Tuesday, April 1, 2008

About Art - The Broken Chair

The Broken Chair, was sculpted by Swiss artist, Daniel Berset. Originally erected on August 18, 1997, it was the brainchild of Paul Vermeulen, director of the non-governmental organization, Handicap International, in Geneva. He wanted a strong symbol of the fight against anti-personnel land mines as the world was joining together to sign the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer or Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction—or as it is more simply known, The Ottawa Convention or the Mine Ban Treaty. The lost leg symbolizes what so many land mine victims suffer. And they are the lucky ones. The others have lost their lives.

The simple brown wooden chair would look good at any dining room table if it were of normal size and if it had four instead of three and a quarter legs. The fourth leg is broken off, leaving shards of jagged wood, yet the chair does not tip.

It satnds 12-meter (39-foot) tall and is located between spouting fountains at the recently renovated Place des Nations, which leads to the UN European Headquarters. For two years the chair had been in storage while the Place was turned from a muddy field into a decorative plaza.

The statistics for deaths and injuries by unexploded land mines are staggering. Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia have suffered 85% of the world's land mine casualties. It is estimated there are some 37 million mines hidden in 19 African countries just waiting for someone to step on them or unearth them with a plough. In Angola alone, there are 70,000 victims. Eight thousand are children. Each year between 15,000 and 20,000 new land mine causalities occur, according to one UN estimate from Landmine Monitor.

Originally the chair was to be on site only three months, until all countries had signed the Ottawa Convention. Although 122 countries did sign, others did not, so the chair, instead of being removed in December 2005, stayed overlooking different peace demonstrations that were regularly held in the area, not just for land mines, but for oppressed and endangered people all over the world. In the two years the chair was in storage, 30 more countries signed the Ottawa Convention. Forty-two have not, including the US. For a complete list on who has and hasn’t signed it, see www.icbl.org/treaty/.

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