This dissertation investigates the staging of human rights in the theatrical work of the Belarus Free Theater (BFT), a social justice theater company from Minsk, Belarus that has become one of the most prominent human rights theater companies in the world since 2007. Drawing on bilingual fieldwork and archival research conducted over a five-year period in Belarus and the UK, this project reveals how liberal values--such as freedom of speech and individuality--are translated across post-Soviet Europe and the European Union. The chapters in this dissertation trace a historical shift in human rights cultural politics from identity-based aesthetics to ethical aesthetics grounded in the principles of survival, testimony and sensation. These principles have increasingly become the gold standard for cross-cultural exchanges since the Helsinki Accords in the 1970s. I demonstrate how these principles are not ‘objective’ aesthetic judgments but, in fact, part of a colonial and racially charged mode of liberal human rights governance. Ultimately, this dissertation highlights how artist-activists from Belarus make claims to alternative worldviews to mainstay liberal democracy. It argues that cultural institutions must engage with cultural translation in order to avoid falling prey to a form of human rights governance that implicitly positions certain groups as artistically inferior and backwards on a spectrum of political freedoms.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2017. Major: Theatre Arts. Advisors: Michal Kobialka, Rachmi Diyah Larasati. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 183 pages.
The Human Rights Performative: The Belarus Free Theater on the Global Stage.
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