Arts & Culture
Asian Pop Culture for the UN Sustainable Futures
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.
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.
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!
Arts & Culture
The “Dreams of Africa” Gala Shows Wonderful World of African Culture
Africa is getting renewed attention from all corners of the world. Africans celebrate their continental day on May 25th. Some believe it is the best time to observe it with cultural performances. The concept of pan-Africanism has offered the grounds to show Africa’s diverse culture, food and artworks to the world.
With the 60th anniversary of Africa Day, there are good reasons to mark the event in solidarity with brothers and sisters irrespective of the political differences. In short, the necessity to sustain the already established unity in cultural diversity by all Africans in the continent and the Diaspora across the world.
In the Russian Federation, the KizzAfro Art Week of African Culture was held in Moscow. The KizzAfro Art Week of African Culture is held with the aim of developing African culture in modern Russian society, establishing important social and cultural ties between creative people from Russia and African countries.
The main objectives of the event are: creating a favorable atmosphere for cultural and business cooperation between the peoples of Africa and Russia, familiarizing a wide audience with the customs and traditions of African countries, developing friendly ties between the peoples of the world through African culture and art.
According to Nadezhda Kuzmina, General Producer of KizzAfro Art Week of African Culture, participants of the festival event will have a one-week immersion in the wonderful world of African culture. About a thousand dancers, musicians, designers from various African countries and Russia actively participated in the project. The culmination was the “Dreams of Africa” gala show.
At the show it was simple possible to hear musicians from African countries such as Cape Verde, Nigeria, Zambia and Guinea accompanied by a symphony orchestra from Angola “Kaposoka”. There were traditional dances and modern choreography from professional dancers, their voices captivating rhythms of Afrobeat music, from Angola, Rwanda, Russia and other countries.
“We gathered here this evening to watch African culture. These African cultural performances, of course, aim at showcasing the enormous cultural potentials in the continent and importantly its happening in a unique place here. We are today in space, in Kosmos hotel, navigating and promoting our diverse culture (best artistic voices and sounds), which is part of the celebrations to distinctively mark the Africa Day,” said Professor Zenebe Tadesse Kinfu from Moscow’s International University and President of the Union of African Diaspora in the Russian Federation.
He further underlined the fact that “May 25th, the day serves as an opportunity to acknowledge the remarkable progress Africa has made while reflecting on the challenges it continues to face. Africa is a continent of diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage. These musical groups performing together simply shows our unique adherence of pan-Africanism concept and the continental unity by the African Union. Therefore, it beholds on us and to remember that the Africa Day is a celebration of both the diversity of African countries and cultures, as well as our continued efforts to encourage greater unity among African people and the African Diaspora.”
The project was implemented with the support of the African International Congress. Here is what Konstantin Klimenko, Co-Chairman of the African International Congress from the Russian side, Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Week of African Culture, Rector of the Eurasian International University, said: “The creators of the largest African dance festival are now starting with a new large-scale project of the African Culture Week KizzAfro Art. A large-scale forum of public diplomacy and culture has already emerged from a successful dance project.”
As part of the gala show, an informal Russia-Africa dialogue was held with the participation of ambassadors of African states, representatives of federal and regional authorities of Russia, cultural figures, representatives of the business community, including members of the African International Club. For the most part, this action will also contribute to successful preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit with the participation of African heads of state and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Despite all kinds of challenges, African men and women in the diaspora showed their collective strength and unity to have the long-awaited cultural festival featuring solidarity and friendship to their Russian audience, friends and hosts. The musicians admirably amplified their voices presenting the continental cultural unity considered as a component of the Africa’s century.
Arts & Culture
For priceless European art, extra protection costs very little
Inexpensive new materials and sensors will help even small museums prevent irreversible damage to objects.
By ALEX WHITING
Overlooking the waters of the Grand Canal in Venice, the former home of American art collector Peggy Guggenheim houses one of Italy’s most important collections of 20th century works. Until recently, many of them were at risk from an invisible attacker: acetic acid released by their ageing wooden picture frames.
Chemists based in another renowned Italian city, Florence, have come up with a new material that will protect the artworks from acetic acid, formaldehyde and other damaging volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for between 50 and 100 years.
Clever and cheap
‘We synthesised the first absorber for acetic acid and formaldehyde using a very clever, cheap method,’ said Piero Baglioni, professor of physical chemistry at the Center for Colloid and Surface Science, or CSGI, in the University of Florence.
The material is flexible and biodegradable and can absorb twice its weight in pollutants. It’s made mainly from castor oil.
Curators at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection have applied sheets of it to the backs of paintings and on a wall in one room, which includes a 1929 painting by Vasily Kandinsky and a 1915 sculpture by Umberto Boccioni.
Levels of acetic acid in the room have since dropped from two parts per million (ppm), which is high enough to damage artwork, to safe levels of 0.5 ppm, according to Baglioni.
The material, Nanorestore VOCs, can be produced in any shape, size and colour, said Baglioni, who coordinated an EU-funded research project called APACHE that developed a range of products designed to protect valuable artworks.
The discovery is likely to have a major impact on the future health of artworks, including those in storage. That’s because many galleries and museums store their collections in wooden containers, which release VOCs.
The Pompidou Centre in Paris – home to Europe’s largest collection of modern and contemporary art – is testing the material for its storage containers. The museum keeps most of its 120 000 pieces in wooden crates, including works by Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Georges Braque.
Baglioni is also testing the material in the Oslo, Norway-based museum dedicated to Edvard Munch and featuring one of the artist’s most famous paintings – The Scream. Hundreds of Munch’s prints and drawings are kept in wooden drawers that would cost a small fortune to change to a new material, according to Baglioni.
In February, following APACHE’s end last year, his team put sheets of the material – costing about €5 each – in the storage drawers and will check the VOC levels in June.
‘If it works, the museum will save a lot of money,’ Baglioni said.
The product will soon be on the market for museums and galleries. It’s also being marketed as a way to purify the air in homes, hospitals and offices. VOCs comprise 80% of indoor air pollutants and can affect people’s health.
Baglioni is working with researchers at Sweden’s Chalmers University to produce what they hope will be the world’s most effective and environmentally friendly material for absorbing VOCs.
APACHE also developed sensors that cost just €0.10 each to monitor levels of VOCs. These will be made by Goppion, an Italian company that produces display cases used by the Louvre and other cultural institutions.
But the company, which took part in the project, needs broader demand for production to be viable.
‘If the market for this system is restricted to museums and galleries, it won’t be profitable,’ said Baglioni. ‘So we have to find an additional use for them.’
Most threats to Europe’s masterpieces and historical artefacts are invisible to the naked eye: changes in temperature or humidity, ultraviolet light, small vibrations from the footfall of visitors or building works as well as VOCs.
Even the type of building that the works are housed in – modern or old, stone or wooden – affects them. Often, the impacts become visible only once the damage is done.
Whereas large museums and art galleries can pay for multiple sensors to monitor closely their collections, cash-strapped smaller institutions struggle to meet international standards on maintenance and storage.
‘It’s really hard for small and medium-sized museums to preserve their artefacts because of a lack of expertise, human resources and means,’ said Marie-Dominique Bruni, programme manager at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, also known as CEA.
Bruni coordinated a project called SensMat that developed sensors and software to monitor as many as 12 different environmental factors – from dust levels to vibrations – and alert conservators to the risks to art in their care so they can act before damage occurs.
‘We facilitate the way they collect and interpret this data to decide the best way to display an exhibit, or what to change if its environment puts it at risk of damage,’ said Bruni.
That may mean changing the climate controls, limiting the number of visitors or moving the item to another room.
Metal objects, for example, can corrode in the wrong temperature, humidity and light conditions.
‘When that corrosion becomes visible, it’s too late,’ said Bruni. ‘So we have to move the objects or change the temperature and humidity to prevent their corrosion.’
One of the most detrimental effects is low-frequency vibration. These could come not just from visitors’ footfall and building works but also auto traffic.
‘Museums need to diagnose the impact of vibrations,’ said Bruni. ‘Frescoes painted on walls or ceilings and objects made with different layers are particularly vulnerable.’
Museums and galleries increasingly lend collections to each other, a practice that creates new challenges for the transport and display of objects.
‘Museums and galleries have to guarantee they won’t endanger the objects they are receiving,’ said Bruni. ‘Our software could help them define the conditions needed before receiving new objects. Insurance companies are very interested in this kind of information.’
SensMat, which ran from January 2019 through August 2022, worked with museums in seven European countries including Denmark, France, Germany and Italy.
‘It was really important to have studies in different climates and different locations,’ said Bruni.
This meant being able to develop solutions suited to a wide range of scenarios. The SensMat team hopes its findings will be used to help update international recommendations on how to display and preserve objects.
Today Bruni is trying to find investors in order to complete the last stage of development and put the software on the market.
Large museums have expressed interest in the software, but making it affordable for small galleries is the ultimate goal.
‘We’ve received lots of demand for the software,’ Bruni said. ‘We just need to develop it a little bit more. We are almost there.’
Research in this article was funded by the EU. The article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Arts & Culture
The film ‘Cuba in Africa’ wins Thomas Sankara Prize
From late February to early March, in Ouagadougou the capital of Burkina Faso, there was the week-long Africa’s largest film festival FESPACO. In fact, FESPACO was launched in 1969. This festival provided some kind of entertainment, but the most important aspect was the platform created show screening different films with diverse themes. The competition was very keen with rewards for winners delivering excellent results.
Wolfram Vetter, the European Union ambassador in Burkina Faso, called the film festival “an important contribution to peace and reconciliation in Burkina Faso and beyond.” The EU was the event’s largest funder after the Burkinabe government, and has contributed approximately €250,000, equivalent of ($265,000).
Records showed that there were more than 15,000 people, including cinema celebrities from African countries such as Nigeria, Senegal and Ivory Coast, and from abroad including France and the United States. Some 1,300 films were submitted for consideration and 100 selected to compete from 35 African countries and the diaspora, including movies from Dominican Republic and Haiti. Nearly half of those in the fiction competition this year were directed by women.
Among them was Burkinabe director and producer Apolline Traore, whose film “Sira” – considered a front-runner in this year’s competition – emblematic of many Burkinabes’ suffering. It tells the tale of a woman’s struggle for survival after being kidnapped by jihadis in the Sahel, as her fiancé tries to find her.
An interesting film, “Cuba in Africa” has received a warm, emotional response all over the world. Most people never heard of this story. Screening this film, people were touched by the altruism of Cubans who sacrificed their sons and daughters on behalf of Africa.
Negash Abdurahman, producer of Cuba in Africa, told us that his film has won the Thomas Sankara Prize. Abdurahman is an Ethiopian-American filmmaker and an educational technology specialist. He is also the Founder of RI Systems Inc.
His award-winning film Cuba in Africa was years in the making, overcoming many challenges. Cuba in Africa tells the story of Cuban volunteers who gave everything to win the independence of Angola, Namibia and contributed to the fall of apartheid in South Africa.
Abdurahman spoke briefly with us from Ouagadougou. Here are the interview excerpts:
How would you interpret the film festival that took place in Burkina Faso? What are the key features during this gathering?
Abdurahman: FESPACO is the biggest, oldest and most prestigious film festival in Africa. FESPACO is the French acronym for the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougu. The 28th edition of FESPACO took place from February 24 to March 5 in Ouagadougu, the capital city of Burkina Faso.
The festival opened with much fanfare and cultural pageantry. The heads of state of both Burkina Faso and Mali attended the opening ceremonies. For me, one of the emotional moments of the opening ceremonies was Sidiki Diabate of Mali playing the mesmerizing Kora, a traditional string instrument of several West African countries.
In your critical assessment, what were some of the messages translated to the audience there? Are these related to the Africa’s political culture, traditions and history?
Abdurahman: FESPACO celebrates African cinema and tells African stories through the eyes of Africans. This was very clear at this year’s festival as well. This year’s theme was “African Cinema and Culture of Peace.”
Before the festival, there was much tension because of the conflict going on in the northern part of Burkina Faso. Some people feared that it might not even be held at all. Playing on this fear, according to a few Burkinabe I spoke to, the French threatened not to protect the festival if they did not get their way.
French troops did, in fact, depart a few days before the opening of the festival. Fortunately, the Burkinabe were able to provide their own protection. The festival and all associated music and cultural celebrations concluded without a hitch.
What place was the film “Cuba in Africa” in the festival? What other films have similar themes to this film during the demonstration (show) in Burkina Faso?
Abdurahman: My film, Cuba in Africa, was an official selection in the short documentary category. Cuba was the only country in history that came to Africa’s aid without expecting anything in return. An Island nation of roughly 8 million people at the time, sent over 400,000 people – military as well as civilians – to help Africans in their fight for freedom.
This was unprecedented. I am honored to report that we won the much-coveted Thomas Sankara Prize. You can watch a two-minutes trailer for Cuba in Africa at http://www.cubainafrica.com
How was the final conclusion, in spite of the challenges and setbacks, of the festival?
Abdurahman: The best films won trophies and monetary awards in their respective categories. The mood was celebratory. FESPACO is a truly African institution with its own warm, unique characteristics.
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