I. What is the picture you want people to see when they see the words human rights?

The human rights movement cannot only expose the things that are wrong with the world—we must also offer a vision of how things could be instead. This project offers the human rights movement a new visual vocabulary, one that shows what it looks like to enjoy and spread human rights, and promotes the core ideas - kindness, empathy and shared humanity - that underpin support for human rights policies.

This guide aims to help human rights groups to also communicate the change they want to see, to show alternatives and solutions to the problems they are working to tackle. It provides hopeful imagery meant to balance and complement, rather than replace, images of human rights violations and the people responsible for them.

About the project: What does a hopeful vision of human rights look like?

We want to use visuals strategically to reinforce narratives that build support for human rights. We are looking for a way of depicting the cause of human rights that appeals to people’s aspirations, that activates passionate support for the values that underpin human rights laws, policies and outcomes.

We started by thinking about the best words to use to build support for human rights, but finding words that speak to universal values is challenging. We realised that we first need to identify the actual images that we want people to imagine when thinking about human rights.

For two years, hope-based communications held dozens of narrative workshops with human rights activists around the world to articulate the change we want to see and the sort of action we want governments or society to undertake. We asked activists to visually articulate pro-human rights narratives and they responded by imagining themselves “building” and “growing” better societies, rather than “fighting” opponents. They imagined happy, thriving communities, small acts of humanity and solidarity and diverse people coming together around the dinner table. They also thought about the basic ways of thinking about how society works that human rights actors need to promote: that taking care of each other is human nature, that things work better when we work together.

In a time when human rights communication heavily relies on dry, edifying, dark, depressing or aggressive tones that fail to connect on a human level, we saw that change is possible. But activists needed help to bring these ideas to life. Could art help imagine new narratives?

Since 2014, Fine Acts has been working with artists and activists on hopeful creative campaigns and actions, driven by the belief – backed by behavioural and neuroscience – that art can speak to our hearts and change minds.

In 2020, we joined forces and together issued a call to artists to bring to life a joyful, hopeful vision of human rights. We offer the works in this guide as inspiration for others to reimagine what a hopeful picture of human rights looks like—a picture which may look different in distinct contexts.

This guide seeks to identify the underlying themes that the human rights movement must strategically reinforce. However, we encourage readers to bring those themes to life in their own ways, with different styles of art or with the photographs that better speak to a particular issue or target audience.

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