By Zubeida Mustafa
WHEN human rights are in the news, the focus is invariably on civil and political rights such as life, liberty and democracy. Their violation causes explosive reactions. Rights that are not of a political nature are not so visible though their continued denial has a profound and insidious impact on the lives of a far greater number of people. They are like slow death that kills society itself.
These are the rights that have a role to play in sustaining human life with dignity which is no less than the right to life itself. Yet strangely enough, these seemingly mundane issues such as jobs, education and housing do not receive the same attention in public forums globally. Mercifully, realisation is now dawning in some quarters that there is a solution to the problems caused by the absence of social justice.
If awareness were to be created about these issues, enough pressure could be generated to force the powers that be to take positive measures. With this goal before it, Poster for Tomorrow was formed in 2009 in Paris by a group of artists led by Hervé Matine.
An independent, non-profit international project supported by some UN agencies, it seeks to “encourage people in and outside the design community to make posters to stimulate debate on issues that affect us all”. Poster for Tomorrow organises an annual competition to promote awareness of human rights. It has begun to make waves not only in the world of art but also outside of it.
Jobs have a human aspect which we fail to note.
At its inception the project focused on what are essentially political issues. Thus the theme of the first competition was freedom of expression and posters were invited on the subject “the pencil is mightier than the sword”. It attracted 1,834 entries the best of which were exhibited in 23 cities of the world. But gradually the organisers moved to issues of social concern such as education, housing and gender equality.
Public interest in this artistic enterprise has been stirred. This year’s theme is the universal right to fair employment and 4,301 entries were received which have been judged online by a jury of 100. The jurors have selected the best 100 posters for exhibition in Paris and other cities.
The poster by a young Pakistani artist, Sara Nisar from the visual arts department of the University of Karachi, is among the top 100. Karachiites owe the presence of this remarkable poster display in the city (from Dec 5) to our indefatigable cartoonist/activist, Khuda Bux Abro, for whom art is a passion. He has also conducted workshops on poster-making at the Karachi University and has been on the jury of Poster for Tomorrow since 2012.
One may well ask if there would be anyone, especially among the youth, who wouldn’t have a personal stake in the right to fair employment? With 45 million people aged 15-29 years in Pakistan, one can be certain that finding a job is a major concern for many. More so when 28pc of them are jobless, according to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends 2013 report. These young people are disgruntled as they have been robbed of not only their livelihood but also their self-esteem. They constitute a seething mass of humanity with maximum potential of being radicalised.
The trend is to see jobs as an economic issue which is linked with productivity and national development. Jobs also have a human dimension which we fail to note. A young person who can contribute economically in any way also wins the respect of others and a sense of self-worth for himself. It is time the human implications of unemployment were understood by our policymakers. Without a strong social security net Pakistan has abandoned its youth, first, by failing to give them a good education and training and, next, by not creating jobs for them.
It is now widely recognised that change can only come through popular involvement. And what better way is there to engage people at all levels in debates on social issues than through the popular medium of art? Besides one has to “see with one’s heart”, to quote a social poster designer, to understand the issues that affect the underprivileged.
The unemployment problem that is so acute in Pakistan today is bound to draw many to the exhibition. The posters largely focus on fair employment the absence of which is as destructive to the worker’s dignity as joblessness.
Some posters are most expressive in depicting oppression. In the top 10 is one on child labour and another showing a male body with big muscular arms with the words “too heavy to bear”.
The top winner touches a raw nerve.
It shows a machine-shaped headless man working in a factory. A worker is not supposed to think. That is the irony of the situation. Oppression thrives on the helplessness and submission of the oppressed.