Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh were at their peak of creativity during pandemics and lockdowns. This project, under the patronage of UNESCO Beirut Office, is testimony that history repeats itself with the admirable creativity of over 250 artists representing 120 countries contributing generously with their art to fight COVID-19.
Held every year on 21 May, the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development celebrates not only the richness of the world’s cultures, but also the essential role of intercultural dialogue for achieving peace and sustainable development. The Day is an occasion to promote culture and highlight the significance of its diversity as an agent of inclusion and positive change. It represents an opportunity to celebrate culture’s manifold forms, from the tangible and intangible, to creative industries, to the diversity of cultural expressions, and to reflect on how these contribute to dialogue, mutual understanding, and the social, environmental and economic vectors of sustainable development.
This year, the Day is celebrated under special circumstances due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which translated into a major crisis impacting a wide range of sectors, from Health to Education to Sector. Any confinement for a short period of time within four walls is a stressful experience. Soon enough the forced lockdown and its consequences became evident worldwide with a variable level of impact at national levels and internationally.
This year’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development comes at a time of uncertainty and anxiety. For many, the closure of public spaces, cultural institutions and performance and concert halls has led to a constriction of cultural space and increased seclusion. Fortunately, the technical means we have at our disposal today make it possible for those who are able to benefit from them to compensate for the narrowness of confined spaces. We have thus seen initiatives blossom that have renewed interest in cultural practices around the world, and highlighted their abundant richness. By dint of coordinated action, original initiatives and creativity, this imposed downtime has made it possible to see what is one of humanity’s riches: our diversity.
UNESCO Beirut Office partnered with MEADOWS (Mediterranean Endeavors Advancing Development Of Widespread Sustainability) NGO to reach out to artists worldwide and invite them to take the challenge to use visual arts as a powerful tool effecting relevant global issues through the intercultural dialogue. The concept created by Lena Kelekian, MEADOWS’ President and Founder, led to initiating the MASK ART creativity under lockdown with the patronage of UNESCO Beirut Office, under the topic of “UNESCO and MEADOWS artists against COVID-19”. The idea was translated into a full-fledged project in the framework of the prestigious program of UNESCO RESILIART DEBATE - Artists and Creativity beyond Crisis.
In these stricken times, while mitigating technical and slow internet problems, difficulties of social distancing and lockdown, communication was established with all the regional & national representatives, mobilizing every volunteer resource to transform the medical masks that instilled fear, such as stark reminders of the imminent danger of infection, into canvasses displaying strong creations of artists and their personal reaction to this pandemic crisis. The responses were highly creative. In some cases, we can find gloomy and morbid expressions of fear of the unknown but mostly they are expressions of hope and desire of a better and different tomorrow. Inside the short three weeks deadline – instead of the needed three months -, UNESCO Beirut and MEADOWS went through the process of selection albeit the language barriers and cultural differences, finding the common denominators of resilience between artists from all over continents.
This world-class event aims to advance global social responsibility awareness by encouraging people to wear masks, not as an obligation but out of conviction, that it is one of the best measures of protecting one another from the risks of infecting others. In the future, if these masks are realized with the imprint of these international artists, they would even carry the message further and transform the experience of wearing a bland monochromatic mask into a more colorful and hopeful experience.
With this international artistic endeavor, curated by Lena Kelekian, Francesca Maurizi and Hagop Sulahian, MEADOWS joins UNESCO to celebrate through the current E-exhibition the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
Last but not least, in this special and challenging context the selection committee has nominated the following as Honorary Artists in appreciation for their contribution to the art world with their creative works: Sibilla Bjarnason, Alvaro Blancarte, Teodor Botiș, Ze Cordeiro, Tonino Maurizi and Wu Rigen.
The fight against COVID-19 had its medical heroes but we salute all the heroes, from the 250 participating artists from 120 countries to every single person who volunteered to undertake this challenge in their own personal fight against this pandemic and its social and cultural threats.