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New York and Geneva, along with Vienna and Nairobi,  are headquarters to the United Nations, important forums for the future of our planet and essential stopping points for anyone wanting to soak up the ambience and solemnity of important diplomatic encounters. After the Big Apple, Geneva has the largest UN building. It was opened in 1946  and is part of the Palace of Nations, built between 1929 and 1938 and remodelled in the 1950s and 60s. It’s also home to different specialised institutions and agencies, such as the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization. Surrounding these offices is the large, peaceful Arian Park. And naturally it’s close to enormous Lake Geneva, another symbol of this elegant Swiss city.

Let’s not leave for tomorrow what we can do today. A visitor to Geneva can enter the UN building, stroll through some of its offices as if he were a brainy world leader, and look on high to marvel at what’s popularly known as the Sistine Chapel of the UN. With permission from the Vatican, Michelangelo and the history of art, we’re referring to the colossal cupola decorated by the celebrated Spanish artist Miquel Barceló in what was formerly Room XX and is now called the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilisations Room. The artist has sought to create an idea of the world “representing the greatness of a sea and all its movement,” we are told at the Fundación Onuart in Barcelona, the promoter of this project as part of its constant search for a dialogue through art.

“This sea changes depending on the light, the space and the position of the viewer. The work blends serenity and movement,” they add. Because in the words of Barceló himself,  the dome “generates different perceptions that, due to its internal dynamic, transmit an optimistic, positive, constructive effect.” Perhaps the quintessence of the multilateral meetings that are held in this great room. As former UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon put it, Barceló’s cupola metaphorically exemplifies the tasks that countries carry out: their capacity for empathy and to putting oneself in somebody else’s skin.

Yes. It’s surprising to look up. The colours in this ocean of dreamlike stalactites change depending on the position of the observer. And isn’t this –flexibility and a good attitude–   one of the keys to making political decisions? Opinions apart, the Fundación Onuart considers Barcelo’s masterpiece to be its first great cultural milestone. And in fact when someone enters this distinguished area he is swept up by the huge dreamlike mass of the ceiling, predominantly silver green and blue, with touches of red, orange and yellow that achieve the effect of a wave. An exhaustive work that required 35 tons of paint and a support team of 15 persons and took from September of 2007 until June of 2008. These are 1,400 square metres of unheard of beauty.

It should be remembered that the modern Human Rights Room at the Palace of Nations was inaugurated on 18 November 2008 by the King and Queen of Spain and the secretary general of the UN, with the presence of the Spanish prime minister, the president of Switzerland, and the Turkish prime minister. And of course Barceló, who described the cupola as “an oceanic surface of the Earth and its most hidden cavities,” an “absolute union of opposites.” “In this choppy sea,” Barceló went on, “it’s logical to find different levels: the bottom of the water and its multi-coloured inhabitants, the level of the water, the white foam of the agitated water in the tides, and at the end, the reflection, what this sea reflects, what is below, us.” And in that plurality, that “us”, lies all of humanity.  And, in a more prosaic form, under that ceiling can be found the 742 delegates when the room is full… What are you waiting for, then, to submerge yourself in Barceló’s sea, an inspiring and symbolic pictorial showcase of the world’s diversity?

Without any doubt you should explore the different UN headquarters. But if your destination is Geneva, don’t forget that it is home to, if we may, the new Sistine Chapel.

Photo: Fundación Onuart / Agustí Torres