Aether & Hemera, creating safe havens through light
Written by Diane Lemieux
Aether & Hemera, the multi-disciplinary art and design studio of artists Gloria Ronchi and Claudio Benghi collaborated with Justice & Peace during The Hague Highlights festival. Together they explored the concept of safe haven through art and spoken word.
“Art has the extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion, protest and hope. It injects a vital contribution to any flourishing democracy.”
– Deeyah Khan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Artistic Freedom and Creativity.
Through their art studio Aether & Hemera, Gloria and Claudio use light and digital media to create public art that is beautiful to look at, interactive, and thought-provoking. They aim to create low-barrier ways to stimulate thought and discussion on what are sometimes difficult topics.
As Gloria explains, “Our art is really about people feeling something. Our hope is to convey thoughts not in a rational analogous way, but more in an emotional way. And this is the beauty of art. It doesn’t need to have an explanation or long tracts with text.
Our work is often a body experience. We invite people, for instance, to walk inside an installation, interact with it, and see the colours. It is really a sensorial that is universal. It goes to the basics of what it is to be human, beyond culture and language, beyond age and gender.’
Through their Samen Hier (Here Together) initiative, Justice & Peace aims to realise a more humane migration policy in the Netherlands. This movement has launched the first community sponsorship model in the Netherlands, through which it engages Dutch residents in welcoming newcomers such as resettled refugees and (young) status holders.
Groups of residents support a newcomer(family) in building a new life. Apart from an informal social network, the groups support newcomers in practical matters, such as learning Dutch and finding a job. In this way, newcomers are welcomed into society on an equal footing.
What is a safe haven? What does it mean to people in the Netherlands? What does it look like to a refugee who has left everything behind?
The Hague Highlights, the annual light art festival of The Hague, tells stories of the rich history of the city using light and projection. Justice & Peace participated in 2022 with the artwork Voyage – Safe Haven in the Hofvijver to advocate for more welcoming societies and communities that create safe havens for people who were forced to flee their homes.
Words and light
The opportunity for collaboration between art and activism came naturally for both Justice & Peace and and the art studio. For the artists, in their desire to explore ways to have an impact, this was an opportunity to push the boundary of the role of art in public spaces and the potential for art to contribute to collective social experiences that can influence individual thought and action.
“We are saying something that is clear and important but we’re not telling people how it should be. It is giving them an opportunity to engage with ideas in a context that is open, welcoming, warm, and empowering. We give visitors the opportunity to step in and make choices for themselves” Claudio Benghi.
With its Migration and Human Rights team of Samen Hier, Justice & Peace is constantly seeking new ways to spread its vision and make an impact. The light installation that adorned the Hofvijver in the city centre of The Hague aimed to broaden people’s perspectives, question their points of view, and stimulate conscious reflection on what it means to leave, to arrive, to move, to flee, to become something new, somewhere new.
‘’We started a project with refugees and Samen Hier participants during which they learn to tell their stories together with the storytelling collective Rose Stories,’’ says Marjolijn Lampe, senior Communications Advisor of Justice & Peace. These stories were part of the installation and of the official Justice & Peace podcast series “Finding Safe Havens”.
You can now watch the full interview of the artists Gloria and Claudio below.
Or you can visit the art studio of Aether and Hemera.
In their search for new ways of involving audiences in human rights, Justice & Peace has been increasingly exploring the power of art and artivism to empower potential change makers.