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Asian Pop Culture for the UN Sustainable Futures

Daniel Hsuan

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As a 16-year-old high school student in Taiwan, I’ve struggled to find opportunities to make an impact on international issues. Like many passionate students who are involved in Global Affairs and Model UN, I’ve always tried to take initiative and seek out opportunities that can promote youth action for a greater cause. With this drive, I decided to commit myself to the UNODC E4J’s “Educating for the Rule of Law” project when I saw the competition poster on the UNODC website.

When I was five, my grandfather’s Filipina caregiver, Aher, told me stories about her friends who were victims of human trafficking in Southeast Asia. As I grew older, with more access to resources and information from the internet, I began to dive into the details and history of the matter. After my grandfather passed, Aher also left the house and went to work for someone else, where, I found out, she faced maltreatment and abuse from the homeowner. Since the incident, I had the urge to work in the social justice and the law enforcement field. Now that I am a student, I can contribute to a wider audience through my art.  

With a focus on Sustainable Development Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institution), I decided to dedicate my song to human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants because of those very stories told by Aher. The entire process took me roughly four months in total. Every detail, from writing the lyrics, coming up with the melody and guitar chords with my peers, recording the song, adding instrumentals and beats, gathering video clips, editing video clips, and blending in the music to producing an awareness music video was worth the hard work. The result came as a shock. I couldn’t imagine out of the 1,200 submissions around the world, I was selected. I was in disbelief when I woke up that morning and saw the notification on my phone: Invitation to the UNODC E4J High-Level Conference. Over the next few weeks, I rehearsed over and over again with my guitar and background track to make sure that my performance would be flawless.

Using my prior knowledge in music composition, international affairs, and public performance, I was able to successfully engage with the audience, maintaining my posture, and effectively delivering a speech about my motivation behind the creation of “Heed The Plea, and Set Them Free.”As I wandered around the conference room, I took the initiative and spoke with numerous experts in different fields, gathering a stack of business cards, making long-lasting connections, and witnessing real-time professional operations inside the UN. I could feel a door had been opened.

The Experience

Mr. Yury Fedotov, Chief Director of the UNODC, tweeted a group picture of himself, me, and the other E4J winners with compliments and words of encouragement for all the effort that the youth have contributed towards promoting the culture of lawfulness. Meeting all the other winners of the contest was amazing as we shared our experiences and talked about our process of hard work. A teenager from the Philippines, who was the winner in the tertiary level, produced a short film about violence with an unforgettable use of emotion and film technique, connecting to the real-world issue of terrorism. The most phenomenal presentation of youth effort in fighting for the rule of law, however, came from a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who delivered a moving call-to-action to stand up for the rule of law, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

Although I told myself it was just like the many times performing for my band at school, I wasn’t able to manage my emotions standing on the stage in front of diplomats, organization CEOs, and educators. Stage fright was hitting me like I was in elementary school again. This live performance, however, was not like any music performance at the courtyard or auditorium. This was a pivotal turning point in my life, presenting myself as a representative of a youth movement on an international platform. This performance was proof for every youth who has ever doubted they could impact global issues, and, more importantly, proof for everyone to witness youths’ ability to make a difference in this world and to use art as a medium to influence people.

Beyond the performance

On day two, I had the honor of presenting my song, along with three other #Create4Justice artists, and discuss how various forms of artistic expression can be utilized to promote the rule of law. Along with three other panelists, I introduced my music as a medium to promote justice in an engaging way. I was deeply intrigued by how different manifestations of the arts can bring about awareness and change. Mr. Andrew Newman, a close friend and colleague, talked about the power of journalism and journalists’ efforts to show the world the “truth” behind world issues through the camera lens. An Italian architect and artist talked about how transforming old houses into colorful artworks helps with crime prevention and overall community wellness. The one artist that I talked with the most and still stay in touch with to work on song collaborations was Mr. Leonardo Parrága from Colombia. Our common robust interest in Reggaeton music created a new hashtag,#ReggaetonPorJusticia (R4J) with the purpose of reaching Spanish-speaking audiences, addressing issues relevant to justice and law in South America, and transforming the provocative image of reggaeton-type music. In addition, the head of the UNODC Doha Declaration Global Programme, Mr. Marco Teixeira, showed a strong interest in Reggaeton and expressed a willingness to help with my song creations. Even more encouragement came from Dr.Sofija Bajrektarevic, Director-General of the fascinating Vienna-based platform ‘Culture for Peace – Unifying potentials for the Future’. She suggested series of programs to be organised under her vision of bridging the generational gap through ‘Tomorrow’s People’ Board.

An Album Is Born

I am ambitious. I started with one song, and now I want to kickstart a whole album consisting of 17 songs that showcase different styles of music, are written in a plethora of foreign languages, and appropriately represent each and every one of the UN Global Goals. My original idea was to convey a unique story through the medium of music with a visual (video) accompaniment. However, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. It took me four months to finish producing my human trafficking song, “Heed The Plea and Set Them Free.” I couldn’t imagine the amount of time it would take for me to achieve this dream on my own. So I thought, why not feature different artists around the world, let them tell their own stories, and write their own lyrics in the languages closest to their hearts?

With the help of MUN Impact, I was able to launch my music project—The SDG Album, which involves youth from all over the world, creating songs about various global goal targets in the local language of their respective regions. Through all the hard work from MUN Impact, the outreach team, Mr. Andrew Newman, Ms. Lisa Martin, and the UNODC Education 4 Justice team, the album is now receiving submissions on a rolling basis. A winner, selected for demonstrating the most influential and effective idea through their song, will win a trip to MUN Impact Morocco in June!

During the High-level conference’s first break, UNODC conference press Ryan Haidarian decided to interview me about my motives behind my song and my vision after this once in a lifetime experience. I had the honor to have this video featuring me shared across UN social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Major Takeaways

This event has helped me come to the realization that young people do have the power to make an impact on this world. The reality is, we, the youth, may not have as many resources, connections, or some would even say, maturity to handle the pressure. What we do have, however, is the most impact when it comes to advocacy because people will think, “If a 16-year-old can do it, I can do it too.” From a middle school student miserably figuring out how Model UN works and how to overcome a paralysing  fear of public speaking to an advocate for the SDGs, trying to change the world with his voice and guitar, I have grown. After the conference, it feels strange to receive messages and tweets from UN officials and high-level diplomats complimenting my work and effort in promoting the rule of law. I can’t believe the profound changes a UN conference could bring to a teenager. From the media attention from Twitter and new insights about the United Nations to connections with people from educational institutions, UN agencies, and people with the same musical passion as me, leading to collaboration projects on song-productions on UN Global Goal topics, I can finally tell my friends from Model UN… I made it to the UN!

Daniel Hsuan is a Taiwan-born performer and conceptualist. His pop-art performances are already turning him into a world star and possibly a future UN Goodwill Ambassador.

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Arts & Culture

Moneyball: Is intuition the one thing that makes sports beautiful?

Naphat Malikul (Prim)

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Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in 'Moneyball' (Photo credit by Columbia Pictures)

Looking from afar, Moneyball looks like a male-centric sport movie that teaches us about how baseball works. But looking more closely, it is a film about business and negotiation, vital skills for someone who wants to be a good team manager. Starring Brad Pitt, the film sticks with tough, middle-aged Billy Beane, a team manager of Oakland A’s. He was recently defeated by the Yankees and found his team short-funded and losing star players to richer teams. Beane tried to find a solution for his team by turning to old, grizzled scouts who used intuition to pick good players, but ended up disappointed by the old-school system. Coincidentally, he met Peter Brand, a Yale graduated statistician who proposed a new way of organising team: to buy win and not players. Brand used statistic to find imperfect players who were underpaid, and by combining imperfections, both lead to team to break records of the decades with much less fund than other teams.

Data is the key factor in Beane and Brand’s success. It is used to predict players’ behaviour and create independent strategic moves that are combined to win the match. As Moneyball is mainly about the power of data in business success, this reminds me of one word that is frequently used these days: ‘big data’. Actually, what Brand used is not really called big data because there are three factors that must be concerned when using this word. The first one is ‘volume’, big data must consists of a large amount of data that makes it impossible for traditional methods to process it. The second is ‘variety’. There are many kinds of data, such as audio, video, text, Facebook posts, etc and this make the organisation of data more complex. The last one is ‘velocity’, means the speed of data generation. It refers to continuous and massive flow of data that happens simultaneously in a very short time. Social medias are one example of big data generation. When millions of people post on their wall all at once, the overflows of data begin and continue endlessly.

One thing about big data that captures my attention is that ‘the importance of big data doesn’t revolve around how much data you have, but what you do with it’ [1] Big data is usually used to spot defects in the process, calculate risks in business plans, and identify potential selling (or in baseball, scoring) points. Beane and Brand used their statistical data, which is administered in traditional ways, to accomplish modern tasks that all statisticians dreamt to succeed in. The predated methods of Beane and Brand paved the way for other major league teams in bringing statistic in use and changed the way baseball works forever. This makes me think of one scenario: ‘what if all the baseball records are fed to AI to create an absolutely winning team?’. The answer is more thrilling than I expected.

In the old days, scouts used intuition to pick good players. Their guts told them that some players were more talented than others and endless possibilities pop up in their imagination. ‘Possibility’ is a very powerful word because it comes with free will: the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded [2]. The scout knew they can choose players and design their game freely with their experienced minds and each player was free to act in the field to create a winning or losing game. Well, they could somehow predict the results but there was a significant space for unpredictable factors, and these unpredictable factors are vital for human conditions: we don’t want to be like robots of which all the moves can be predicted. We want to be more than gears in a close-system machine. We want to be able to ‘choose’.

It seems like the ability to choose is erased in the scenario I mentioned above. If one day AI learns how to predict absolute results of all games, that might be the end of baseball (and maybe all other sports). All the beautiful things about expectation will be gone. How can we be excited if there is nothing to expect? There will be no cheering and bets if we all know the prediction will be 100% correct. Gifts and hard works will only be reduced to numbers in sheets.

It’s true that the movie highly valued statistic and this robotic method but in the end, Beane found himself losing in major leagues. This means calculation is not always correct, but can we comfort ourselves that it was because human abilities are beyond calculations? Or do we must admit that it was because the tools he had were not advanced enough? Intuition might be an old-school tool, but isn’t it because of intuition that we have come this far? There are a lot more questions to be asked and these all will lead to the most important question: ‘what makes human condition meaningful?’

[1] https://www.sas.com/en_th/insights/big-data/what-is-big-data.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will

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The Art, Artist and The Pandemic

Ankit Malhotra

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Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889

Irrespective of how many times one visits, a spontaneous trip to Paris is always a good idea. That is because perennially alluring city of lights never disappoints.

Palatial building houses of centuries gone past us offer a contemporary aesthetic fusion of French sophistication with oriental grandeur. The enchantment of Paris is gilded with rich, jewel-toned shopping arcades, Haute couture-inspired artworks and ornate vases filled with freshly-cut camellias. A mist of tranquillity prevails in the city which stretches from the lush greenery of the glorious gardens. Paris and her pleasures exude a special kind of serenity and tranquillity. While Parisian pleasures cannot be fully roistered, art, which can fill the void of empty walls and souls alike, comes to the rescue. Paris dawns a mystical ensemble of history and art. And, art, despite the world being in a global lockdown has not stopped admirers from drooling over mastery of expression.

Evidence to support my claim and love for the human ingenuity and the love for expression are limitless. Museums and auction houses have retaliated by banding together to ride out the crisis. A plethora of blue-chip biennale like the Art Basel Hong Kong are being virtually conducted with complete oral narration. Eminent auctioneers such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips’ are accepting bids online.

Artists like Spanish painter Silvestre Santiago recently recreated van Gogh’s Starry Night directly on the hood of iconic British marque, the Jaguar. Speaking van Gogh, for whom the world was an imagination painted 150 paintings as an inmate of a mental hospital facility. His madness is depicted in his drawings through broad strokes and brush movements depicting his vision of the world around him. One is tempted to simulate the spectacle which took place in the summer of 1889in the south of France, St. Remis.

His unorthodoxy married his fascination of the night sky. The expression of the turmoil in the artist’s imagination found resonance and familiarity with the night sky.van Gogh’s added a spark to the dead and dull night sky. Unlike his previous works, van Gogh is said to have created ‘The Starry Night’ from memory and imagination rather than mere observation of reality. Critics feel that the 30-inch x 36-inch canvas painted 13 months before its maker’s death held motifs that symbolised his frame of mind, sense of isolation and a search for hope during a period of great distress. They see ‘The Starry Night’ not just as an image bursting with uncontrollable emotional energy, but also of van Gogh’s struggles and insanity at the time of its creation.

It is evident that van Gogh was always enthralled by the mysteries of the night, the dark sky and shining stars provided him with space for meditative reflection and soothing comfort for his mentally disturbed condition. “The moon comes out of eclipse, the stars blaze and heave, and the cypresses move with them, translating the rhythms of the sky into the black writing’s of the flame-like silhouette,” writes art critic Robert Hughes. The remarkable ‘Starry Night’ encapsulates intensely blue and vibrant sky which is excited yet at the same time, agitated. The sky and the stars have radiating concentric rings of light. The moon has the same set of rings around it. They are set in the sky which is not like the sky which one looks up to at night but rather is the vivid depiction of van Gogh’s imagination. The sky has swirling patterns which force the viewer to imagine the circles to move in the most psychedelic fashion possible. “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly coloured than the day,” he wrote to his brother and confidante, Theo. “When I look at the night sky, I see the mysterious brightness of a pale star in the infinite… then life is almost enchanted after all.”

Art historian and curator Joachim Pissarro writes, “Starry Night has an imaginative force and that the night was a very big catalyst in van Gogh’s mind; van Gogh lived his life by the night. He didn’t sleep until three or four in the morning. He wrote, read, drank, spent nights in cafés…or meditated over the very rich associations that he saw in the night. It was during the night hours that his experiments with imagination and memory went the farthest”. For scholars like Pissarro, The Starry Night stands out as a truly iconic image — an emblem not only of van Gogh’s work but also of art and the mind’s unimaginable creative ingenuity.

Finally, like me in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the chances are you are not standing in front of this painting alone, you are probably surrounded by quite a few people looking at exactly what you are. That, to my mind is the magic of art. I look back fondly and realise that the painting compels one to realize the part of the reason for the paintings’ status as of a‘treasure’ and love from people has to do with van Gogh’s way of touching one’s emotional well-being and vergangenheitbewältigung. Vergangenheitbewältigung, which, from German to English roughly translates to coping with the past. This offers a deeply philosophical and stoical resemblance towards times which bear semblance to the life of van Gogh whose life like ours in such times is marred with ennui.

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Working for the future

Anastasiia Pachina

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Art or (and) science

We are used to perceiving science and arts as two separate areas of our society that exist more or less independently. Science is exact. It necessitates rules and regulations, deals with laws, explains and interprets phenomena. Objectivity plays one of the most important roles in science. Arts, in turn, creates something abstract, something that is based on feelings and emotions. It reflects reality through the prism of images and symbols. Objectivity in arts is not so important. It seems that these two areas rarely, if ever, intersect and therefore should be considered separately.

However, if we take a look at the procedures for creating the final product rather than the end product itself, we will find out that science and arts have some processes in common: observation, visualisation, experimental testing, presentation etc.[1]Science and arts can also become complementary elements that together represent a more complete picture of the world. Therefore, we might consider these two areas in conjunction in the framework of culture as a whole.

Unifying Potentials for the Future – Culture for Peace (UPF – Culture for Peace/the Initiative)[2] is an initiative, which was founded by scientist and artist Sofija Bajrektarevic. It brings together several areas including science and arts. Its goal is to create a platform where talented people as well as organisations and institutions from various fields of culture have the opportunity to express their ideas and contribute to the sustainable development of our society. The interaction of science and arts is the core and basis of the initiative.

The main tools of the Initiative are the implementation of projects in the field of culture, support and presentation of cultural events, artists, scientists and active cultural figures. The Initiative detects, promotes and enlarges the network of creative ideas, talents and skills aimed at maintaining a sustainable future. Cultural maintenance of this network implies the continued establishment and development of a peaceful society and contribution to its organisation.

Projects and their participants

Currently there are several projects under the Initiative. These are:“’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background”, “Narratives of Hope: Applied Science in the Culture” and “Music as a Culture”. The first two projected are being actively implemented, while the third is under development and its start is planned for a fall 2020.

As a long-term project “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” presents a message of visual arts (sculpture, painting, photography, design). In the framework of this project, artists from around the world have the opportunity to express themselves and their attitude on the topic of “Sustainable Future – quo vadis: Process, metamorphosis, directions of movement (motion) of matter and spirit as essential building elements of being (existence)”. First, the works of artists are shown on the start page of the site of the UPF – Culture for Peace initiative and thus they become a visual representation of the site. Works change every two months during the year. Then the pieces of arts will be presented at annual exhibitions and presentation. This project format creates an interaction between a wide audience and artists from different parts of the world. At the same time, it provides a platform to maintain a balanced society and sustainable future developments. Several artists with their selected works have been already presented under this project.

“My works deal with processes that change matter; I recreate and/or document those changes”[3], -says the Croatian sculptor Alem Korkut[4] about his art. Prof. Korkut’s work was presented in the framework of the project “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” as the first visual message, and became an inspiration for the project theme. In the relief, which he featured fortheInitiative, the viewer can observe the processes of merging, healing and separation, and can move to the point of confluence or separation depending on the viewing angle.

Korkut’s philosophy is focused on the idea that nothing is fixed but is in flow, in the process of constant flux. The sculptor mainly creates aluminum reliefs that express his philosophy. Alem Korkut has exhibited at about two hundred exhibitions including solo and group exhibitions in Europe and beyond. He is the winner of many awards and the author of several public sculptures. In addition to his artisan works, Korkut is in the position of Associate Professor at ALU in Zagreb, where he has been teaching since 2007.

Sustainable future – Quo vadis,  Alem Korkut

A significant figure within the project is also Juan Trinidad, a conceptual sculptor of the 1980s generation from a central portions of American continent –Caribbean (Dominican Republic). A special feature of the sculpture, which he presented, is the reflection of the Dominican tradition and Afro-Antillean identity that is characterized by totem carvings of oak and centenary mahogany. Since early 1990s, Juan Trinidad has participated in numerous exhibitions in Central, Southern and Northern America, in Europe and beyond. It also includes UNESCO Paris. Trinidad’s works adorn spaces on four continents and are part of private collections as well as many prestigious cultural institutions. Henry Loyrette, the Former President – Director of the Louvre in Paris, commented on his work as follows: “Juan’s works wonderfully contributes in re-approaching our cultures, seemingly distant, but so close”, while Juan Trinidad himself says: “Without forgetting the past, I make sculptures today, thinking about the future.”

Without forgetting the past, I make sculptures today, thinking about the future. Juan Trinidad

The painting of the young artist, designer and social activist Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova[5]has also become part of the “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” project. In addition to her bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, Anastasia has received trainings in Belgium, the Netherlands. Her works are in private collections in Belgium, Estonia, France and Russia. Lember-Lvova’s artistic searches and studies focus on personal introspection and through aesthetics reveal the possibilities of social interaction. With the help of her works, Anastasia questions the constructed perception of the value and potential of individuals. Inspired by the project and created for it, the painting of Lemberg-Lvova expresses the idea that natural human qualities such as anger, fear, and doubt can be fenced with socially approved characteristics. Anastasia believes that “to explore our potentials as individuals and to unite in the wish for a prosperous future, we need to dispense with the need to hide behind false displays and make sure that we feel valued, worthy and capable from within oneself”. Besides fine arts, Lemberg-Lvova is engaged in social activities. She participated in several sessions of the European Youth Parliament, where she also created projects aimed at the sustainable development of society.

To explore our potentials as individuals and to unite in the wish for a prosperous future, we need to dispense with the need to hide behind false displays and make sure that we feel valued, worthy and capable from within oneself. Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova

Among the artists who presented their work under the “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” project is Naj Phonghanyudh[6]. She studied art and art history in Bangkok, Kent and Paris. Her professional activity involves art and design. Naj Phonghanyudh is a professor, a full-time lecturer at the prestigious University of the Arts in Bangkok. Besides numerous solo and group exhibitions, she also takes part in presentations, social projects and initiatives. Being engaged in art and design, she is also working as a curator for the non-profit organisation, United Thailand that creates and supports art activities for young people from various areas in Thailand.

The selected work the Artist endorsed by the following words: “…like the techniques which made the protruding object stands out against the flat surface of the print I am different because of who I am and I accept me more as I am. Some who appreciates traditional beauty may feel intruded by this imperfection, whereas some may find that it encourages them to speak out against the flatness and norms”.

Some who appreciates traditional beauty may feel intruded by this ‘imperfection’, whereas some may find that it encourages them to speak out against the flatness and norms. Naj Phonghanyudh

Since the project “’Culture’ for Sustainable Future: Art/Artists in Fore- and Background” is a long-term undertaking, it is planned to engage more artists of different sorts and types.

Another project “Narratives of Hope: Applied Science in the culture” complements art in the UPF – Culture for Peace Initiative and presents an opportunity for experts from various fields of science and culture to discuss topics that are united under the general keynote: Sustainable Future. Energetically engaged young generation is an essential element of the project. This creates new, active synergies that are capable of raising questions, finding answers and discussing the challenges of modern society. The first thematic evening of the project took place in Vienna last fall. The topic was “Narratives of Hope: The urban phenomenon – future of a perennial story”.“Narratives of Hope: Applied Science in the culture” is also a long-term project that deserves special attention and a separate article in the future.

Further development

The world has recently witnessed an unprecedented calamity. Disturbing news about the virus and its spread shocked the planet and brought it to a halt for months. Disruption and deprivation along with the imposed social distancing are of yet unanticipated severity and duration of secondary effects.

Narratives of hope, re-humanization of humans through arts and applied science (science with a human face) are the key.

The UPF – Culture for Peace Initiative is here to bring us all back to the future.


[1]Kemp, M. (2000). Visualizations: the nature book of art and science. Oxford: University Press. Pp. 4.

[2]https://www.upf-cultureforpeace.org/

[3] Alem Korkut : Contemporary Croatian Sculptor. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.singulart.com/en/artist/alem-korkut-5655?campaign_id=202.

[4] https://alemkorkut.com/en/bio/

[5]https://www.lemberglvova.com/

[6]https://www.najphonghanyudh.com

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