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Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957. After the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution, he returned to Beijing with his family. Ai studied animation at the Beijing Film Academy. In 1983, he went to New York, where he continued his arts education. He left school and made his living by painting portraits on the street and working at various other jobs. During this period, he became acquainted with the work of artists like Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and began working in the area of conceptual art. In 1993, he returned to China. In 2008, ten days after the Szechuan Earthquake, he visited the region to examine and film the situation; and realized that the government was not providing factual information about the disaster unfolding there. Creating a ‘‘Citizens’ Investigation’’ web site, he released information on the faulty construction and sub-standard materials used in the government schools which had caused the death of countless people in the earthquake, shared stories of students who had perished, and published many articles about the earthquake during the investigation process. Because of these activities, the site was closed by the Chinese government. In 2010 a demolition order was issued for his newly built studio in Shanghai, where he wanted to teach architecture classes although he had built with the necessary official permits. He stated that the decision was due to the fact that he had “disappointed” the Shanghai Municipality with his documentaries on “sensitive” subjects. He was ordered to be placed under house arrest; although the order was rescinded the next day, it was followed by several attempts to prevent him from leaving the country. In April 2011, as he was preparing to travel to Hong Kong, he was apprehended at the airport. His studio was searched by the police, his materials and computer were confiscated, his co-workers were detained. He was held for three months. Despite strict government monitoring and limited freedom of travel until 2015, he continued criticizing social inequality through his art. Since 2015, he has used his art installations on the subject of flight from the Middle East to Europe due to wars, to draw the world’s attention to refugees’ struggle to survive. He has addressed the refugee issue in many ways. In the autumn of 2015 with a photograph in which he posed as Alan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee child who washed up on the beach in Bodrum; in February 2016, by distributing blankets given to taken from refugees taken from the sea to Hollywood stars at a “Cinema for Peace” dinner held at the Berlin Film Festival; by placing life jackets on the columns of the Berlin Konzerthaus; and with his documentary titled ‘‘Human Flow’’. Expressing his political and cultural criticism via contemporary art, photographs and films, he draws attention to inequality and human rights violations throughout the world. Although he suffers extreme oppression for his criticism of the government of his home country China concerning violations of democracy and human rights, he continues, undaunted, to hold a mirror to humanity and raise awareness.
Eren Keskin was born on April 24th, 1959 to a Kurdish father and a Circassian mother in the city of Bursa. Under the influence of her family, she grew up with a sympathy for leftist politics. Studying at the Faculty of Law of Istanbul University, she fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a lawyer, and began taking on political cases. She became the director of the Human Rights Association, of which she was already a member since 1989. During the state of emergency of the early 1990s, when the village guard system, scorched-earth practices in villages, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances had become state policy in Kurdish-majority areas, she took part in committees formed to fight against the grievous human rights violations in the region; during visits to the region she was the target of verbal as well as armed attacks. In the 1990s, nearly 200 cases were brought against her, and in 1995, she was convicted in one of these: Because she had used the word “Kurdistan” in an article published in the newspaper Özgür Gündem titled “The World Owes a Debt to the Kurdish People,” she spent six months in jail. Another area in which she has struggled is that of sexual abuse of women. In her ward during her 1995 imprisonment, she learned that nearly all of the women –many of whom were her former clients– had suffered sexual abuse during their time in prison, and after her release from prison in 1997, in order to address this issue, she formed the Legal Assistance Office against Sexual Abuse and Rape in Custody. Within twenty years, hundreds of women sought the assistance of the office, which continues to operate today. In 2002, in a case brought against her for a speech she gave in Germany on the subject of sexual torture by state, she was sentenced to ten months in prison on the grounds that she had “insulted the moral personality of the Turkish Armed Forces.” Her sentence was converted into a fine, which was paid with donations gathered in a campaign undertaken by the Human Rights Association. That same year, the Disciplinary Board of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations issued a decision to bar her from working as a lawyer for one year. During this period, the mainstream media engaged in a smear campaign against her. As part of a support campaign for the severely oppressed Özgür Gündem newspaper, she served for three years as its co-editor in chief. Today there are still 143 open cases against her, one for a speech she made, and the others concerned with this duty which she performed voluntarily. Bravely and uncompromisingly, she continues to defend human rights in Turkey, standing by the victims via the institutions and initiatives and efforts that she manages and takes part in. While being subject to death threats, physical attacks and hate speech because of her criticism of the government, she undertakes all the risks and brings human rights violations onto the agenda, for the people of Turkey and the world.