Behind the Scenes, J. Paul Getty Trust

The Arts on the World Economic Stage—Notes from Davos

World Economic Forum, 2013

Photo: Hager. © World Economic Forum

I’ve just returned from a week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This is a meeting of the world’s corporate leaders and government officials, who gather to explore the economic and political prospects for the coming year.

Increasingly, the Forum has also invited cultural leaders to reflect on  issues  putting pressure on cultural institutions, and to consider the arts and their contributions to humanity. This year I was invited to conceive and moderate two panel discussions.

In the first, we discussed the fate of encyclopedic museums and the pressure put on them by nation-states calling for the repatriation of what they define as their cultural patrimony.  While acknowledging that national governments have the right to restrict trade in their self-defined cultural heritage, we noted that in doing so they were denying their citizens—or subjects—access to cultural objects from different parts of the world, perpetuating dangerous stereotypes of foreign peoples and foreign cultures, and working against the promise of encyclopedic museums to promote the understanding of and respect for difference in the world. The panel included the directors of the British Museum, the Hermitage, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and the International Council of Museums; it’s important to note that we didn’t limit our conversation to antiquities, but considered all manner of cultural objects.

In this video, Ismail Serageldin, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt), and I discuss some of the themes covered in the panel, including the aspirations of the encyclopedic museum and issues surrounding repatriation.

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The second panel looked at culture and its role in building community in our growing cities. We considered this issue in light of a recent United Nations Population Fund report, which reveals that the world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth ever seen, most notable in Africa and Asia. By 2030, for the first time ever, more than half the world’s population—nearly five billion people—will be living in towns and cities. An artist from Chicago, an architect from Beijing, and the CEO of Habitat for Humanity joined me on the panel, and we discussed how vital a role the arts and creativity can play in building community and tackling basic issues of sustainability and livability.

After the session, sustainability advocate Sue Riddlestone and I sat down to talk about some of the themes that emerged.

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Davos is an important opportunity for the arts to have a powerful presence on the world economic stage. And so after the first panel, we co-hosted a dinner with The Economist magazine and continued discussion of the panel’s main themes with a wide diversity of participants, including the Economist editor-in-chief, the presidents of Harvard and the University of Chicago, and former and current members of the Carter, Clinton, and Obama administrations.

Reflecting on Davos, I’m delighted that the Getty is helping to convene people around topics of importance and interest, and honored that we have earned respect for leadership in our field—even if it means traveling thousands of miles to spend a week in meetings when some of the world’s best skiing is just outside!

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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