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The Luminarium: A creative space for discussion

Over three million people in 40 countries have had the unique opportunity to walk through a luminaria—vibrant inflatable structures created by the UK’s visual art firm Architects of Air. For one week during the Human Rights Council’s 23rd Session, the United Kingdom Permanent Mission to the United Nations brought Architects of Air’s Luminarium to the grounds of the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

“This Luminarium will hopefully spark similar creativity in us as we enter to listen, learn, and share messages,” UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay said during the opening event of the interactive sculpture. “We must take any opportunity where we can to spread our messages in as many imaginative ways as possible. It need not be in a traditional forum, such as the conference room, office or television studio. It can be in a school playground, at a musical or cultural event, or inside a 1,000 square metre inflatable structure.”

The United Kingdom Permanent Mission to the United Nations sponsored the Luminarium event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.

“We wanted to bring the Luminarium to Geneva as a way to work creatively and carry human rights messages to more people,” says Karen Pierce, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations, during the special opening of the exhibit.

Designed by UK artist Alan Parkinson as a communal space for contemplation, the Luminarium was cut and glued by hand in the firm’s workshop in Nottingham, England. Inspired by geometry and Islamic architecture, the sculpture’s chambers are infused with various hues of red, green, blue and yellow, which are created purely by natural light shining through the colorful plastic.

It features several small chambers and one central space able to accommodate 100 people at a time. Visitors are encouraged to walk slowly on the paths barefoot, while taking in the saturated color and serene music.

The opening of the art installation featured a live hip hop performance by South Sudanese musician and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal. “It is a spiritual place to connect with each other and an opportunity to empower people in a different way,” Jal said. 

The week-long art installation hosted several activities and events for school groups and adults including workshops on human rights and multilingual audio recordings of human rights messages. Even a special side event on violence against women was held inside the sculpture, which provided a unique setting for a Human Rights Council panel discussion. The closing ceremony included a mass recital of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights led by UK artist Andrew Mitchelson.

The Luminarium was open to UN staff, UN ground pass visitors, and school groups.

17 June 2013

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