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Elam student uses art to promote human rights

Media Release
19 November 2008

Elam student uses internet and contemporary art to
promote human rights

A third-year student at The University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts is marrying contemporary art and the internet to examine issues of global social and human injustices, particularly the Declaration of Human Rights.

Shahriar Asdollah-zadeh is the son of a Persian father and Filipino mother whose relatives were executed in Iran in the 1980’s for their belief in the Bahá'í faith. As an art student, Shahriar wanted to reflect the outrage he felt about such persecution. By combining his artistic skills and sensibilities with the high-tech, worldwide community of the online social network Facebook, Shahriar discovered a vast online community that shared his deep concern at global injustices.

Shahriar launched, the website that has become the vehicle for raising awareness of human rights violations, injustices and persecution. The site features an art installation called “World Art Collective, Body Armour”, comprising a self-made, life-size suit of body armour that is itself made up of more than 1,500 photographs taken of and by global citizens, all of whom are holding signs that make a powerful statement regarding religious and human rights violations.

“I used technology and cotemporary art to empower people to act and thereby become participants of social action,” says Shahriar, who notes more than 1,600 participants globally have joined his website to date.

Shahriar has also developed an artwork that uses text messages, rather than photographs, to address global injustices. More than 350 people from the around the world have texted messages to the website. The artwork is a slide show rapidly flashing different area codes from all over the world where the text messages were sent from.

Shahriar, himself a practicing Bahá'í, says he believes art can make a social statement and be accessible to the masses, not serve merely as entertainment for the elite or the highly educated. As he notes in his Artist Statement (attached in full below), modern technology offers the chance to explore and interact with an ever-changing, powerful social network.

“I have always been interested in the power of technology, particularly the internet, in opening broad avenues of interaction among the world’s diverse populations. Artists are now able to use global communication as a medium to express the arts. Online social programmes such as Facebook, YouTube and Flickr are rapidly growing like a living organism and millions upon millions are signing up to join these trends of modern age popular culture,” says Shahriar.

“Artists have the opportunity to utilise and tap into this popular culture phenomenon and reach out to new audiences and like minded people through cyber space. I want to engage those who have been previously unexposed to what contemporary art can achieve socially and expand beyond the confines of a traditional art gallery setting,” he says.

Visit Shahriar’s website at:


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