Gérman Chirinos of Honduras, Bernadette Demientieff of Alaska, and Jorge Díaz of Puerto Rico have been announced as the Rothko Chapel’s biannual Óscar Romero Award (ORA) recipients. The ORA recognizes courageous, grassroots, human rights advocacy focused on climate justice, and the artists have all demonstrated a commitment to climate advocacy despite economic and political pressures in 2020.
“This year’s award expands upon our 2019 Spring Symposium, which explored the wide-ranging impact of climate change and our collective responsibility to address the human causes that contribute to a warming planet,” explains David Leslie, Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel.
Saint Óscar Romero, canonized in 2018, is the award’s namesake. As Archbishop of San Salvador, Romero was assassinated by Salvadoran extremist political forces on March 24, 1980. Romero opposed military violence and courageously defended the poor and others at the margins of El Salvador’s society.
The Rothko Chapel has bestowed the ORA since 1986 to human rights activists who often work under extraordinary circumstances in the advancement of human rights around the world. An unrestricted cash stipend is awarded to the selected honorees to further their work and increase its visibility.
This year’s winners were selected by religious, art, and human rights professionals. The committee members were: Cassandra Carmichael, Executive Director at the National Religious Partnership for the Environment; Guillermo Kerber, former Program Executive for Climate Justice at the World Council of Churches; Cara Mertes, Project Director for Moving Image Strategies at the Ford Foundation; Marianne Møllmann, Director of Regional Programs at the Fund for Global Human Rights; Bryan Parras, Beyond Dirty Fuels Gulf Coast Organizer at the Sierra Club; and Nato Thomson, Artistic Director at Philadelphia Contemporary.
The winners of the 2020 Óscar Romero Award, via the Rothko Chapel, are as follows:
“Gérman Chirinos is a land and water rights activist from Honduras. He is fighting for the future of formerly protected lands in southern Honduras that are facing invasive development projects that limit community access to water and land. Gérman helped found the Southern Environmental Movement for Life or MASSVIDA, an association of 37 communities in active resistance to the destruction of land and water. Gérman’s steadfast commitment to his work comes at great personal risk, as there have been two attempts on his life. Upon announcement of receiving the ORA, Gérman said, “This award will help to shed light on our struggle and the human rights violations committed against the communities that make up MASSVIDA. We will no longer be silenced; our work will become known.”
“Bernadette Demientieff of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in tribe in Fort Yukon, Alaska, is Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which was formed in response to proposals to drill for oil in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bernadette has devoted herself to protecting the land that the Gwich’in people refer to as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” She also serves as an advisory board member for NDN Collective, the Care of Creations Task Force, Native Movement Alaska, and Defend the Sacred Alaska. When asked about her years of environmental advocacy, Bernadette said, “I am not an activist or an environmentalist; the fight came to my front door. We must all remember that we are on a spiritual path and that co-existing and respecting each other’s ways of life is important. We have to remember that being kind and compassionate is part of creating a beautiful world.”
“Jorge Díaz, co-founder of AgitArte, is a puppeteer, educator and bicultural organizer committed to working class struggles against oppressive systems. Jorge has been working on the frontlines in response to the climate crisis and political catastrophe caused by government handling of recent natural disasters in Puerto Rico. Jorge is an editor of the book When We Fight, We Win!, which sheds light on the stories, philosophies, tactics, and art of today’s most pressing movements including the environmental movement, immigrant rights, prison justice, and the LGBTQ movement. Jorge is also a founding member of Papel Machete, a collective of radical artists dedicated to education, agitation and solidarity work in Puerto Rico and its Diaspora.”
The Rothko Chapel will host a virtual award ceremony in late June for the OCA awardees, which will also be the launch for a program celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Chapel’s dedication. For more about the Rothko Chapel, please go here.
The Rothko Chapel is a contemplative space that interconnects art, spirituality and compassionate action through a broad array of public programs and community initiatives. It is open to the public every day of the year at no charge. Founded by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the Chapel was dedicated in 1971 as an interfaith, nonsectarian sanctuary, and invites visitors from around the world to experience the power and sanctity of Mark Rothko’s monumental paintings.