatters; and the virtual exhibit has been developed in partnership with digital creative agency, y’all.

    Partner at y’all, David Lubofsky said, “At y’all, we recognize that art is a force that drives discourse, dialogue, and change for the better. We had the honor and the privilege to lend our design and development talents in partnership with ICAAD to bring Harbani Ahuja’s poetic works to life.”

    "In our human rights work around the world, we have seen how art can inspire positive action," said Jaspreet Singh, co-founder of ICAAD. "We hope that Dicta and our future Artivism projects will inspire others to join efforts to tackle discriminatory issues and promote equality."

    At the heart of Dicta is public interest lawyer and poet, Harbani Ahuja, who is currently Senior Legislative Council for the NY City Council and ICAAD's inaugural Artivist in Residence. As a writer, designer, and advocate, Harbani has focused her law practice on civil rights, immigrant rights, and public health.

    "We as a people often view the law as a larger-than-life concept that we don't understand or find accessible, yet is widely considered the equivalent of justice," said Harbani Kaur, ICAAD's Artist in Residence. "My intention for Dicta is to expose the gap between the law and justice."

    “What I love about Dicta is that I believe it’s an invitation to interrogate things that we sometimes take for granted,” said Zuleka Henderson, ICAAD Advisor. “We are creative beings. If people originally created these laws for purposes that are unjust, what can we reimagine for the future? That’s what Harbani’s work does. It encourages us to remember that we can shift things, move them around, and read into what’s underneath something that was presented to us in one way.”

    Sixteen poems are currently on display in Clifford Chance’s New York office as part of the firm’s ongoing commitment to supporting human rights efforts, arts, and the community. Clifford Chance also produced an interview with artist Harbani Kaur Ahuja which can be viewed here.

    "We believe Dicta can educate and inspire people everywhere to better understand the timeless and ceaseless struggle for human rights and the importance of finding ways to stay engaged," said Hansdeep Singh, co-founder of ICAAD.

    Clifford Chance partner and lead on the firm’s relationship with ICAAD Celeste Koeleveld said, “Our sponsorship on Dicta is the latest in a variety of pro bono initiatives in which Clifford Chance has supported ICAAD. We are proud to promote legal activism and heighten awareness of human rights efforts and social justice with this exhibit.”

  • 12/10/2021

    ICAAD Launches Digital Legal Poetry Exhibit

    NEW YORK - On December 10th, Human Rights Day, the international human rights center ICAAD launches an immersive virtual exhibit featuring the Dicta legal poetry series by Harbani Kaur Ahuja. The exhibit melds poetry, law, and art to inspire activism in pursuit of social justice. 

    Dicta is part of ICAAD's embrace of Artivism as a means of driving social justice at local, regional, and global levels. Artivism, a marriage of artistic expression with activism, often taps into a depth of emotion deeper than words can express and connects across physical and cultural boundaries. The exhibit has garnered sponsorships from international law firm Clifford Chance; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; and Graymatters; and the virtual exhibit has been developed in partnership with digital creative agency, y’all.

    Partner at y’all, David Lubofsky said, “At y’all, we recognize that art is a force that drives discourse, dialogue, and change for the better. We had the honor and the privilege to lend our design and development talents in partnership with ICAAD to bring Harbani Ahuja’s poetic works to life.”

    "In our human rights work around the world, we have seen how art can inspire positive action," said Jaspreet Singh, co-founder of ICAAD. "We hope that Dicta and our future Artivism projects will inspire others to join efforts to tackle discriminatory issues and promote equality."

    At the heart of Dicta is public interest lawyer and poet Harbani Kaur, ICAAD's inaugural Artist in Residence. As a writer, designer, and advocate, Harbani has focused her law practice on civil rights, immigrant rights, and public health. 

    With Dicta, Harbani creates found poetry in court decisions, illuminating the broader social justice themes from the black letter text. Harbani has completed 20 poems in the 40-poem series. The two themes covered so far are the Rights of Black People and Women’s Rights. The Rights of Black People series was published in the ABA Journal earlier this year. Next year, the remaining poems will be added to the exhibit on the themes of the Right to Love, Immigration, and Indigenous Rights. 

    Dicta Roe v Wade

    "We as a people often view the law as a larger-than-us concept that we don't understand or find accessible, yet is widely considered the equivalent of justice," said Harbani Kaur, ICAAD's Artist in Residence. "My intention for Dicta is to expose the gap between the law and justice."

    Sixteen poems are currently on display in Clifford Chance’s New York office as part of the firm’s ongoing commitment to supporting human rights efforts, arts, and the community. Clifford Chance also produced an interview with artist Harbani Kaur Ahuja which can be viewed here. 

    "We believe Dicta can educate and inspire people everywhere to better understand the timeless and ceaseless struggle for human rights and the importance of finding ways to stay engaged," said Hansdeep Singh, co-founder of ICAAD.

    Clifford Chance partner and lead on the firm’s relationship with ICAAD Celeste Koeleveld said, “Our sponsorship on Dicta is the latest in a variety of pro bono initiatives in which Clifford Chance has supported ICAAD. We are proud to promote legal activism and heighten awareness of human rights efforts and social justice with this exhibit.”

    View the Dicta exhibit here

    Dicta Exhibit Timeline

  • 09/27/2021

    ARTivism Program Highlights

    Dear friend,

    We have many exciting updates to share around the Artivism program and ICAAD's release of Dicta, Artivist-in-Residence Harbani Kaur Ahuja's new exhibition. 

    The first 10 poems of Dicta received an excellent reception through their release via the ABA Journal over the past three months. The ABA Journal is one of the most widely read legal publications in the U.S. and in addition to the release of the gallery, an article was published on Harbani and her work. 

    Harbani was also featured on the Legal Talk Today Podcast. Listen to Harbani’s interview with Laurence Colletti; she reads LA v. Lyons and shares what the piece means to her and her process in creating Dicta. Click here to listen

    Harbani was also interviewed for Law360 Pulse. In the article, you can read about how poetry influences her work as an attorney and get a preview of one of the poems from the next Women's Rights series: Walmart v. Dukes. Check it out here.  

    We also have four blogs inspired by Dicta that were published over the past three months. One, written by two Masters students at Columbia University focuses on Racial Equity in NYC Public Schools.

    The second and third articles are a two-part series entitled "Police Cannot Police Themselves." And the fourth is a case study on the Supreme Court's impact in relation to a case on racial justice in employment law. You can read those four blogs on ICAAD's Ideas blog.

    What's on the horizon for Dicta?

    We have partnered with Y’all, a creative design firm, to develop and launch an immersive virtual exhibit for Dicta on International Human Rights Day, December 10th. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for the rollout of the Women’s Rights Dicta series. 

    We've also opened a call for applications to invite the next cohort of Artivists-in-Residence.

    With your support, we’ll be able to bring on more artivists next year and launch even more exhibits that educate people on human rights and inspire them to activism by moving them from the heart.

    Thank you for your continued support!

  • 06/23/2021

    Sneak Preview of Dicta with Harbani Kaur

    In April, we hosted a virtual concert that brought together 5 incredible Sikh artists around the theme of resisting injustice and building equity. One of those incredible artists was Harbani Kaur, our current artist-in-residence who is currently working on a project called Dicta.

    In the video, Harbani shares two poems and discusses her process around creating them.

    She shared:

    “We, as people, often view the law as a larger than us concept that we don’t quite understand or find accessible. We often also view it as the equivalent of justice. My intention with Dicta was to expose the gap between the law and justice.”

    While the virtual exhibit development is still underway, we wanted to share her sneak preview from the event with you. Enjoy!

    Links:

    Dicta Sneak Preview

  • 03/23/2021

    Bringing Together Art, Technology, and Law

    We’re excited to share that Harbani has now completed 16 poems in the Dicta exhibit, and it is difficult for us to resist releasing her amazing work at this stage. Each and every poem is deeply moving in this crucial moment for legal activism. When completed, the exhibit will allow the viewer to trace societies’ current struggles and successes to the sacrifices of ordinary people who chose to defy systems of injustice, armed only with the belief that the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” 

    The ARTivism program amplifies the impacts and innovations of art, technology, and law to inspire greater public awareness and social action, and for Dicta, to map the evolution of the rule of law. As a part of that integration, the ICAAD team has been working to build an interactive virtual exhibit and developing the educational context cards that will accompany each poem. This historical context will provide the narrative for legal activism and explain how these momentous cases came to be. The virtual exhibit is currently in a beta testing phase as we continue to refine its features.

    We are planning a sneak peak for DVN Donors in mid-April. Stay tuned!

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