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The colours of diplomacy

If you were to paint a picture of international negotiations, what colour would you choose? To depict the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, diplomat and artist, Mohamadia Alnasan, went for yellow.

This content was published on August 5, 2021 - 15:00

It’s the colour that stands out and shines at the building housing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) where her solo exhibition can be seen. Diplomacy and art are linked by bright colours in her works which she says evoke the current atmosphere of International Geneva. 

From Damascus, Alnasan has been working for four years at the Syrian mission to the International Organizations in Geneva, mainly in charge of negotiations at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), WIPO and the HRC. 

The solo exhibition, which is on display in the hall of WIPO until August 6 is the first event of this kind hosted by the United Nations in Geneva since the start of the pandemic. Based on her own point of view, Alnasan expresses her diplomatic life in colours. 

The 21 paintings on display illustrate the power of speech, which is essential to the development of diplomacy, the feelings of anxiety due to travelling, hard work and pressure, encounters with colleagues, the majesty and peace of mind represented by the peacocks in the garden of the United Nations, the focus of the recent debates on the coronavirus response, and the HRC meetings held online. 

The abstract painting entitled "Diplomat's Journey" represents the travels and experiences linked to the job, the diversity of emotions, and the essence of her diplomatic life. 

Alnasan is just one of 32,000 diplomats and civil servants living and working in Geneva, which is a centre for international negotiations, headquarters of the United Nations in Europe and home to 42 international organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  

Alnasan began using the coronavirus as a motif for her "diplomatic focus" in March 2020, when the WHO declared a pandemic and multilateral negotiations started to focus on the response to Covid-19. She uses the bright colours as symbols to overcome the many challenges posed by the virus, but also to reflect her own optimism. 

The multilateral meetings in Geneva - more than 3,400 a year - have been restricted by the coronavirus, and most of the meetings and negotiations have been taking place online. In diplomacy where face-to-face discussions are essential, this has been a fundamental change. The same is true of the Human Rights Council, the UN body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide. 

Against this backdrop, Alnasan decided to make a painting from the perspective of the seat of the Syrian delegation where she sits, and to keep it to document this unusual period. In the work, she wrote the first words the diplomats say at the HRC sessions in the six official UN languages before they take the floor, as it was noteworthy to have women chairs since the last two years: "Thank you, Madam President". In the painting of the online meeting, she chose a yellow base - a symbol of "the presence of human beings’ spiritual energy", even though the session was online. 

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