The Future is Unwritten: Artists for Tomorrow Introduction

By The United Nations

An Exhibition by The Future is Unwritten & UN75: Artists for Tomorrow

The Future is Unwritten: Artists for Tomorrow in collaboration with UN75 brings together a global community of artists currently implementing societal innovation towards a more sustainable world. The exhibition is presented in partnership with the Open Mind Project.

Degrees of Separation (2019) by Almigdad AldikhaiiryThe United Nations

With leading UN agencies describing the recent pandemic as nature’s first ‘warning shot’ to civilizations playing with fire, global cultural action that contributes to a more resilient and sustainable future is now more urgent than ever. With a focus on innovation and impact, these artists represent the shift from discussion to implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through individual artist presentations, this exhibition for the United Nations’ 75th Anniversary Program honours these cultural pioneers as iconoclastic thinkers, essential for the social entrepreneurship and transformation the future requires. In their role as communicators and creative producers, they are reacting to global challenges, working across disciplines and collaboratively to offer poetic and captivating solutions to the SDGs and alternative narratives than those presented by scientists, politicians and the mainstream media.

Degrees of Separation (left) by Sudanese artist, Almigdad Aldikhaiiry, was painted in 2019 (prior to the pandemic) to highlight the man-made health, climate and ecological emergency. It was chosen to represent the launch of The Future is Unwritten in 2020. The artist writes: "When I made this painting, I didn't know there would be a virus like COVID-19 that would invade our planet. I wanted the symbols that I used–of animals, plants and water, as well as indicators of the frequencies of economic and health dangers–to convey a warning to our contemporary world."

Sustainable Development Goals by The United NationsThe United Nations

Art & Culture for Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda, adopted by all 193 UN Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for a sustainable future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an urgent call for action by all countries in global partnership. We are now in the Decade of Action, the 10-year implementation period of the SDGs. This is why now, more than ever, we need to engage artists and cultural organisations in a sector-wide effort to meaningfully support these goals through joint action. Now is the time to reposition culture’s influence as action and message aligned with UN values and objectives. The Future is Unwritten is a bridge between the international Arts and Culture sector and the 17 Goals. Our work activates and promotes dialogue and implementation of the Goals and strengthens synergies between artists, cultural organisations and UN Agencies. This exhibition celebrates the accelerated implementation of the SDGs these artist projects represent; expressing an attitude that we can, we must, and we will harness the convening and imaginative power of Art in mutual pursuit of a better world.

The Future is Unwritten: Artists for Tomorrow by The Future is UnwrittenThe United Nations

Artists for Tomorrow

In bringing these voices together at this time, The Future is Unwritten aims to amplify artists’ visions for what might be possible by 2045, the United Nations’ centennial. As society recalibrates itself in response to the dual crisis of a global pandemic and environmental emergency, this is a cultural call-to-action in response to the challenges the next decade will bring. Artists and cultural practitioners are the purveyors of a more beautiful, sustainable and equitable future for all. This work will continue to lead the way forward by amplifying and accelerating the values, actions and creativity that will enable society to operate from a more united and universal posture at both the local and global levels.

UN75: Shaping Our Future TogetherThe United Nations

UN Remarks

“This is the beginning of a new dynamic relationship between the UN and ‘We the Peoples’, and this relationship will hopefully be able to shape a new kind of multilateralism–a multilateralism that is inclusive, in which not only the governments, but also civil society, academia, and local communities have a voice and have influence. If we are able to do that, I think it will be a big change.”
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

"Arts are socially influential and help us better understand the world and one another. It is imperative for the United Nations to work with the arts and include cultural voices in its global policy discussions at this time.”
Fabrizio Hochschild-Drummond, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for the Commemoration of the United Nations 75th Anniversary

“Given the close links between cultural expression and social values, artists and cultural institutions have a unique ability to imagine alternative narrative and futures. Culture is ingrained in communities reflecting their beliefs, customs and history, protecting their ideas, skills and potentials. It belongs to people, and its inherent humanity has a remarkable power to transmit, create and change. At the same time, culture offers support and protection in times of crisis, as well as a means for expression and unity. For these reasons, integrating the dual role of culture both as a shared global asset that needs to be safeguarded from the effects of climate change, and as a transversal tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation into climate action has become an imperative.”
Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture

UN Remarks

“Art has a unique ability to help us comfort, confront, contextualize and create community. And when embracing science and evidence as a bedrock, art and culture can help us imagine a better way forward to a positive future.”

“The WHO, when it defines health, it defines it in its 1947 Constitution as not merely the absence of disease but achieving the highest state of physical, mental and social well-being.”

Christopher Bailey, WHO Arts & Health Lead

Ark Re-imagined by Rashad SalimThe United Nations

Ark Re-imagined
Rashad Salim

Ark Re-imagined is an art-led project that has activated a revival of Iraq’s maritime cultural heritage. Since 2015, expeditionary artist and researcher Rashad Salim has worked with communities in central, southern and western Iraq to protect, document and revive their endangered craft heritage. Through engaging communities in sharing the history and skills of Iraq’s boatbuilding traditions of ancient origin, the project aims to regenerate local economies and create sustainable livelihoods. The work addresses the need for healing and regeneration, through positive experiences of personal agency and the unification of communities, in an environment where the trauma of decades of conflict and ecological damage has led to a health emergency. In connecting the origins of culture with contemporary civilization, the project champions humanity’s capacity to overcome crisis through collaboration, creativity and a reciprocal relationship with the ecology we depend upon.

Open House by Matthew MazzottaThe United Nations

The Main Idea
Matthew Mazzotta

With The Main Idea, artist Matthew Mazzotta brings together communities and local governments with artists, architects and designers to transform failing downtowns into creative and sustainable spaces for new business and social life. Through direct community engagement, The Main Idea ensures that these spaces are designed, built and programmed to restore the most important aspect of small town life: the human connection. This work at the intersection of art, activism and urbanism focuses on the power of the built environment to shape our relationships and experiences, advocating for responsibility and sustainability across all sectors of community life. Matthew’s work demonstrates the power of art and artists in revitalizing public spaces and equipping local communities to take charge of their own cultural and economic development.

Who Are You Here To See? (2019) by Mona ChalabiThe United Nations

Years Stolen
Mona Chalabi

Years Stolen is the work of artist and data journalist Mona Chalabi. Her data-driven illustrations present complex systems of information for mass public consumption, promoting equality and human rights and amplifying critical health messaging in order to create greater global health awareness and influence solutions to global issues. Her recent work includes visualizations about COVID-19 and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. After working for a humanitarian organisation, her work has had one goal: to make sure as many people as possible can find and question the data they need to make informed decisions about their lives. Mona’s work transforms years stolen from people and communities due to unequal and unaware societal realities into opportunities for education and sustainable development.

COVID-19 Announcement by Chip ThomasThe United Nations

The Painted Desert
Chip Thomas

The Painted Desert is a project for the people of the Navajo Nation in Arizona led by Dr. Chip Thomas. Utilizing large-scale public sites, local and international artists are invited to create messaging around the need for improved social cohesion and health on the reservation, where life expectancy is shorter and there are high rates of COVID-19 and health issues such as obesity, diabetes and suicide compared to national averages. Chip’s public work has drawn attention to the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo people, carbon emissions and rising CO2 levels, nutrition and critical health messaging, and of community organizations advocating for change. The murals exemplify the relationship, wellness and community-building potential of public art, and aim to reflect love and appreciation of the rich history shared by the Navajo people.

Tears of Gold: Portraits of Yezidi, Rohingya and Nigerian Women by Hannah ThomasThe United Nations

Tears of Gold
Hannnah Thomas

Tears of Gold presents Hannah Thomas’s portrait paintings of Yezidi women who escaped ISIS captivity, Rohingya women who fled violence in Myanmar, and Nigerian women who survived Boko Haram and Fulani violence. Through her art Hannah gives voice to the voiceless, lionizes the isolated and prescribes dignity to the persecuted and forcibly displaced. Many of the women in Hannah’s paintings personally suffered sexual violence; others represent their wider community and the countless untold stories of horror. Since 2017, Hannah has taught these women to paint their self-portraits as a way to share their stories with the rest of the world, using art as a tool for advocacy and bringing their stories into places of influence in the West. These paintings convey their dignity, resilience and unspeakable grief with tears of gold.

The American Riad by Ghana Think TankThe United Nations

The American Riad
Ghana Think Tank

The American Riad is an art and housing justice project by Ghana Think Tank, an international network of citizen think tanks living in the so-called “Third World” that solve the problems of people living in the so-called “First World.” The project was conceptualized by a think tank established in Morocco, which identified that many US problems stem from an architecture that creates social isolation. Participants looked at how Americans can adopt elements of Islamic and African culture to solve this problem in the US. The result was the transformation of an abandoned street corner in Detroit, Michigan into an Islamic Riad: communal housing and businesses surrounding an elaborate and beautifully designed courtyard. The American Riad utilizes cross-cultural exchange, public art and creative architecture to form a model of development that links diverse cultures and builds more sustainable, resilient communities.

Ka'aba (2012) by Ahmed MaterThe United Nations

Desert of Pharan
Ahmed Mater

In Desert of Pharan, artist and physician Ahmed Mater merges his vocations to document the sustainability and health of the city of Mecca. As a hallowed site revered by millions and a point of perpetual immigration, in recent years the city has begun to be recast, reworked and ultimately reconfigured. The speed and breadth of transformation introduce dependent concerns regarding Mecca’s social mechanics and the ongoing and symbiotic relationship between demolition and construction. Mecca is rarely seen as a living city with its own inhabitants and historical development. Instead, it is almost exclusively seen as a site of pilgrimage, as a timeless, emblematic city. Amid a rapidly changing economic landscape, Mecca is re-examining its situation to itself and to the world beyond. Through this project, Ahmed’s work in Mecca contributes to the health, innovation, infrastructure and sustainability of people and place.

Fundred Project by People of America, initiated by Mel ChinThe United Nations

Fundred Project
People of America, initiated by Mel Chin

Initiated by artist Mel Chin in 2006 as an interdisciplinary, artist-driven project to advance solutions to the devastating problem of lead poisoning, the Fundred Project has grown into a national effort powered by the people to raise awareness of the issues of lead and to create a model of engagement and action for lead-safe communities. A Fundred, an individual’s drawing in the form of currency, represents the value of a person’s expression against the invisible threat of lead poisoning that undermines health, intelligence and behaviour, particularly in children. The project was conceived to offer the population most affected, the young, a means to respond. It continues to engage teachers, parents, students, policymakers, community members and health and housing agencies in order to transform the public health crisis through education, community, advocacy and creativity.

Khalid AlBaih: Khartoon! by Khalid AlBaihThe United Nations

Khalid AlBaih

Khalid AlBaih is one of the most prolific political cartoonists in the world, publishing an artwork a day for the last 10 years. His work, a confluence of journalism and art, first came to prominence during the Arab Spring. As one of the most influential Arab cartoonists of his generation, Khalid champions freedom of expression in the Arab world and beyond, commenting on subjects such as immigration, race, power, conflict and identity. His cartoons ask questions and spark conversations, transcending geographical borders and languages. Currently, Khalid aims to extend the reach and impact of his work by giving other artists in Sudan the resources and empowerment they need to make their own cartoons, and to focus on health and healing after the trauma of protest and revolution. Khalid publishes his cartoons on social media under the name 'Khartoon!', a word play on cartoon and Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

Credits: Story

Artists for Tomorrow is organised by The Future is Unwritten in collaboration with UN75 and curated by Stephen Stapleton and Danielle Sweet. The exhibition is presented in partnership with the Open Mind Project.

The Future is Unwritten (TFIU) is an initiative by CULTURUNNERS and the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations (WCPUN) Arts & Culture Advisory Council, launched in 2020 in collaboration with UN75. As 2020 marks the beginning of the UN’s Decade of Action, TFIU facilitates urgent cooperation between the international Arts and Culture sector and the United Nations in order to accelerate implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Special thanks to Jahan Rafai and Lisa Laskaradis, UN75; Asya Gorbacheva and Saheer Umar, Production Department; and Kuba Rudziński, Art Department.

All images courtesy of the artists.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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