Christie’s, WHO Foundation and UN75 announce global art initiative to support COVID-19 response

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COVID-19 has revealed that a virus can affect not only our physical health but also our ability to cope with the psychological impact in its wake. The cultural community is often among the first to support in solidarity and compassion, standing together against common existential threats. In that spirit, The Future is Unwritten’s Healing Arts Auction series was unveiled on Wednesday by Christie’s, the WHO Foundation and UN75, a cultural call-to-action to support a global COVID-19 response through the arts.

As part of The Future is Unwritten’s initiative to engage the international art world in UN priority areas, and World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Series of Events, the auction series aims to increase awareness around a global path to recovery and raise critical funds to mobilize artists and health professionals in support of communities most vulnerable, at-risk and with the weakest health systems to act effectively in response to the pandemic. 

“This initiative represents a unique opportunity for the art world to step up to this global challenge and support communities on the front line of the pandemic, ensuring everyone, everywhere has the tools they need to overcome it,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General.

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All proceeds from this initiative will benefit the WHO Foundation, supporting the urgently needed mental health response to the pandemic through the applied use of arts in health-giving and recovery; and The Future is Unwritten’s Artist Response Fund, supporting artist-led projects that directly facilitate community healing and healthcare messaging in the aftermath of the pandemic. In addition to the auction series there is a program of educational events covering urgent thematic areas from emergency response, to mental health, to the health effects of the environmental crisis, to the achievement of Universal Health Coverage, each through the lens of the supportive power of the arts.  

Christopher Bailey, WHO Arts & Health Lead, adds: “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.”

Artist-led projects being supported include an urgent public-health campaign in Yemen; The Painted Desert project by artist-physician Dr. Chip Thomas addressing the nutrition crisis among the Navajo Nation in Arizona (Navajo deaths from COVID-19 were among the highest per capita in the US); a cultural preservation project with Yazidi communities on the Iraqi-Syrian border following the ISIS genocide in 2014; a public health data campaign by Mona Chalabi in New York City; and community rebuilding projects in Beirut, Khartoum and failing small town main streets across the United States.

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

The Healing Arts Auctions in collaboration with Christie’s will run over the course of a year, with works to be offered in a number of sales across a wide range of genres. The first work to come under the hammer will be Magnetism (2012, estimate: £80,000 – £120,000) by Ahmed Mater, appearing in the November Middle East Contemporary Art Sale in London.  One of his most important pieces to date, Mater fuses art, science and the concept of identity and religion, creating one of the 21st Century’s most iconic cultural images from the Islamic world.

The central focus of the piece is a cuboid magnet that resembles the black draped Kaʿbah, the central element of the Meccan rites, considered by Muslims everywhere to be the most sacred place on Earth. Around the cube are spiral patterns made of tens of thousands of particles of iron evoking the Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, that include a series of rituals like walking counter-clockwise seven times around the House of God. Mater’s counterpoint of square and circle, whirl and cube, of black and white, light and dark, places the primal elements of form and tone in dynamic equipoise.

The overall aim of the artist is simple, but enchantingly alluring. Given, during COVID-19, Mecca was seen mostly empty for the first time in its history, this work is well positioned to launch the Healing Arts Auction series.  Details of lots from other categories will be announced in the coming months. 

Dirk Boll, President of Christie’s Europe, Middle East and Africa, remarks: “Christie’s is honoured to be working with the WHO Foundation and UN75, offering a platform for artists and works in the coming year, to assist individuals and communities.  We’re also very pleased to present the work of Ahmed Mater as the debut lot in our year-long auction collaboration, today one of the most celebrated artists from Saudi Arabia, as well as a doctor and an individual who is very active in promoting the different artistic strengths of his region, dedicated to making culture accessible to as many as possible.”

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