The arts are being used to reimagine human rights in ways that are simultaneously provocative and nuanced, creating activism that ranges from the public and performative to the hidden and discrete.

The Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) has worked for over a decade on arts-based research and activism, using the arts to generate questions to prioritise, forge new networks and collaborations, disrupt conventional thinking, and open the door to alternative ways of working.

At times of shrinking civic and political space, culture and the arts provide a means for the marginalised to remain vocal, and a mechanism to keep open small spaces of dialogue.

Cultural forms present alternative visions of personhood, dignity, rights and histories that can play a role in reframing human rights and social justice, and reimagining political futures.

Project in focus

Art Rights Truth

Drawing on past projects, this research analyses and funds artist-activist collaborations to support new human rights languages and approaches in the context of multiple current crises. By analysing existing innovation and experimentation, commissioning work suggestive of alternative futures, and sharing knowledge and insights, the project seeks to reimagine human rights for the future. 

Research is focussed in five areas:

  • Covid Legacies
  • Localising Human Rights in York
  • Imaginaries of Social and Environmental Justice
  • Reimagining Turtle Island / Canada
  • Narratives of the Future in Colombia.

Find out more

Past projects

Arctivism - The Arctivism Project supported activists and artists across the world who responded to the outbreak of COVID-19 and its implications for activism and shrinking civic and political space.

Development Alternatives - This research explores how the arts can lead participants – whether researchers, activists or development practitioners - to new ways of knowing and imagining, disordering familiar power and knowledge inequalities to make way for new ideas.

Publications and outputs

'Researching Like an Artist: Disrupting Participatory Arts-based Methods in Uganda and Bangladesh' by Emilie Flower and Ruth Kelly, published in Participatory Arts in Participatory Development

Read online

A wide range of outputs including art works and videos can be found on the web pages for our past projects: