Print Study Room: Human Rights and Development

“Human Rights and Development” with Program Director and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Nurcan Atalan-Helicke

Students in this course examine global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the extent to which a rights-based development approach has been embedded into the design and implementation of SDGs. In review of case studies from the United States and the world, students discussed why there are still concerns about balancing economic, environmental, and social aspects of development, and challenges to achieving equality in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, age, and ability. This class is an Environmental Studies, Gender Studies, and Black Studies course, and provides an interdisciplinary framework to examine challenges to human development amidst a pandemic.

Assignment

Students researched how artists from the African continent reflect on challenging issues and incorporate gender, health, environment, immigration, and well-being in general into their art. The students submitted a long essay incorporating the artist’s background, country of origin, the theme highlighted by the artwork, and how that connects to class themes, while the shorter reflections below provide a glimpse of the artist and their art from the lens of human rights and development.

A black and white photograph of a black person posing in sunglasses in front of a backdrop of an airplane.
Sanlé Sory, Je vais décoller, 1977, printed 2017, gelatin silver print, 19 7/8 x 16 in., The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2018.13.3
Ibrahim Sanlé Sory was born in 1943 in the French colony of the Republic of Upper Volta, which is now known as Burkina Faso. Sanlé Sory began as an apprentice to local Ghanians and captured highway accidents on his motorbike. Although he had many talents as an illustrator and reporter, his primary passion was photography. He launched his own studio, Volta Photo Studio, in Bobo-Dioulasso, which was in the heart of Burkina Faso at that time. Starting age eighteen, he developed and printed his own photographs and portraits. He mainly took 6 x 6 black and white portraits of individuals or groups of people. Word of his work spread quickly among the crowds of Bobo-Dioulasso and he was soon recognized as the go-to photographer of the city. By hosting dance parties, Sanlé Sory not only attracted young adults to city life, but unintentionally cultivated a new and developing culture with his generation. And his work is symbolic of this.
Read More
Sanlé Sory’s images, like Je vais décoller document the transition of this new country and its young people. The subjects appear eager and excited while also portraying a sense of strength and power. The sense of new found freedom and endless possibilities are shown through the use of the plane image and being able to “take off” as a nation. In this newly urbanizing country, viewers can see the subjects trying to establish themselves in the way they want to be perceived on a worldwide platform. Je vais décoller highlights the social and cultural blossoming of the youth, now discovering their freedom, and a country that has escaped from colonialism to prosper and reinvent itself.
Show Less
A large white barrel says “AFRIKA OIL?” on it in red and a black man’s head leans out of the top with a plastic bottle in his mouth.
Barthélémy Toguo, Stupid African President 3 (Afrika Oil), 2006, digital inkjet print, 42 7/8 x 30 7/8 in., gift of the artist, 2012.7.3
Afrika Oil? is the third installment in the series Stupid African President by Barthélémy Toguo. Toguo is a Cameroonian and French artist whose focus lies in showing the reality of political themes versus how they are commonly perceived. Completed in 2006, Afrika Oil? is a photographic representation of the exploitation and environmental degradation of resource-rich African states that stem from the region’s colonial history. The artwork itself is seemingly simple at first glance, but possesses a powerful message. A man is crouching in an oil drum with the words “Afrika Oil?” painted in red letters against the white background of the oil drum. An empty plastic water bottle lays erect in his mouth. Oil extraction is a main source of environmental degradation in these countries, most notably through water contamination.
Read More
In regions where water is already a scarcity, this process has devastating effects on the local environment and population. The question mark on the oil drum serves as an indication of skepticism for the viewer. Who is profiting from this oil? Where is it being taken? In terms of natural resources, Africa is one of the richest continents on the planet, yet a majority of its inhabitants live in extreme poverty. This can be attributed to the patrimonialist political order that plagues many African states. There is a diverse set of factors that play into this phenomena, and many of them stem from the long lasting socio-political dynamics constructed through colonial strategies of divide and conquer.
Show Less
A large, black glitter skull contains pieces of a photograph of a man looking at smaller human skulls. The jaw of the large skull has four legs attached to it.
Wangechi Mutu, Ovarian Cysts [from Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors], 2006, collage on digital print, 23 x 17 in., gift of Michael Jenkins and Javier Romero, 2016.27.4
The gynecological history of women, specifically women of color, has been wrought with stereotypes, cruelty, and dehumanization. Wangechi Mutu explores this history through her collection Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors. Ovarian Cysts uses material and thematic contrast to comment on the crises of medical racism and genital mutilation faced by Black women. Images pulled from antique medical journals represent the detrimental legacy of medical tradition and conservatism, whereas clippings of bare legs literally emerging from a large skull and bold glitter speaks to the emergence of female liberation and modernity.
Read More
Wangechi Mutu was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya in 1972. She draws on a wealth of exposure and perspective from her childhood in Kenya and higher education in the United Kingdom and America. Mutu’s work pokes at the natural curiosity of the human psyche with work that pushes its audience to consider the ethical history of medicine and the oppression of Black women. In Kenya, the status of women has improved in recent years, but severe inequalities and injustices are still present. For instance: Kenyan women currently have ownership or rights to less than 1% of the country’s land, and are extremely at risk of gender-based violence. Similar injustices exist in the United States: Black women still face many obstacles in health. Medical racism is incredibly pervasive and maternal health in Black women in America has reached a crisis level. Mutu’s racialized and gendered lens has allowed her to make bold and powerful statements in her art and to speak out for Black women across the globe.
Show Less
A black and white photograph of a black person posing in sunglasses in front of a backdrop of an airplane.
Sanlé Sory, Je vais décoller, 1977, printed 2017, gelatin silver print, 19 7/8 x 16 in., The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2018.13.3
Sanlé Sory began his photography career in the early 1960s, right when Burkina Faso regained independence from the French. In the same year, the artist returned to his hometown Bobo-Dioulasso and created his own photography studio, also known as Volta Photo, at only eighteen years of age. However, his artwork did not reach wider audiences until he was in his 70s. Not until French music producer Florent Mazzoleni discovered his 1960 album cover shoots, the images of the youth he took in his studio, and was in awe about them did he achieve worldwide recognition.
Read More
Sanlé Sory focuses on demonstrating the beauty of his country’s essence and culture in the purest form. Shooting with his Relleiflex camera, the artist captures his subjects candidly and in their element, embracing their way of life. Sanlé’s thematic approach is based on the intersection between modern customs and culture-rich traditions. In Je vais décoller, the photographer emphasizes the distinction between these components by blending the subject with an organic feature, that being the tapestry as a background. Through the use of shapes and linear qualities mixed with the abstract, he manages for the piece to come together. Sanlé Sory’s goal is to capture the beauty and essence of Burkina Faso’s values and present them in different scenarios to document the transition of his country. It’s astonishing how Sanlé Sory can produce such a powerful image with the absence of color. In fact, the monochromatic constituent of the photo represents the old-fashioned culture of Burkina Faso. Essentially, Sanlé Sory conveys a fluid compatibility in the intersection between praised cultural traditions and modern habits.
Show Less
A large white barrel says “AFRIKA OIL?” on it in red and a black man’s head leans out of the top with a plastic bottle in his mouth.
Barthélémy Toguo, Stupid African President 3 (Afrika Oil), 2006, digital inkjet print, 42 7/8 x 30 7/8 in., gift of the artist, 2012.7.3
Barthélémy Toguo studied at art academies in the Ivory Coast, France, and Germany. Toguo’s work has been displayed in galleries on five continents. Common themes throughout his work include migration, colonialism, race, and the relationship between the global North and South. Toguo’s 2005-2008 Stupid African President portrait series represents African politicians and issues of leadership within economic, environmental and political contexts.
Read More

Speaking to issues of resource extraction and export dependency, Toguo poses inside a white oil drum with “Afrika Oil?” painted in red block letters across the front. Only his head and neck are visible above the rim, as if drowning in dependency; his mouth is closed around an empty plastic water bottle, grasping for buoyancy, or for a sip of water that isn’t there. The bold text on the oil drum seems to ask “will Africa always be defined by the finite source of oil?”

According to Toguo “[The] question mark is precisely an inquiry about the wealth of Africa, about where this oil wealth is going…[and] leaves room for the imagination, for all the questions that the viewer might ask.” Toguo’s work is a perfect example of artistic activism, addressing issues of resource dependency and allocation in Africa.

Show Less
Three black men in sunglasses pose around a vase holding pink flowers. They are in front of a gold, black, and white backdrop and are standing on a floral fabric.
Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Untitled, 2012, chromogenic print on paper, 59 x 59 3.8 in., Tang purchase with support from Jack Bell Gallery, 2020.25.3
Maxwell Baskins ’23 and Jasmine Leong ’23
Photographer Leonce Raphael Agbojélou explores the rich culture in Porto Novo, Benin, with the mission to give value back to his culture and country. His 2012 portrait series, Musclemen, depicts young male bodybuilders found on the streets of Porto Novo. Muscular men wearing traditional printed African fabric against a matching background holding fake flowers complement the brightly patterned fabric, yet the patterns and flowers contrast the notion of masculinity that his subjects so strongly portray. This display of power and appreciation for the culture reveals themes of masculinity, history, and the economy in Benin.
Read More
In the fifteenth century, Portuguese traders began enslaving people from the Bight of Benin. The English and French joined the Atlantic slave trade shortly after, bringing nearly two million people from the area, resulting in the loss of generations of able bodies and human capital. Later, the French colonization changed existing political and gender systems. Elders and women lost much of their authority, and men became favored in positions of power. Rejection of colonial influence on the other hand, led to a new embrace of traditional values and culture. This can be seen in how Agbojélou dressed his subjects. Bodybuilding became popular in the 1960s and is an example of the alternate masculinities which grew out of post-colonial contexts and the weak economy with high levels of unemployment. Finding new ways to demonstrate masculinity emerged when the traditional task of providing for the family was no longer accessible to men in urban areas.
Show Less
2016 3 1 pr w01
Fatou Kandé Senghor, Giving Birth, 2015, video with color, sound, 30:00, gift of the artist, 2016.3.1
Fatou Kandé Senghor is a talented Senegalese filmmaker whose numerous films speak upon a variety of themes related to African culture. She is also the creator of Waru Studio in Dakar, which is a platform for young creators to meet and conduct research and artistic experiments through new technologies. Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is a chief coastal port located in West Africa with a population of approximately 1 million people. Senegal is a secular republic and a Muslim country; 95% of this country’s population is Muslim. Gender inequities exist in Senegal: Women have significantly less access than men to western education. Women are less likely to own land, and less likely to be represented in elected and appointed offices of government. Senghor’s 2015 documentary titled Giving Birth observes the story of a ceramist named Seni Awa Camara, who has been awarded with a gift of creating unique clay figurines.
Read More
Camara is in her late seventies and is known for her figurines and art pieces she designs from clay. She grew up in a ceramist home, as her family would make pots and pans to sell in order to make a living. She also has faced a series of obstacles in her life: As she was forced into marriage at 15 and was impregnated four times. This documentary introduces themes of hope and resilience, as the strength that this gift gives Camara is juxtaposed with the incredibly difficult circumstances she has dealt with. Giving Birth touches themes of reproductive rights, gender inequities and gender empowerment. Camara’s experience and struggle as a low-income, African woman is a depiction of our class theme of incorporating gender equity and reproductive rights into SDG’S, and into our globe in general.
Show Less
A black and white photograph of a black person posing in sunglasses in front of a backdrop of an airplane.
Sanlé Sory, Je vais décoller, 1977, printed 2017, gelatin silver print, 19 7/8 x 16 in., The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2018.13.3
Ibrahima Sanlé Sory was born in the rural Nianiagara district of Burkina Faso in 1943. At that time, the country was a French colony called Upper Volta. Upper Volta (or Haute-Volta) was established from territories that had been parts of the colonies of Upper Senegal and the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) in 1919 as a colony of French West Africa. Burkina Faso gained its independence in 1960, the same year Sory began his photography career. As the country started to urbanize and economically develop itself, it opened up to integration and relations with neighboring countries.
Read More
Sory’s photo studio attracted a diverse range of visitors, meaning that he was able to capture the country’s mix of tradition and new sense of urbanism (Seymour 2019). This can be seen in his piece “Je vais decoller”, which translates to “I am taking off” in English, and depicts a young person interacting with the airplane backdrop, posing as though they are boarding a plane. This picture contributes to Sory’s attempt to document the overall feelings of freedom, joy, and hope of the Burkinabé people. However, the airplane backdrop and the lavish clothing in the pictures could also highlight the remnants of western ideals and their definitions of success and stability. Ibrahima Sory Sanle’s work connects to themes of globalization, economic growth, and modernity/cultural identity. His photos are able to bring a personal perspective of what the beginnings of globalization and modernization look like in a country that had only recently gained its freedom.
Show Less
A large white barrel says “AFRIKA OIL?” on it in red and a black man’s head leans out of the top with a plastic bottle in his mouth.
Barthélémy Toguo, Stupid African President 3 (Afrika Oil), 2006, digital inkjet print, 42 7/8 x 30 7/8 in., gift of the artist, 2012.7.3

Barthélémy Toguo was born in Cameroon in 1967, and currently splits his time living between Bandjoun, Cameroon and Paris, France. Toguo has used a variety of mediums in his artwork over the course of his career, including film, photography, and watercolor paints, and often appears as subjects in his own pieces. His photographic works are often described as a combination of performance art and portrait photography, which are useful to reflect on a variety of social and political issues, including race, war, immigration, and the environment.

Cameroon is an oil rich country and also considered one of the most mineral rich countries in West Africa. Most of the oil and gas exploration in Cameroon is done offshore in the Gulf of Guinea by multinational corporations (MNCs) which has a negative effect on the marine life and water quality. While many may consider the foreign involvement in Cameroon to be beneficial for the economy, the opposite effects continue to occur.

Read More
The third piece of Toguo’s Stupid African President series tells the story of Cameroon President Paul Biya succumbing to the dominance of MNCs, particularly as they relate to oil and natural resource extraction. The piece represents the Cameroonian citizen, sitting inside an empty, white-painted oil barrel with the words “Afrika Oil?” outside of the barrel in red. While several African countries like Nigeria, Angola, Congo, and Cameroon are rich in oil, it is unclear as to where the wealth from the oil is distributed, particularly as so many Africans experience poverty and food insecurity. Toguo leaves this question up to the viewer to discover, but he points out that MNCs exploit lands and people of Africa and corrupt political leaders play a role in this.
Show Less
A black and white photograph of a black woman with her head turned and chin touching her shoulder, she is looking towards the camera. There are leaves in the background.
Zanele Muholi, HeVi Oslo [from Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness)], 2016, gelatin silver print, 39 ½ x 29 ¾ in., purchased with generous funding from Nancy Herman Frehling ’65 and Leslie Cypen Diamond ’96, 2016.30.2
This artwork is from a collection, called Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness), by Zanele Muholi. It gives visibility to a group that do not see positive and accurate representations of themselves often: black members of the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa. Muholi wanted people to connect with, and to see themselves in the artwork, as their overall goal was to give visibility to the black queer community. Their powerful artwork speaks to issues within the South African constitution, which is meant to enshrine rights for the queer community and the individuals within it, too many of whom experience hate crimes, marginalization, and multi-level oppression.
Read More
South Africans experience unique and severe discrimination because of a black heterosexual cultural norm, which allows for protections of white LGBTQ+ individuals while excluding black LGBTQ+ individuals. Black queer women often find themselves at the height of this oppression- because they have an intersectional identity- and often find themselves excluded from HIV discourses despite being affected by HIV, and have they been victims of corrective rape. Overall, Muholi’s work has been a provocative and effective way to call attention to these issues in a way that allows for the black queer community in South Africa to speak for themselves through visual activism.
Show Less
A large white barrel says “AFRIKA OIL?” on it in red and a black man’s head leans out of the top with a plastic bottle in his mouth.
Barthélémy Toguo, Stupid African President 3 (Afrika Oil), 2006, digital inkjet print, 42 7/8 x 30 7/8 in., gift of the artist, 2012.7.3
Barthélémy Toguo is a 54-year-old artist from Cameroon. His series Stupid African President consists of theatrical mise en scenes that critique the leadership in Africa. In his third installment, Toguo explores Africa’s wealth in terms of oil and its distribution. The stark contrast between the red letters on the white barrel represents a need for communication, and the question mark is a query into the allocation of Africa’s resources. Water and fossil fuel extraction are interconnected and related. Fossil fuel producers use water for fracking, processing oil and gas, and creating electricity. This close relationship is dangerous because the post-production water is either unsafe or depleted. Water is often contaminated, and its storage facilities can release hazardous fumes which are harmful to the local population. Non-reused water is disposed of and wasted.
Read More
West Africa suffering from droughts, rising water levels, and deforestation. As Toguo suggests, climate change is a prevalent issue in Cameroon, and the climate crisis is highly detrimental to Cameroonians’ health. Barthélémy Toguo portrays his disgust for the oil extraction that endangers the health and wellbeing of Cameroonians. The artwork explains that while Cameroon uses water to extract oil, it leaves Cameroonians in need of water and in a state of poverty. Stupid African President directly calls out the government’s hoarding of income from oil exportation.
Show Less
i
Pattern by Evelyn Wang ’19
Inspired by the exhibition 3-D Doings: The Imagist Object in Chicago Art, 1964-1980
The Tang Pattern Project celebrates the Museum’s 20th anniversary. Organized by Head of Design Jean Tschanz-Egger, past and current Tang Design Interns created patterns inspired by the Museum’s exhibition and event history.