7 May 2008


7 May 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE on ‘art changing attitudes toward the environment’

The sixth seminar in the Unlearning Intolerance series will take place at the United Nations tomorrow, focusing on the issue of humankind’s intolerance for the needs of the Earth, as well as attitude and behaviour changes that are needed to protect the environment, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference today.

Talking to the press about tomorrow’s event were Eric Falt, Director of Outreach Division, Department of Public Information; Mia Hanak, Executive Director of the Natural World Museum; and three artists participating in the accompanying art exhibition -- Catharine Chalmers, Subhankar Banerjee and Cecilia Paredes.

Mr. Falt said that the “Art Changing Attitudes toward the Environment” seminar would put the spotlight on the issue of climate change and raise awareness of related challenges from a different and unique perspective of artists -- through their paintings, photography and sculpture.

As its name suggests, the Unlearning Intolerance series -- organized by the Department of Public Information since 2004 -- offers opportunities to discuss how intolerance can be unlearned through education, inclusion and example.  In previous years, the seminars had focused on such issues of global importance as anti-Semitism, islamophobia and genocide.  Seminars had been held also on the themes of cartooning for peace and the role of the media in promoting tolerance.

Mr. Falt said that this year’s event had been organized by the Department in cooperation with the Natural World Museum and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Art for the Environment Initiative.

Ms. Hanak said the exhibit “Art, Attitudes and Environment”, taking place in the South Gallery of the Visitors’ Lobby, is directly tied to the Seminar, complementing and expanding upon its theme and seeking to use the universal language of art as a catalyst for action and social change.  Environmental and climate issues were often presented in a dry scientific way, but art triggered an emotional response and could help to present those serious topics in a new light.  Participating in the exhibit were artists from all around the world.  In addressing environmental issues, it was important to remember that one person could make a difference and, together, people could bring about change.

Mr. Banerjee expressed hope that his photographic work depicting the Arctic would help people to unlearn intolerance towards that region and the indigenous peoples of the North.  He believed the Arctic was suffering from negative perceptions, being described as a barren, frozen and even hostile wasteland.  Also suffering from intolerance were indigenous peoples.  For example, their subsistence hunting and fishing practices made some people uneasy.  It was important to experience the Arctic simply as a land and home.

Ms. Chalmers outlined her work in exploring links between humans and the animal world.  She was particularly interested in photographing insects -- a species significantly outnumbering humans and without whom the life as we know it would disappear.  “So, our lives depend on them,” she said.  “As a group, insects are animals we hate the most, yet they are the most important for the ecosystem.”

Ms. Paredes, whose recent work focuses on the exploration of sensual surfaces, in which the body is deliberately confused with nature and nature with the body, said that she wanted “to be once again the fish that I once used to be” and recapture the wonderful moments she had had at the seafront as a child.  Her work depicted her love of nature, and she wanted everybody to be impacted by her message that “either we take care of nature, or we lose it”.

To several questions about the Museum’s work, Ms. Hanak said that the Museum was a mobile and global organization, which did not have a permanent venue, but sought to reach broader audiences through travelling shows, intended to have an educational and inspirational impact on communities.  The Museum was partnering with various institutions, including ministries of culture and the environment in various countries.  Some of its recent exhibits had focused on environmental issues and climate change, including the “Melting Ice” show on the Arctic area.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.