Opened on September 1, 2012, Krzysztof Wodiczko's new public projection on the city hall building in Mechelen, Belgium joins the work of 70 other artists for the exhibition Newtopia: The State of Human Rights. His project, "The New Mechilinians," based on voices and stories of undocumented immigrants in the city of Mechelen, was the sole project commissioned for public space.
For Newtopia, Wodiczko temporarily transformed the facade of Mechelen's City Hall into a communication vehicle, both visual and auditory, for immigrant residents in Mechelen. With the support of Werkgroep Integratie Vluchtelingen (Refugee Working Group) in Mechelen, the artist recorded the testimonies of several individuals in summer 2012. A specially designed interface made it possible to film the speakers' eyes only. Through this work, these new immigrants and refugees have the opportunity to transmit, through the prestigious political and architectural body of the City Hall (the city's key democratic institution), stories of their traumatic experience of displacement and everyday lives. With their voices heard and their eyes visible, the city's newcomers are able to share their lived experiences: difficult to express in a non-mediated way and difficult to comprehend by the city residents who were never forced to emigrate.
Tracing artistic responses to human rights issues, the exhibition charts the development of the human rights movement and its evolving discourse since the post-war era, paying particular attention to the emergence of new human rights discourses and the 'rise of human rights' since the 1970s, and looks at their current state.
Newtopia includes work in diverse media by international artists of different generations from all over the world. Many of these artists come from countries and regions where human rights have been – or still are – a particularly contested issue, such as the Arab world, China, Latin America, and the former Soviet republics; half of the artists come from non-Western countries.
Newtopia examines a rich variety of artistic responses in relation to the basic tenets of human rights and provides insight into the complexity and breadth of the subject and how it is bound to a myriad of social, political, economic, cultural, personal and collective issues. The exhibition, which features four thematic chapters and solo projects is curated by Katerina Gregos.
Newtopia will also feature a rich fringe programme including film, literature, music, as well as conversations with artists, creating an appropriate framework in a city rooted in the humanist tradition of Erasmus and Thomas More – a city that, however, is not averse to dealing with the dark chapters of its own history.
Newtopia contextualizes the subject of human rights in present-day Mechelen: the exhibition precedes the opening of the Kazerne Dossin Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights.
Newtopia also extends its reach geographically, with a satellite solo exhibition of the internationally acclaimed Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar, at the ING Cultural Centre on the Koningsplein/Place Royale in the heart of Brussels, from the 10th October to the 10th December 2012.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are, together with MO* magazine, Newtopia's valued partners in this undertaking.