Sander van Bussel

‘One centimetre of your skin for human rights’ is the slogan of Human Rights Tattoo, a project conceived by artist Sander van Bussel. 6773 people will have a single letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tattooed on their skin. So far the project is about a fifth of the way through the declaration.


A photo of each tattoo is displayed on the Human Rights Tattoo website, accompanied by the bearer’s explanation of his or her reason for participating . These personal statements on individual relationships with human rights are in fact crux of the project, says Van Bussel.

Sander van Bussel is a founder member and artistic director of multidisciplinary art collective Tilburg Cowboys. The group makes art closely related to society and daily life, in which the public becomes part of the work. Van Bussel also lectures at the School of Fine Art and Design|St.Joost.  

Human Rights Tattoo: Sander van Bussel at TEDxHagueAcademySalon

Human Rights Tattoo: "meaning that sticks"


Ever thought of getting a tattoo? How about getting tattooed with a single letter from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – along with 6772 other people? You’d be part of an art project that asks you to reserve ‘One centimetre of your skin for human rights’. At TEDxHagueAcademySalon on 19 March there’s a chance to hear more about the project from the artist who conceived it, Sander van Bussel.

Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

The next person in line for a tattoo will be getting the first f in offence. That’s where the project has got up to so far. So far 1458 people have had a letter tattooed, and you can see the results on the Human Rights Tattoo website. They range from elaborate gothic calligraphy to simple sans serif. Some are boldly displayed on the hand, finger or neck, but many are discreetly tucked away on the back of the heel or behind the ear. There are even a few inside the lower lip. And the bearer of each tattoo explains their reasons for taking part.

In fact these personal statements on human rights are the most important element of the project, says Sander van Bussel, founder of social art collective Tilburg Cowboys. “The concept is the content,” as he puts it.

Meaning that sticks

Van Bussel was inspired by the death of Kenyan activist, filmmaker and radio journalist Steven Nyagah, better known as Nyash, who was shot in Nairobi’s sprawling Korogocho slum, allegedly for political reasons. Van Bussel had got to know Nyash when he was invited to participate in a project for Festival Mundial, an international arts festival in Tilburg. When Van Bussel later visited Nairobi, he tried to call Nyash but couldn’t get through to him. The following day Nyash was murdered.

“We always did these really strange projects with Tilburg cowboys – temporary, often with a smile, light-hearted,” Van Bussel says. “But I felt I could do more. I could do better. Longer projects, spread around the world, with more meaning that really sticks. The idea of tattooing the declaration of human rights was an idea that came to my mind in a minute.”

Get tattooed?

The next opportunity to go under the needle for human rights is at Movies that Matter, the film festival on human rights in The Hague on 23 March. You can't reserve a place, so get there early to avoid disappointment.