Humanitarian Principles. Here & Now: Passerbys Share Their Thoughts. Part I

How can art help us understand Humanitarian Principles?

According to the International Humanitarian Law, four main principles underpin the definition of the humanitarian response: humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. These principles are the foundation for integrated and widely accepted codes of conduct, commitments and core standards (OCHA 2012).

Humanitarian Principles. Here & Now is a contemporary art installation produced by the Musée de l’Elysée and the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in conversation with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Swiss Embassies around the globe have the chance to present Humanitarian Principles. Here & Now within their local context through art installations, which not only showcase the work of Swiss artists but also promote important in-depth reflections about humanitarian operations.

If you pass by the Moynihan Plaza at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C., you will see fascinating photography and video installations illustrating fresh, local and contemporary perspectives. To engage with our audience even more closely, we have asked passerbys to share their thoughts about the exhibition but also more generally about art and how they relate to Humanitarian Principles in everyday life.

Kaspar Köchli, Academic Associate at the Embassy of Switzerland to the United States answers our questions…

Among all the pieces of the art installation, which one is your favorite and what Human Principles do you link it with?

First of all humanity. What does it mean to be a human being? What are the basics of human functions? In my opinion, being able to walk is a basic human ability that allows you to live somewhat independently.

This argument is connected to another principle I see in this picture: independence. The man helps the little girl to gain independence by showing her or helping her to learn how to walk again. He is, therefore, supporting her independence.

The art installation focuses on Humanitarian Principles which are the foundation of Humanitarian Action. How do these principles play a role in your everyday life?

I would say that impartiality is one of the guiding principles in my everyday life. Impartiality, as in constantly questioning my views, my decisions and my possibly biased perspectives.

Can art help us understand Humanitarian Principles?

I definitely think so. The discourse on Humanitarian Principles or Humanitarian Action is very often held in an academic language, which renders the discussion rather abstract. Art helps in bulding bridges and makes the discourse more accessible to everyone.

Sarah Pangrazzi, Swiss Fellow at the Wilson Center & Researcher in International Law & Cyber answers our questions…

Among all the pieces of the art installation, which one is your favorite and what Human Principles do you link it with?

The first Humanitarian Principle I see in this picture is humanity. A particularly vulnerable person, in this case, a child is being helped or taken care of. I would even say, humanity is displayed in two different ways on this picture: first, the picture shows a child and a child is naturally vulnerable.

Second, the child is injured, which magnifies their fragility. In this picture, the child’s vulnerability is what we see at first sight. However, I believe it is important to keep an open dialogue on the topic because it is not always clear whether a person or even an animal is vulnerable or not. Thus, keeping an open dialogue allows to lead to trust and trust is the base to then show vulnerability.

The art installation focuses on Humanitarian Principles which are the foundation of Humanitarian Action. How do these principles play a role in your everyday life?

I would say that humanity and impartiality played an important role in my personal life so far. Impartiality, because I try to go through life with an open heart, without judging people for their beliefs and thoughts. And humanity, because I feel that we should always consider people as equal, no matter what their story is.

Can art help us understand Humanitarian Principles?

I am convinced that art allows an understanding of different topics by making them accessible through creative ways. Nowadays, people are busy with their jobs and routines and often lack of time to dedicate to broader societal matters. Art is an effective tool to trigger emotions.

For instance, one intense picture may say more than a thousand words. Therefore, I think that art such as pictures, videos, audios or stories, can create a great outreach simultaneously to a significant number of people .