We Are All Born Free! (...and a little bit fluffy)

" It seems to me that here at such an early age, in children's books, we shoul be celebrating difference as well as cosy homegrown certainties. And through books our children can grow and imagine what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes. This is surely where empathy starts. And with empathy and understanding comes tolerance an who knows. Then they may have a world with some of the fear taken out of it"

- Bob Graham

Empathy as a required life-skill taught from infancy is the theme running through the pastels and bold colours of the Amnesty Exhibition "We Are All Born Free" at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast as part of the Belfast Festival.Thirty childrens illustrators took part in this project to bring the articles of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the youngest audience out there. And the result is beautiful and, I imagine and hope, effective!

The articles are put simply in accessible language accompanied by illustrations that emphasise the relevance of human rights to children. Images that put them  as the possible victims of injustice in a way they can comprehend Like Polly Dunbar's drawing of Article 11 ( Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. ) which draws on the very real experience of childhood of being blamed (and possibly punished) for something you didn't do! The drawing depicts a worried little girl not even knee high to the adults about her with a spilled vase of flowers nearby. Likewise Hong Sung Dam's wording for Article 14 ( Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution) hits straight home to what would matter to a child- fear and a desire for safety: "If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe".

A number of the drawings took the line of Kevin Barry's fictional family and delivered "a bit of fluffy"! Like Debi Gliori's cute and fluffy creatures as school children dreaming beyond the grey of their classroom and expressing their 'mad' ideas without fear (Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek,  receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers). But these are drawings for kids, and kids like fluffy…and it works with bringing the message of empathy.

While the fluffy woodland creatures do the job in reaching the core audience, the two illustrations that particularly stood out for me were less anthropromorphic. Jackie Morris's depiction of Article 24  (Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.) shows a young woman, draped in fat cats (so not entirely without fluffy!) sleeping in a havoc in rich watercolours. I was shattered when I went to see the exhibition so this image was enduring as all I wanted to do was crawl in to the hammock and sleep!! Clearly Article 24 is my favourite article!! Another less soft but equally beautiful image was Lord of The Rings artist Alan Lee's illustration of Article 13 (Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.) is starkly beautiful with origami birds caught on barbed wire attempting escape from some grey city as a child watches their doomed escape from below.

The drawings address traditionally adult themes but recognise their relevance to a younger audience and realise this task beautifully and strikingly. This publication should be every school's library! And could perhaps educate quite a few adults aswell!

 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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