Global Values Made Visible:  The UNESCO Global Art Exhibit Unveiled in the UN Headquarters Gives a Human Face to Abstract Concepts

by Michael Baggot

UNESCO Chair Correspondent

“How would you create an image of respect for vulnerable people?”

Those gathered at the General Assembly entrance of the United Nations Headquarters Building the evening of October 3 found breathtaking artistic responses to this question during the unveiling ceremony of the eleven winning pieces of the UNESCO Chair of Bioethics and Human Rights Global Art Competition.

“As I survey this exhibit and its call for artists to create art that deepens the appreciation for human life, I am reminded of a quote by G.K. Chesterton, who stated, ‘Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere,’” stated the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt .

“The United Nations rose out of the ashes of a global war which occasioned some of the greatest destruction of human life ever suffered by humanity. In many ways, like this exhibit, the United Nations was created to remind humanity of the need to draw a line and to express our collective belief that all people possess inherent dignity and worth and certain inalienable rights,” the Archbishop explained in his address before unveiling.

The theme of the competition and the exhibit calls upon artists from around the world to reflect upon the need to “Respect Human Vulnerability, Personal Integrity, Cultural Diversity and Pluralism.” 225 submissions were received from 23 countries by 132 artists. An international expert panel of six judges was charged with choosing the winners.

Artists used articles 8 & 12 of the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights as their creative inspiration. They proceeded to reflect goodness, truth and beauty by means of painting, collage, printmaking, drawing, mixed media, and photography.

“A Democratic Republic Founded on Labor” by Italian artist Andrea Mariconti was chosen Best of Show among the 11 winners.

Board member Hallie Moore was one of the numerous participants the Permanent Observer personally thanked in his opening remarks.

“This exhibit offers the viewer insights into accomplished artists’ capacity to make visible such abstractions as ‘vulnerability,’ Moore explained.  Read an in-depth interview expounding upon the artistic and ethical significance of the event here.

“We are creatures who with our five senses understand the objective world. We can see, smell, feel, hear, taste the sensory world. But the abstract concepts that this exhibit highlights: respect for the vulnerable, concern for the ethics of life, these are difficult ideas.

“Such an exhibit as this one puts a face on these abstractions. We see the aged, the ill, the impoverished and forgotten, and we are moved to offer compassion.”

The Permanent Observer powerfully reminded those present for a ceremony over a year in the making of the enduring relevance of the competition’s theme.

“We are reminded by this exhibit that the challenges to human life exist not only in the annals of history but continue every day in every corner of this world. Whether it be a child killed by war or famine, a prisoner tortured, a woman trafficked, a disabled person abused, an elderly person denied access to life-saving nutrition or a child in the womb; we are reminded that fostering respect for human life remains a challenge and an obligation for the entire world.”

Following the unveiling ceremony in New York, the pieces were displayed in Rome, Italy during the UNESCO Chair’s  Bioethics, Multiculturalism and Religion Workshop on Human Vulnerability.

On March 31, 2012, the pieces will again be displayed and auctioned at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX during the Conference on Ethics.