Humanitarian design is all the rage. A wave of Western designers has swept into countries such as India, Rwanda, and Brazil with ideas for clean water, better schools, and economic opportunities. But as Maarten Baas shows with his monumental Empty Chair -- in honor of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo -- the most powerful statements can also be symbolic.
The Dutch designer was invited by Amnesty International to create a piece in support of their campaign against the suppression of writers, journalists, artists, and activists. A Chinese writer, critic, and democracy activist, Liu is currently serving an 11-year sentence for "subversion." (He was arrested in December 2008, a day before a pro-democracy manifesto he co-authored began to circulate over the Internet.) Liu was honored by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in absentia. Baas's Empty Chair, made of pigmented clay, is both a reminder of repression and a gesture of hope -- the extended, ladderlike chair back climbs more than 16 feet up to the sky.
Baas will present the chair in celebration of Amnesty International's 50th anniversary in Pakhuis De Zwijger, Amsterdam, on May 28. The image of the chair will be placed on pins, available for purchase in about two weeks through Amnesty.
[Photos by Frank Tielemans]