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“Everybody has stories to tell:” Creating art space for children at National Gallery Singapore

Rattana Lao

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Children need space to grow and art plays a pivotal role in creating not just any space, but a creative and conducive space. Knowing that is one thing, making such space available for children is a whole new world.

This year, for the first time, the National Gallery of Singapore is making it possible. In its first Gallery Children’s Biennale, Singapore is leading the way in Asia to create space for children through art. The exhibition targets young visitors and it is curated in such a way that aim to captivate the imagination of the young: making art fun, interactive and accessible. The objectives are simple: to nurture children’s deeper understanding and appreciation of art since the young age and creatively engage children with art in a new innovative and educational way.

Ms. Chong Siak Ching, CEO, National Gallery Singapore said “The Gallery believes that art education plays an important role in developing innovative and expansive thinking in our young. For the Gallery Children’s Biennale, we engaged artists to create works accessible for young visitors to showcase how art can be fun, inspirational and educational. This will be a good platform for families to come together and explore fresh perspectives while engaging with art.”

Under the theme “Dreams and Stories”, Gallery Children’s Biennale is under the guiding philosophy that “every child is creative. We believe everyone dreams and has stories to tell – and we want to active their senses, and enable them to express their thinking, ideas emotions,” said Suenne Megan Tan, the Director of Audience Development and Engagement at the National Gallery Singapore.

“A key aim of the Gallery Children’s Biennale is to incubate, pilot and research new approaches of art engagement, within a museum context, where artists and visitors function as partners and contributors to-ward a shared learning experience. While this advances the development of art education and the learning of art by an individual, it also transforms museums into active learning environments in which people can feel, think, look and respond, moving comfortably from what they know to new areas of knowledge”, said Mrs. Tan.

To achieve this, the Gallery brought together 9 exceptional artists from Singapore and broader Southeast Asia to showcase their masterpieces. Some are existing work, some are newly commissioned. Ranging from art installations to performance art, the different forms of art present an inspiring sensory experience for young visitors to engage with art in a new and educational way.

Of all the installations, 5 are created by Singapore artists, 2 by Southeast Asian artists, and 2 by Asian art-ists. Four artists, namely, Singapore’s Cultural Medallion awardee, Chng Seok Tin, Vincent Leow, Ian Woo and Tran Trong Vu are part of the national collection, and whose works are also on display in the DBS Singapore Gallery and UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. The likes of team Lab and Mark Justiniani are artists of international repute that create unique participatory and immersive works. While world-renowned, Yayoi Kusama amplifies the Gallery’s mission of bringing high-level artworks that has the capacity to embrace the public and offer art that welcomes our children. Similarly, Robert Zhao and Lynn Lu have also created works to express their beliefs and concerns about the world we live in.

The special thing about these artists is that they are creating works that are more engaging for children, allowing children to touch, stick, walk, browse, organise and even perform an artwork in order to bring young audiences closer to the usually distant, if not venerated, art pieces. Through this process, it is hoped that visitors will be inspired to revisit works of art in the Gallery and contemplate the ever-changing ways in which art constitutes a larger story of who we are. Each art installation is created with accompanying activities and ideas for discussion that aim to spark the imagination of young minds, and generate creative thinking for a new generation of Singaporeans.

But all of these cannot be achieved over night.

Gallery Art Biennale is a small step toward a larger goal of instilling the love of art amongst Singaporean. It is an auspicious start for a long term process. There will be more activities throughout the year at the National Gallery to nurture the love for art for children. The Gallery believes that early exposure to art is beneficial to the holistic well-being of a child as it can improve a child’s literacy, critical thinking and creative skills, among other benefits. All year long, at the Keppel Centre for Art Education offers Family Weekends (a series of workshops, interactive tours and storytelling sessions the 2nd weekend of every month) to create a shared learning experience for children and their family. In conjunction with Gallery Children’s Biennale, a series of public programmes, film screenings, special tours for families, and artist-led workshops for children have been lined up. Visitors can also look forward to an outdoor festival in August.

Although the primary objective of the Biennale targets young visitors, the entire installation speaks to everyone in the family. Because “everybody has stories to tell”, the aim of Gallery Art Biennale is ambitious. It is hoped that through such interactive and engaging process using different kinds of art, the audience to the Biennale will go through a transformative experience, visitors will be emerged knowing more about themselves and the world around them.

“This first edition of Gallery Children’s Biennale welcomes the inner child in every one of us, regardless of age, to embark on this creative journey to explore the world through the eyes of nine artists from Singapore and beyond. We hope that both the young – and the young at heart – will be inspired by the installations and programmes,” added Ms Suenne Megan Tan

Gallery Children’s Biennale opens to public 20 May to 8 October 2017. The Gallery Children’s Biennale is a ticket exhibition. General admission rules apply. Free entry for Singaporeans & PRs. For more details, visit www.childrensbiennale.com. The Gallery Children’s Biennale will be held once every two years.

Rattana Lao holds a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and writes on education and development. She is based in Bangkok, Thailand.

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The feminist inspiration of Mona Lisa

MD Staff

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This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the Italian genius, Leonardo da Vinci, who died on 02 May 1519. On this occasion, UNESCO highlights some of the comments concerning the origins of one of the most famous paintings in history: Was Mona Lisa painted in a feminist spirit?

The thesis of the American art lover William Varvel highlights the links between feminism and the painting. According to his findings, Mona Lisa would represent a figure in the fight for gender equality. Why? William Varvel insists on “the theological rights of women” claimed through the vision of the famous painting from the Renaissance Period. These rights are linked to the status of priests, which women do not have access to. Therefore, the painting representing Mona Lisa would have for true desiderata the possibility for the women to have access to the priesthood. William Varvel assures that “Mona Lisa is a kind of declaration for the rights of women”.

To support his argument, the author of The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa explains how Leonardo hid clues in the painting: in total, not less than “40 symbols, taken from the 21 verses of the chapter 14 of the Book of the Prophet Zechariah” in the painting.

Therefore, there is a link between religion, the painting of the Italian master and his feminist commitment. It is precisely this link that William Varvel wishes to highlight in order to allow a reflection on the subject. A new definition of the place of Mona Lisa in the artworks from the Renaissance is necessary to apprehend the political and feminist scope of this masterpiece.

UNESCO

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How UN cultural treasures helped set the stage for Game of Thrones

MD Staff

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From King’s Landing to the Iron Bank, so many of the breath-taking backdrops seen on the smash hit Game of Thrones television series are available for future generations to enjoy,  thanks to a key, but little-known role played by the United Nations cultural agency.

Established in 1945, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has worked to improve dialogue and understanding between civilizations, cultures and peoples. One of UNESCO’s methods of doing this is by designating and preserving World Heritage Sites, defined as having outstanding universal value to humanity, which it inscribes on the World Heritage List to be protected for posterity.

To date, there are 1,092 natural and cultural places inscribed. The diverse and unique treasures range from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India.

Since 2011 UNESCO’s work has become inseparable with the magnificent film locations of the wildly popular Game of Thrones series.

For those tuning in to the show’s final episodes, here’s a look back at the Seven Kingdoms with a nod to the UN cultural agency.

Capital of the Seven Kingdoms

Long before it became known as King’s Landing – one of the Seven Kingdoms and seat of the mighty Iron Throne – the old city of Dubrovnik in Croatia was an important Mediterranean seat of power from the 13th century onwards. Severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667 and by armed conflict in the 1990s, UNESCO is co-coordinating a major restoration programme.

Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 1979.

Old City of Dubrovnik (Croatia).UNESCO/Francesco Bandarin

Battle of the Blackwater 

You may recall the fiery Battle of the Blackwater, or scenes where King Robert Baratheon rules from the Iron Throne in the Red Keep, overlooking Blackwater Bay: Fort Lovrijenac, outside the western wall of the Croatian city, actually played an important role in resisting Venetian rule in the 11th century.

Cannon in Old City of Dubrovnik (Croatia).UNESCO/Silvan Rehfeld

Private retreat for House Martell

It is easy to see why Doran Martell called the Water Gardens of Dorne “my favourite place in this world”.  Actually located in the heart of Seville, the Royal Palace of Alcázar is imbued with Moorish influences that date back from the Reconquest of 1248 to the 16th century. UNESCO points to it as “an exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Almohads as well as that of Christian Andalusia”. 

UNESCO inscribed the Royal Palace of Alcázarin in 1987.

Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville (Spain).UNESCO/José Puy

Daenerys’ journey through Essos

When you look at the Medina of Essaouira in Morocco, perhaps you can image The Khaleesi lining up The Unsullied eunuch slave-soldiers in the city of Astapor before renaming Slaver’s Bay,  the Bay of Dragons. But for UNESCO, Essaouira is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town in North Africa. Since its creation, it has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and its Saharan hinterland with Europe and the rest of the world.

The Medina of Essaouira joined the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 2001.

Medina of Essaouira, formerly Mogador (Morocco).UNESCO/Leila Maizaz

Yunkai: ‘A most disreputable place’

In the Yellow City, Daenerys’ language skills are useful with the Yunkai’i, who speak a dialect of High Valyrian. But in Berber, the village of Ait-Ben-Haddou was a popular caravan route long before current-day Morocco was established. The crowded together earthen buildings surrounded by high walls offer a view of a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. 

Ait-Ben-Haddou was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ait-Ben-Haddou (Morocco).UN News/Jing Zhang

Theon returns to Lordsport Harbour

County Antrim envelops UNESCO-designated Giant’s Causeway and Causeway coast. It is also home to the small fishing harbour of Ballintoy, known to fans as the port of Pyke, home to the Iron Islands of the Greyjoys. Located in real-life Northern Ireland, the Causeway consists of some 40,000 massive black volcanic rock columns sticking out of the sea. Over the last 300 years, geographical studies have greatly contributed to the development of the earth sciences.

The Causeway coast was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland).UNESCO/Stefano Berti

Cersei’s ‘Walk of Shame’

The iconic scene in in which Cersei Lannister is forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing began atop of the baroque Jesuit Staircase, which leads to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Jesuit College in the UNESCO-desnigated Old City of Dubrovnik .

The Jesuit Staircase is located on the south side of Gundulic Square in UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City of Dubrovnik.UN News/Mita Hosali

Kingslayer for gender equality

The connection between the United Nations and Game of Thrones does not end with UNESCO’s inspiring  sites.

While Jaime Lannister is the twin brother of Cersei and slayer of the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, real-life actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Development Fund. Passionate about ending discrimination and violence against women, the father of two girls is focusing his considerable talents on drawing attention to critical issues, such as gender equality – encouraging everyone to be agents of change.

Mr. Coster-Waldau was appointed a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in 2016.

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Baku forum to push back against ‘rise of hate’ with strong call for cultural and religious tolerance

MD Staff

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Just off a plane from Sri Lanka, Miguel Angel Moratinos, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNOAC), said on Wednesday that tomorrow’s 5th World Forum for Intercultural Dialogue is opening at a “very timely” moment.

Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, ahead of the UN-backed Forum, Mr. Moratinos told UN News about his “emotional visit” to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, where he paid his respects to victims of the suicide bombings that took place on Easter Sunday which killed more than 250 people at churches and hotels across several cities.

“Sri Lanka has been an open country with different religions and cultures, and suddenly there was this massacre”, he said, adding that it had dealt a “tremendous blow to a country that is trying to live together in peace.”

While social intolerance is not new, Mr. Moratinos was concerned about what he called “the return of hate.”

“Hate is the word that mobilizes certain communities to destroy”, he said, adding: “It drives people past the point of not being able to live together to the direction of exterminating their opponents and that is very dangerous.”

“This Forum is important to send a strong message to the international community that it is possible to live together, that we can respect each other and that we have to better understand different cultures and religions,” he told UN News.

Complex situations need clarity

He said that as the world is becoming more complex and uncertain, a global strategy for intercultural dialogue is ever more important.

“Solutions sought through financial, military and political means take a simplistic view”, he stated, noting that sustainable solutions require a social-cultural approach that digs deep into the roots of different societies to bring clarity.

“Unless you understand the mentality of your neighbor, the history of an issue, how you come to this situation, what the consequences are and the relationship is, it is very difficult to find sustainable solutions,” he maintained.

The High Representative is taking up this approach wholeheartedly, using it as a new tool “to explore and develop in the near future”.

Mr. Moratinos also spoke about the message of interfaith dialogue and tolerance on which both the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the Pope agreed.

He said the historic declaration that Al Azhar and the Vatican had produced was about “brotherhood, mutual understanding and overcoming past controversies to look toward the future”.

“And it is not only between Islam and the Catholic Church, they want to go larger, to ask other religious faiths to join them”, he said, noting that is provides “a good basis for discussion and for interreligious dialogue”.

Turning to the global plan of action to safeguard religious sites – a fresh mandate given to UNAOC last month by UN chief António Guterres in the wake of the horrific mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques – Mr. Moratinos told UN News that while working on the draft, his Officer was “shocked by what happened in Sri Lanka”, stressing that those attacks further demonstrated the urgency of developing a plan.

He detailed some of the work his team is doing to this end, such as in Sri Lanka, where they reached out to the Congress of Religions and “went into specific elements”, including on how national legislation should be adapted “to meet new challenges” and the work needed to “put an end to social networks of hate and discrimination”.

The High Representative shared his hope that by end-July a draft plan should be ready for adoption and implementation.

The 5th World Forum, which will open in Baku tomorrow, 2 May and through Friday, will examine the critical role of intercultural dialogue as an actionable strategy for building human solidarity and helping localities counter the violence and discrimination in diverse communities.

Running under the theme Building dialogue into action against discrimination, inequality and violent conflict, the Forum will also host the 2nd High Level Panel of the Heads of International Organizations and the Ministerial Panel, in order to build synergy and partnership among political, economic, financial, military, humanitarian and social organizations along with other stakeholders to elaborate a common roadmap for assisting public, private and third sector organizations in building inclusive and sustainable societies through promoting intercultural dialogue and human dignity.  

The Government of Azerbaijan, in partnership with the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNAOC, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Council of Europe and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) is the host of the Forum.

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