116 117 The body and the shelter. Contemporary art in defense of human rights Fabiola Triolo May you have the body. May I be your shelter. The history of human rights walks with the bodies of human beings, and like the bodies it grows, like the bodies it gets injured but, like the bodies, it heals. As long as the bodies know how to take care of it. Words are a flywheel and, when bodies are able to choose them, they hold precious meanings. There is a very ancient legal establishment, dating back to the Holy Roman Empire and institutionalized starting from 1679 at the behest of Charles of England – cradle of the Common Law, of the inherent rights of men for the sole fact of being bodies – built on two symbolic and powerful words: it is the Habeas Corpus, may you have the body. In its name, in the eyes of the law, the body is inviolable and protected from abuse, law is sheltered from injustice, freedom can keep on walking, with bodies and within bodies, crossing the centuries. Have your body, no one can ever arbitrarily take away the dignity and integrity of your person. Act by remaining faithful to them and, in their name, I will be your shelter. The declarations of independence and the sources of law of every liberal order, the action of humanitarian organizations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, have been built on the Habeas Corpus’ foundation. The UN itself, signatory of the UDHR, took shape three years earlier, while bodies were rising again from the war, with the primary purpose of the international promotion of peace, therefore to widen shelter from the body to the bodies, to all the bodies, uniting the Habeas Corpus to the principle that every creed recognizes as the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, fertile substratum of the Ethic of Reciprocity. And there is a subtle, yet huge difference between the positive and negative poles of the Golden Rule: [+] do unto others as you would have them do unto you = the body of the Other as enrichment [-] don’t do unto others as you wouldn’t have them do unto you = the body of the Other as a limit corollary: in reciprocity, always polarize towards [+] 192 States belonging to the UN, each of them signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But human rights do not belong to the States, which, if anything, are their guarantors. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the committee that wrote the Declaration, «Human rights begin in small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person, the neighborhood he lives in, the school or college he attends, the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seek equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world». Human rights, then, belong to bodies. Also and above all to the bodies we do not see. To the forgotten bodies. To the used-up bodies, to the private bodies. To the unrecognized, unacknowledged or unclaimed bodies. To the bodies of those who demonstrate for other bodies. To the bodies played on the table of politics, to frighten, to silence. The Body of Christ and the body of every poor Christ. To the bodies of those who go through pain, suffering, darkness, which were the real theme of the referendum on euthanasia, recently rejected in Italy with the ridiculous alibi of a wrong syntax – as had already happened for the albeit bland draft law against homophobia named Zan Bill, because words, for bodies, can be the best ally but also the worst enemy, when one is not polarized towards [+]. How do you get close to a body in pain? What compassion with? What friendship with? By what right can someone else's body be condemned without appeal? On his body I saw all the evil in the world, were the words of Giulio Regeni's mother in front of the deposition of the body of the son, despoiled of the Habeas Corpus, of Pietas and still in search of rights. Perhaps, rather than a declaration of rights, we need a declaration of duties, because every time a right is denied, emptying it into sterile abstraction, someone has not done his duty. The duty to defend every single body. With its unique story. With its unique skin. Skin, sounding board and depth surface of every body, as Paul Valéry wrote: «The most profound thing about man is his skin». Skin as an interface with the world, through which to read and interpret the profound: and here it is, art, skin of the imaginary, in its symbolic and deeply ethical function of intermediary, alert, recall. Through the imagistic power of the symbol, main instrument of art acting like