A cultural icon, Jane Birkin captured the hearts of many through her exceptional talents and distinct style. Her collaborations with the French singer Serge Gainsbourg not only redefined music but also left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape. Songs like “Je t’aime… moi non plus” became anthems of an era, showcasing her evocative voice and unique artistic expression.
She is also known for her great contributions to the world of film and fashion. She graced the silver screen in both British and French cinema and is famously the inspiration behind the ‘Birkin Bag’ by fashion house Hermes. Her beauty, grace and charisma made her a symbol of artistic liberation and creativity.
Many of the obituaries of Jane Birkin cover all of this information, remembering Birkin for her artistic achievements. While her accomplishments in the artistic world were both incredible and undeniable, her humanitarian work was also significant. As a singer, she used her talent to bring light and hope to those who needed it most.
“Je Suis Pas d’Accord”
In the new millennium, following her rise to stardom, Jane Birkin shifted her focus to philanthropy. For example, she worked closely with Amnesty International, an organization devoted to global human rights. During the organization’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2001, which coincided with their commitment to eradicating torture, Birkin boldly tackled the uncomfortable subject. Taking to the screen once more, this time in a television interview, she addressed the issue.
Empathizing with her audience, she acknowledged that there are moments when one can feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and question the impact one individual can have. However, she asserted that this is a misconception; even the smallest act of publicly condemning practices like torture, simply stating, “Je ne suis pas d’accord” (I disagree), can wield significant influence, demonstrating an unwavering faith in collective strength and the power of advocacy.
Aung San Suu Kyi
One way in which Jane Birkin demonstrated her commitment to human rights and philanthropy was by doing what she did best: music. She released a song with Amnesty International titled “Aung San Suu Kyi,” named after the Burmese political leader. The song was to shed light on Aung San Suu Kyi’s plight for democratic freedom, inspired by this woman who spent 15 years under house arrest. Birkin’s dedication to advocating for justice and freedom didn’t go unnoticed, and it led to her being denied a visa by the Chinese government ahead of an organized concert.
Despite facing obstacles, her relentless efforts in raising awareness about human rights violations and her collaboration with both Amnesty International and the International Human Rights Federation showcased her deep compassion and unwavering commitment to making the world a more just and equitable place.
Her Songs Touched Our Hearts
In addition to her advocacy endeavors, Jane Birkin displayed a strong desire to contribute more directly. Following the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, she joined forces with the nonprofit organization International Movement ATD Fourth World. This organization had a dedicated team on the ground in Haiti, providing assistance to families in vulnerable situations. In April of the same year, Jane Birkin embarked on a journey to Haiti, accompanied by members from the ATD Fourth World Volunteer Corps.
During her time in Haiti, Birkin engaged directly with people impacted by the earthquake. She connected with Haitian children and patients in hospitals, lending her voice to songs of hope. Through her musical talent, she managed to inspire optimism in a place where it had been scarce. The climax of her visit came in the form of a concert, where she shared the stage with local Haitian musicians. This performance is etched in the minds and hearts of attendees, many of whom still vividly recall the emotions they felt on that day. A member of the ATD Volunteer Corps, Jacqueline Plaisir, said that “her songs touched our hearts.”
Jane Birkin’s involvement extended beyond the spotlight; she actively participated in the day-to-day activities of the volunteers in Haiti. This included accompanying them on visits to families in need and ensuring that essential resources reached even the most isolated corners of the affected region.
“It May Even Be Selfish”
Upon her return from Haiti, a conference organized by ATD Fourth World was held to discuss the reconstruction of the affected areas. Birkin shared her own experiences in the country with those present, including her motivations: “It was a reward for all these years of being something that resembles a singer.”
When asked about the possibility of retiring, she resolutely declared her commitment to continue. She considered her humanitarian endeavors not as difficult tasks, but rather as experiences that consistently filled her with a sense of amazement. Even amid the direst of circumstances, she found solace in the kindness of those tirelessly striving to help and enact positive change. She even went as far as to say that her work “may even be selfish,” as she felt invigorated after her visits.
Setting aside her artistic accomplishments, Jane Birkin’s life was a tapestry of remarkable experiences. Her dedication to humanitarian causes yielded lasting memories for those who were present. This article merely scratches the surface of Birkin’s humanitarian contributions. She also embarked on journeys to destinations like Israel, Palestine and Rwanda and collaborated with organizations during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Birkin’s legacy will live on in the hearts of those she touched, such as the Haitian musician Jean-Francois Gay, who aptly expressed this sentiment by saying that in his homeland “we like to say that those who do good never die.”
– Danielle Chorley