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Human rights, visualized

Posted by Christopher Shea  December 15, 2008 12:39 PM

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This month -- December 10, to be specific -- marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the member states of the United Nations. The document, which remains all too aspirational, lays out 30 articles in which the basic rights supposedly recognized by all states are laid out. These include the right to life, liberty, and "security of person"; the right to be free of slavery; the right not to be tortured; the right to an education and an "adequate" standard of living; and the right not to be subjected to discrimination based on skin color, ethnicity, or language.

Six years ago, Amnesty International sponsored an attempt to make the document come alive for schoolchildren, commissioning the noted graphic designer Woody Pirtle to create a series of posters representing a dozen provisions of the declaration. Together, the posters were pitched to teachers for display in the classroom.

For each article, Pirtle used images photographed at close range: for example, chain links represent Article 4, freedom from slavery, while an engraved ring symbolizes Article 16, the right to marry. The blog Design Observer marked the anniversary of the declaration's signing by spotlighting Pirtle's work and noting how much work remains to be done in order to realize the rhetoric approved six decades ago by the U.N.

Article 4: the right to freedom from slavery


Article 20: the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, exile


Article 16: the right to marry

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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