Podcast episode six: trouble at Unesco, plus Art and Terror

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Why did the US pull out of the organisation? Plus: 9/11 and its impact on art at London’s Imperial War Museum. Produced in association with Bonhams, auctioneers since 1793

In this week's podcast, the public affairs campaigner Ivan Macquisten weighs up the challenges faced by UNESCO following a withdrawal from the USA and Israel, our founding editor Anna Somers Cocks examines the organisation's failure to manage the environmental threat being posed to Venice, and Syrian artist Hrair Sarkissian speaks on his recent work Homesick as part of the Imperial War Museum's new show on art in the age of terror.

The Ibrahimi mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs, revered by both Muslims and Jews, in Hebron © Jim Hollander/EPA

Trouble at Unesco

  • Claiming "anti-Israeli bias", the USA has withdrawn from UNESCO with Israel swiftly following suit. These claims were made amidst the organisation's decision to recognise the Old City of Hebron on the West Bank as a Palestinian world heritage site, sparking outrage from Israel in what was seen as a denial of the site's importance to Jewish history.
Newly appointed UN Director General Audrey Azoulay © AP Photo/ Michel Euler
  • These withdrawals were followed by a turbulent decision to appoint French cultural minister Audrey Azoulay as successor to Irina Bokova as UNESCO Director General. Many countries, particularly Egypt whose economy depends heavily on its heritage sector, threatened to boycott the organisation if France did not withdraw its candidate. Ivan Macquisten questions whether the UN is being weighed down by its own convoluted administration and infighting between member countries.
A massive cruise ship dwarfs Venice as it pulls into town © World Monument Fund
  • UNESCO's inability to act with efficacy and exert its influence when needed is no more apparent than in the case of Venice, says Anna Somers Cocks. Plans to blockade the city from the surrounding sea to protect the world heritage site from flooding are being hindered by the failure to challenge the inefficiency and corruption of the Italian Government, she argues. The organisation is also remaining silent on key environmental issues such as the presence of large cruise ships docking within the city's limits, which increase levels of pollution.

Age of Terror at the Imperial War Museum in London

Hans-Peter Feldmann's 9/12 Front Page (2014) ©IWM London
  • The Imperial War Museum opens its new show Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11, which explores 40 artists' responses to conflict since the 2001 terrorist attacks. The exhibition's curator Sanna Moore explains that the show, the museums largest ever focusing on contemporary art, will be organised temporally with immediate responses to 9/11 and other acts of terror eventually leading into art inspired by the long term effects of terrorism on the human psyche and society.
Hrair Sarkissian's Homesick (2014) ©IMW London
  • Hrair Sarkissian's Homesick, featured in the exhibition, saw the artist construct a 1:30 replica of his parents' apartment block in Damascus before documenting himself destroying the structure. Sarkissian says that the piece, which is comprised of both photography and video, speaks to the erasure of memories and place experienced by Syrian citizens in the past decade.

Age of Terror: Art Since 9/11 is on at the Imperial War Museum, London from 26th October 2017 - 28th May 2018

Want to find out more?

Read our article on the USA and Israel's decision to pull out of UNESCO

Find more information on Audrey Azoula's surprise election

Explore the environmental issues posed by cruise ships in Venice

Read more on the Imperial War Museum's exhibition here

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