Davos 2022: Now is the time for arts and culture to unite us

  • Arts and culture allow us to examine what it means to be human, to express and express our emotions, and to bring people and ideas together.
  • Cultural heritage is what makes us human beings. It gives us a sense of belonging and identity. It can and should be used to explain and explore a common human past. This is why we must protect it at all costs.
  • Never has there been a more important, more pressing time than the present for arts and culture to unite us.
  • A highlight of the Davos Annual Meeting is the concert which will be performed by musicians Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma.

The creative sectors are among the most important in terms of social impact and human connection. When connected to the power of new technologies, arts and culture have immense potential to nurture a culture of peace. At their core, arts and culture tell human stories. Stories that draw on and feed off of our basic instinct for empathy. And when that empathy translates into positive behavior, arts and culture are a powerful force for good, resolution and unification.

The basic human need to stay connected with each other

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past two years have been a time of immense uncertainty, frustration and extremely high levels of fear. Meanwhile, arts and culture, and especially music, have facilitated our basic human need to stay connected to each other and allowed us to express our emotions.

As we now begin the long process of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we face another challenge: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The relentless bombardment of towns and villages across the country has claimed more than 2,000 civilian lives, destroyed civilian infrastructure and forced more than 3.3 million people to flee Ukraine, creating a new humanitarian crisis in Europe.

Demonstrate human resilience and strength

An open letter written by Laura Davies, UNESCO Ambassador for the United Kingdomwhich was signed by UNESCO representatives from 46 countries, states that “according to figures recently published by the UNESCO Secretariat, 53 cultural buildings were damaged or destroyed by 31st March.” The number of Ukrainian cultural sites damaged or destroyed is now estimated to be closer to 100.

Cultural heritage is what makes us human beings. It gives us a sense of belonging and identity. It can and should be used to explain and explore a common human past – a past that identifies our similarities, unifies us and connects us. This cannot be achieved if cultural heritage is destroyed, or worse deliberately targeted, during war.

The Venice Biennale presents many powerful and stimulating artistic expressions. Perhaps the most poignant and powerful exhibition is called This is Ukraine: Defend Freedom. Presented with the Office of the President and the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, it contextualizes Ukrainian history and culture, with some contributions from international artists.

The exhibition reaffirms the cultural resilience of Ukraine which has always been defined, even in the most difficult times, by its ability to think and create critically. The artists refuse direct war narratives and instead reflect deeply on their meaning, origin and impact. This exhibit is a powerful example of arts and culture being used to demonstrate human resilience and strength. But above all, it is a demonstration of our collective freedoms – the freedom to choose, the freedom to speak and the freedom to exist.

“SSupport this fight with your art” was the message President Volodymyr Zelensky transmitted in its official address to the artists and the public of the Venice Biennale.

It is also important to point out that many Russian artists are also demonstrating against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. From the pavilion of the Russian Federation at the Giardini in Venice, designed by the architect Alexei Schusev, opened to the public in 1914, it hosted Russian art and culture at the Venice Biennale, forging the Russian character into the visual language to international and local visitors. For the 59th International Art Exhibition, curator Raimundas Malašauskas and artists Alexandra Sukhareva and Kirill Savchenkov have resigned from participating in the Biennale as a sign of their absolute and total opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Never has there been a more important, more pressing time than the present for arts and culture to unite us.

Celebrating the essence of humanity and its connection to nature

One of the highlights of the artistic and cultural program of the annual meeting in Davos this year is the concert which will be performed by the musicians Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma. Although he has spent most of his life and career living and working elsewhere, Emanuel Ax was born in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Both of her parents were Polish and Jewish, having escaped concentration camps during World War II before settling in Ukraine.

Yo-Yo Ma is one of the United Nations Messengers of Peace and spoke openly about the war in Ukraine in a number of different contexts. He recently performed an impromptu concert on the street outside the Russian Embassy in Washington DC as a means of protesting the war. Resonant music from his cello carrying with it a plea for peace and unification.

Without doubt, the most powerful universal language is music. It transcends language barriers. Unlike language, music activates every subsystem of our brain, triggering a multitude of sensations, feelings and emotions. The increased empathy and social connection that music brings into our lives is not only undeniable but vital. In good times and in difficult times, music helps us maintain our hope and empathy for one another. It has never been more important.

The concert entitled “Our Shared Humanity” celebrates our very essence and our connection with nature and with each other. It is also a musical statement of support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

Image: Jason Bell

I think peace is, in many ways, a prerequisite for joy” – Yo-Yo Ma

A powerful message of hope

As part of an immersive visual backdrop, the concert also features striking portraits that illustrate our collective humanity. These images are provided courtesy of Atlas of Humanity, a non-profit cultural association that serves as a meeting point for debate, exchange and promotion of artistic and cultural activities.

An exclusive filmed performance by dancer and choreographer Ahmad Joudeh is also presented.who was born a stateless refugee and grew up in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria. At the age of eight, Ahmad discovered his passion for dancing, but with the outbreak of the civil war, his life was turned upside down. The war had a devastating impact on Ahmad and his family. Five of his relatives lost their lives and his family lost everything because their house was destroyed by a bomb.

Ahmad received constant threats from extremists just for dancing. Despite these threats, Ahmad continued to dance and in 2016 he performed in the Roman amphitheater in Palmyra. He dedicated this show to the souls of those who lost their lives in the Civil War. Luckily, Ahmad’s performance was captured by Dutch journalist Roozbeh Kaboly as soon after the amphitheater in Palmyra was destroyed.

Dancing gave me hope. It gave me a purpose. it gave me wings” – Ahmed Joudeh

Be part of something bigger

Combining the power of music, visual storytelling and dance, this concert conveys a powerful message of hope and of our collective humanity that can help solve some of the current global crisis. When you experience the culture there is a sense of expansion as you stop thinking about yourself and feel part of something bigger.

Culture transforms “the other” into “us”. The shared understanding that culture generates can, in these times of division, unite us as one world” – Yo-Yo Ma


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