Voices For Justice annual London dinner raises record-breaking funds for Human Rights Watch
Artists Bran Symondson and Sebastião Salgado among silent auction prizes at the Tower of London gala
Human Rights Watch hosted their annual fundraising dinner on Monday evening, raising £952,830 on the night – a record-breaking amount for the UK capital. The nonprofit organisation, which is an independent watchdog and campaigning group, invited guests to the Tower of London on 20 November for a gala dinner and silent auction, including commissions by artists Bran Symondson and Sebastião Salgado who followed in the footsteps of previous Human Rights Watch artists Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin.
Top directors from the organisation gave moving speeches through the evening and shed light on their important work documenting and reporting on war crimes, human rights abuses and other atrocities worldwide. This year's theme was defending and protecting children without safe access to education, and included speeches by UK director David Mepham OBE and executive director children's right division Zama Neff (below).
Shortly before the event, Neff told Tempus: “Human Rights Watch’s Voice for Justice Dinner will spotlight Human Rights Watch’s fight for children worldwide to study in safety, even in the midst of war. The dinner comes at a critical time, as the UK government has yet to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, joining 70 other countries committed to protecting schools.” >>
A silent auction was compered by Paddy Walker, who formerly served in the British Army, encouraging guests to put their money down for items including a researcher field trip to the Mexico-Guatemala border documenting abuses against migrant children fleeing violence from Central and South America; luncheon at the House of Lords, security training courtesy of Human Rights Watch security director Matt Timblin, and art including an iconic photograph of Nobel prize winner Malala Yusafzai by Brigitte Lacombe, the 'Justice' installation by Nayla Saroufim and photography by BeckerHarrison.
Symondson's commissioned piece 'Fragile Souls' – an installation of two decommissioned AK-47 gun covered in blue and origami butterflies – sold for £37,500, and the artist added even more to the evening when he joined Walker on stage to present a spontaneous item up for auction. His hand-drawn and signed 'Dark Side of the Dollar' U.S. bills replaced government imagery with characters from Star Wars (below).
Symondson was especially passionate about the event, having attended a research trip to Mosul with Belkis Wille, the organisation's senior Iraq and Qatar researcher. Wille gave a moving speech in which she shared the story of how she documented the facts of a Isis mass grave years after first hearing a story by a migrant who had fled his Iraq farm.
"I wanted to see what Human Rights Watch did on the ground and get my boots dirty," Symondson told Tempus of his work with Wille. "I didn’t want to be one of these artists standing on my soapbox from the safety of my studio in London. Once on the ground, with distant gunfire going off, I did find it hard not to switch back into my army mindset." >>
“My intention is to make these AK-47s become symbols of hope and peace," Symondson told Tempus. "That’s why I was so honoured to get involved with the organisation – they stand against the injustice people are facing all around the world, which is something close to my own heart.”
In his work, the two AK-47s are positioned in an ‘H’ and adorned with butterflies – including white origami figures inked with references to their ethos. The origami was produced by Symondson’s 10-year-old cousin Grace, who wanted to contribute and help children in warzones when she heard from Bran about their plight.
He said: “It was great that Grace wanted to be involved, and from an artistic perspective there’s a beautiful juxtaposition that a child from a safe and loving family environment was creating this for children suffering in conflict zones who aren’t so fortunate.”