Miguel Barcelo and Geneva Ceiling

I spent almost all of Friday, December 12th, in the new Human Rights Council chamber at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. A special commemorative session to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was held. Among the many speakers was the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon. Many of the country delegations were rostered to make three-minute speeches. One of the better speeches of the day was given by MArchbishop Mgr. Tomasi, Papal Nuncio and Ambassador to the UN in Geneva. His theme was the universality of human rights, one of the more hotly contested questions at the philosophical level in current debate at the UN. It was noteworthy that, without exception, the European and Western nations who intervened supported the concept of the universality of human rights while the African and Chinese representatives clearly did not, although stopping short of an outright rejection. The representative of the Islamic Council referred obliquely to the issue but refrained from direct comment. It is far too sensitive an issue at the present time given the current state of relationship between the West and the Islamic world.

New Human Rights Council chamber ceiling in Geneva

However, I would have to say that a major source of distraction for me was the new ceiling for the chamber. It cost €14M and had been commissioned from Catalan artist, Miguel Barcelo. It  was a gift to the UN from the Spanish Government. There had been uproar in Spain at the cost of the ceiling but even more so because it now appears that the Spanish overseas aid budget was plundered to pay for the ceiling. I even got into debate myself with a Spanish colleague on the issue of what appeared to be lavish expenditure. Our local Geneva tabloids had been pointing out that Barcelo had been housed in a $15, 000 a month rented villa on the lakeshore. Michelangelo probably did not have that luxury.

What do I think of the ceiling? I have to admit that it is beautiful and works well as a piece of contemporary art expression. It is colourful and changes subtly with the changes in lighting. Barcelo described it as the “world dripping towards the sky”. An upside-down world, if you like. Which is probably as fitting a description of our world at present as one is likely to find.

Barcelo is one of a new wave of artists who have made their peace with the Church. He has been commissioned to do church art work all over Europe but especially in Spain.

Barcelo interior for a refurbished church in Mallorca, Spain

Barcelo interior for a refurbished church in Mallorca, Spain

His refurbishment of the a small church in Mallorca has received both rave and critical reviews. Which means he must be doing it right. That particular renovation took as its motif the underside of a ship. So the idea was to represent the Church and the local church after centuries of sailing on the seas of faith. The barque of Peter with barnacle outgrowths. Depending on one’s taste it is either strikingly beautiful or an affront. I vote for the former.

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