By, Amy Sall, graduate student of human rights at Columbia University
The UNEARTH exhibit, hosted by the Gabarron Foundation, is a multimedia exhibit based on four main themes: human rights, development, humanitarian assistance, and peace and security. The exhibit creates a dialogue centered on the humanity of people through the use of archival footage and posters that evoke the spirit of the United Nations (U.N.) reflected in the organization’s principles of promoting peace, security and the protection of human rights. Not only does the exhibit celebrate the efforts of the U.N., but its closing in 2015 will also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the organization’s existence.
Speaking on the ethos behind the exhibit, CEO and Vice President of the Gabarron Foundation, Juan Gabarron says the exhibit is about “creating awareness through the arts.” A task that was spearheaded by Chaim Litewski, Chief of the U.N. Television Section, and Antonio da Silva, Chief of the U.N. Multimedia Unit. Litewski and da Silva, along with a team of curators, set out on a daunting mission to “unearth” barely touched, archival footage and images from throughout the U.N.’s history.
One of the main challenges Litewski and da Silva came across was narrowing the massive amount of historical documentation down to a cohesive display of ideas. “It was really hard for us to figure out where the focus was going to be,” says da Silva, “because the U.N. archive is 68 years of archived material.” Sorting through the archive, which holds about 800,000 photos alone, was not the only challenge. “From the film and video aspect, there is a significant amount of films that have not been digitized, which is a huge undertaking,” says Litewski. Despite these challenges, Litewski, da Silva and the team behind, which also included Mark Garten, the head of the U.N. Photo Unit, materialized UNEARTH in a focused and interesting manner.
On describing the nature and structure of the exhibit, Litewski says, “The photos in one way or another relate to the four themes.” To which da Silva added, “we want people to experience each of these four themes on their own, and let people discover aspects of each through the images.” This desire was encapsulated by the title of the exhibit itself. “That’s why it’s called ‘UNEARTH’. The word ‘art’ is in there, along with ‘U.N.’,” Litewski added.
The UNEARTH exhibit is a prime example of the burgeoning role art and media play in change-making, protecting human rights and fostering global peace and development. Sharing his views on this phenomenon, da Silva says, “We think that art brings people to think about what’s happening in the world today, in relation to the past. Since we are working with an archive, it allows the opportunity to look at specific topics of development, human rights and so on, and see what has changed and what hasn’t. These images, visuals, and audio create reflection towards what is going on in the world today.” He also adds, “Using social media, and crowd-sourcing, gathering people to participate in the creative process, is in fact part of the political process.”
Litewski agreed and added, “Art reflects three things. One being the way in which an artists, in this case the United Nations, looks at a particular subject. In this exhibit, in a way you are able to see what the U.N. was thinking when it produced certain images. It’s an interesting thing to understand what was behind something created at a particular time. Secondly, art reflects society at a particular time. Thirdly, it reflects the aesthetic perception and artistic mold a time period.”
The various elements involved in UNEARTH, from multimedia, the history of the United Nations, and the spirit and resiliency of humanity, have culminated into something much larger than an art exhibit. What was produced was something that allows us to draw from the past to improve the present and the future. By bringing the U.N. archive to life Litewski, da Silva, and their team created a narrative that will continue for years to come. In order to further engage in the international discourse the exhibit represents, Litewski and da Silva left some sound advice for future agents of change: “Listen. Listen to communities. Listen to people.”
*The UNEARTH exhibit at the The Gabarron Foundation in New York is now closed, but it will be travelling around the world until 2015, and will be hosted at different galleries globally.
Please visit or contact the Gabarron Foundation for more information:(http://gabarron.org/NewYork/Exhibitions/2013/UNEARTH/BanKiMoonReception/tabid/2487/Default.aspx)
The Gabarron Foundation
149 East 38th Street, New York, NY 10016
Amy Sall is a first year graduate student at Columbia University’s M.A. in Human Rights Program. Her interest is in human rights in Africa, with a special focus on children’s rights and youth development on the continent.