FACING NATIONS – A clear and impressive signal

The General Assembly of the United Nations described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948 as the common ideal of all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.
The cultural project “FACING NATIONS – culture of humanity” has made commendable efforts to express and promote this ideal.

Painted with consideration and sensitivity, faces of people from UN member states are the core of this exhibit. The idea of “giving nations a face” is not only an interesting artistic approach to the issue of “human rights” but also a clear signal to observe the Declaration.

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President of the Republic of Austria

Foto: PK
VIC 30 – 30 Years Dialogue for Peace

The Vienna International Centre’s 30th anniversary offers us an excellent occasion to celebrate. Austria is proud to host numerous important UN-organizations in Vienna. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV), the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) rank among the most important organizations and offices to be hosted by Austria.

The Austrian Host Country Policy is a pillar of the Austrian Foreign Policy. Situated in the heart of Europe and throughout its history at the crossroads of different cultures, religions and political systems, Austria has developed a specific culture of dialogue, as well as an active participation in international organizations and multilateral diplomacy. As a host country, Austria appreciates the important role the international organizations based in Austria play in fostering Vienna as a platform for peace and dialogue.

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Federal Minister for European and International Affairs

Foto: Außenministerium/Hopi-Media
VIC – For 30 years a place of peace and a venue of international meetings

The Vienna International Centre, situated on the River Danube, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. It was inaugurated on 23 August 1979 and handed over to the international organizations. The striking building has since shaped the skyline of new and modern Vienna.

The international organizations based in Vienna have considerably contributed to Austria’s reputation. But what is even more important is the cultural aspect: The people who come from all around the world to work in the Vienna International Centre enrich our city and our society every day.

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Dr. Michael HÄUPL
Dr. Michael HÄUPL
Mayor of Vienna

Foto: Stadt Wien/Fotograf Kurt Keinrath
A nuclear-weapon-free world

The imaginative project “FACING NATIONS – culture of humanity” reflects the origin of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more than 60 years ago. The very first right emphasized by the Declaration is the right to life – a right denied to tens of millions during the horrors of the Second World War.

During the same period, a new menace to life on Earth emerged: the looming threat of nuclear annihilation. The obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will always remain vivid in our minds. Today eight countries have conducted over 2000 nuclear tests in total and have amassed over 20,000 nuclear weapons, each one dwarfing the Hiroshima bomb in destructive power.

Working towards the elimination of these weapons is therefore a profound moral and humanitarian obligation. It gives me hope that in recent years, the vision of a nuclearweapon- free world has been embraced by an increasing number of international leaders.

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Tibor TÓTH
Tibor TÓTH
Executive Secretary, Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test- Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)

Atoms for Peace

The International Atomic Energy Agency was created in Vienna in 1957, four years after President Eisenhower called for the creation of an organization which would put nuclear science and technology at the service of mankind and ensure that nuclear energy is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.

After nearly 20 years in the Grand Hotel, the Agency took up residence in the Vienna International Centre in 1979. Our membership has grown steadily and now comprises 150 States.

Our dual security and development mandate is unique. The Agency is most associated in the public mind with our work to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. But we do much more than that.

By making nuclear techniques available to developing countries, we help to improve access to food, water and health care for the poor. The IAEA’s nuclear safety standards have become the international benchmark and are being incorporated into European Union law. We have a significant nuclear security programme which has helped to reduce the likelihood of extremist groups getting hold of nuclear or radioactive material.

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Director-General, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Vienna International Centre

The world was a very different place thirty years ago, when the people of Vienna first peered up at these impossibly tall and futuristic buildings, giant arcs cupped together along the banks of the Danube. In those days, not many ventured much further beyond this side of the river. Indeed, the Vienna International Centre stood like a sentry post between competing groups of States and systems: from the highest of its twenty eight floors, the human eye could scan the line dividing East from West.

But this new construction was not born to cement division. On the contrary, it took the germ of an Austrian tradition of discussion, conciliation and mutual understanding that dates at least as far back as the Congress of Vienna in 1814, and breathed new life into it. It refused to accept that Vienna’s geographical position was peripheral, but rather defined it as a neutral space at the heart of the world. A new term rapidly gained currency in international relations: the “Vienna spirit”, a readiness to seek consensus that often evaded the efforts of those in other hubs of multilateral diplomacy.

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Director-General, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Vienna as a United Nations Headquarter

For thirty years, since 1979, the United Nations has had its third Headquarters (after New York and Geneva) in the Austrian capital, situated in the landmark Vienna International Centre (VIC).

In the past three decades, the VIC has become an international hub for human security issues. The range and depth of expertise is a reflection of how the United Nations family in Vienna is well-positioned and well-equipped to deal with some of the world’s most salient challenges.

The Vienna International Centre also moves with the times. In this anniversary year, we celebrate the opening of a state-of-the-art conference facility, the “M” building. We are also intensifying our efforts to make the VIC more environmentally friendly by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, recycling and reducing waste.

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Antonio Maria COSTA
Antonio Maria COSTA
Director-General, United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV)

Working together towards a common goal

When UNIS Vienna supported the launch of FACING NATIONS in December 2008 in Graz, we knew that this would be the beginning of an impressive and momentous journey. At that time, the exhibition was launched to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with which FACING NATIONS shares the basic message of dignity and human rights for all.

Building on the success achieved in Graz, we were certain that the exhibition would be a great addition to the 30th anniversary of the Vienna International Centre (VIC) and we are very grateful to all those who made it possible to bring FACING NATIONS to the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna where more than 4,000 people work and tens of thousands visit each year.

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Dir. Maher NASSER
Dir. Maher NASSER
Director of the UN Information Service

Foto: UNIS
“FACING NATIONS – culture of humanity” as an appeal to internationalism and humanity

In 2008, 60 years after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation-Studio Styria reminded us of the origin of this UN Declaration of Human Rights with the unique artistic and cultural project “FACING NATIONS – culture of humanity” by the artist Oskar Stocker. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Vienna International Centre, this impressive work is now on display in the nation’s capital.

The project “FACING NATIONS – culture of humanity” with portraits of 124 people from 124 nations is an impressive representation of cosmopolitanism, internationalism, tolerance and humanity.

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Dr. Alexander WRABETZ
Dr. Alexander WRABETZ
General Manager, ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation)

Foto: ORF/Ramsdorfer
Life in different cultures

“In my years with the UN, I have been fortunate enough to have worked on all continents and with many nations. This has enabled me to experience the vital role we play in each others lives, as countries, institutions, communities – and as individuals. In my personal life as well, rooted in Islam, Asia and the Middle East, married into the proud Austrian tradition of central Europe, and based in Vienna, I know what it means to integrate into a different world. It is not always easy, but it is possible, with goodwill and effort on the part of those who arrive and those who receive.

Hence I strongly support FACING NATIONS, a project which begins with a wonderful cultural and artistic idea embedded in the humanity which unites us all, irrespective of our differences. I hope that this initial event will lead to a global campaign to show that people and communities with different origins and backgrounds enrich and benefit each other and that they should and can live and work together. The success of FACING NATIONS should encourage our belief that it is possible to exist in peace and harmony, instead of fear and confrontation.

The UN Charter refers to “We the Peoples” -- a universal message beyond borders and differences -- in my view the ideas and hopes surrounding this project support the fundamental goals of the UN -- a better world for us and for future generations, through peace, human rights and development.

Born in Pakistan, Ms. Hassan has ca. 27 years of experience with the United Nations. She has worked in the areas of public information, social development, humanitarian relief & refugee affairs, peacekeeping, and drugs & crime. Ms. Hassan has worked with the UN HQ New York and Vienna, and in the Middle East, Balkans, and Central Asia. In November 2004, the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed her as Director United Nations Information Service Vienna, whose area covers much of central Europe. Between 2005 and 2007, she continued to be on temporary assignments in the Middle East.

Ms. Hassan’s ongoing research on suicide terrorism has been published in academic and other journals and news magazines. After her retirement from the UN in 2008, she continues her involvement in peace-keeping and rule of law issues as well as research on jihadist militancy.

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Dir. Nasra HASSAN
former Director of UN Information Service Vienna
For Humanity, Tolerance and Solidarity

The 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers once again a reason to consider how well human rights have been put into practice. The state of Styria stands for the enforcement of human rights, without exception, and has, in this sense, implemented extensive actions within its own area of influence. Among others, these include the appointment of a variety of representatives as human rights observers, and also the presen-tation of the Human Rights Award of the State of Styria to persons who have rendered a ser-vice in maintaining or achieving human rights. In addition, accents are set on the implementa-tion and maintenance of human rights in other fields of activity, such as supporting projects for cooperative development.

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Mag. Franz VOVES
Mag. Franz VOVES
Governor of Styria
Art – a human right

FACING NATIONS is an exciting concept to make the correlation between artistic creation and human rights visible. The portraits of people with a migrant background show their face, and their inviolable personality. For those who – for whatever reason – have lost their home, we all too lightly also deny them their identity.

The cooperation of the artist Oskar Stocker with the ORF increases the chance that the socio-political message will be spread far and universally. High-ranking personalities have accepted patronage of the project. The success of this artistically and socially meaningful project is desirable, and certainly only a question of time. It proves the political power of artistic work and, conversely, the influence of the current political position of society on the artistic work taking place within it.

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Deputy Governor of Styria
A monument to freedom, equality, tolerance, and respect

For eight years, the city of Graz has been the only city in Europe to be recognized as a “Human Rights City” and as such, it has been especially committed to fundamental human rights. This is one of the many reasons that is a special honour for us to experience the presentation of FACING NATIONS in the state capital of Styria. This project, which was initiated by ORF Styria in commemoration of the 60-year anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, presents the spirit of the Declaration and its meaning for our society in a sensitive, ambitious manner.
People from over 150 nations live in Graz and influence and enrich the city through their various lives, nationalities and destinies, as well as their cultural and religious identities. A proverb says, “A face tells the story of a whole life!“. In FACING NATIONS, the oil portraits created by Oskar Stocker unite the faces and the variety of the world in an impressive work of art in our city. For Graz, this project is a great honour and an artistic  monument to freedom, equality, tolerance, and respect!

Our special thanks are due to the artist, Oskar Stocker, and to all who contributed to the success of this project!

Mag. Siegfried NAGL, Mayor of Graz
Lisa RÜCKER, Vice-mayor of Graz

Mag. Siegfried NAGL
Mag. Siegfried NAGL
Mayor of Graz

Vice-mayor of Graz

The faces of human dignity

Human dignity is the core concept of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which celebrates its 60th anniversary on 10 December 2008. The preamble of the UDHR begins with the statement that, “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world …” and Article 1 determines that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Thanks to Oskar Stocker’s portraits, in fulfilment of an idea by Gerhard Draxler, this common human dignity of people of all nations living in Graz, and representative of people all over the world, was made visible. Human rights are violated everywhere – even in Graz, which, in 2001, declared itself to be a Human Rights City, thereby putting itself under the obligation to be guided in its dealings by the principle of human rights. Here in our city, these dealings are often not loud and spectacular, but are, instead, quiet and inconspicuous. Someone ends up in poverty and cannot be caught by the social net; children cannot learn enough German because there are not enough teachers; a man cannot find an apartment because his skin is the wrong colour; a woman cannot find work because she wears a scarf on her head … The list is easily continued. In autumn 2008, following the initiative of the Mayor of the city of Graz, Siegfried Nagl, the Human Rights Commission of Graz drew up a Human Rights Report for the first time. This report gives a good overview of the problems, but it also gives many examples of positive experiences.

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Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang BENEDEK
Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr.
Dr. h.c. Wolfgang BENEDEK
Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the city of Graz; Director of the European Trainings and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy; Professor of International Law at the University of Graz
Connecting Nations

Immigrants are an essential factor in the contact between cultures. Immigrants enrich Graz. These are trivial comments, but they are true. Nevertheless, only very few realize what it really means to be an immigrant. Immigration means that you had to leave your home. Even if this was a voluntary decision and someone has become well-established in Graz, a feeling of being torn apart often still exists for a long time. For immigrants, extremely negative experiences and very positive experiences often lievery close together.

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Univ.Prof.Dr.Max HALLER
Univ.Prof.Dr.Max HALLER
Professor of Sociology at Karl Franzens University, Graz
FACING NATIONS –from one person to the other

To learn to form a nation, you hope, Germans, in vain.
Learn instead, you can, more freely to become humans.

Many may heartily agree with Schiller’s famous definition of the German national character, imagining themselves to be literally on the safe side in the camp of Humanity, while the concept of Nationality since Grillparzer has entered into an unholy alliance with Bestiality. Even if they feel confirmed in this by the history of the 20th century, it must still be emphasized that this ethic will not take us far. Nations have forfeited less of their historical importance – and its continued effect up to the present day – than many are willing to accept.

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Dr. Ulrich BECKER
Dr. Ulrich BECKER
Director of the “Alte Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum”, Graz

Foto: Balsereit
Quiet presence –
eloquent proof of peaceful coexistence

For more than sixty years, the United Nations has devoted itself to the maintenance of peace and international security, based on the recognition of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving countries. In many cases, the UN has been successful in eradicating threats to peace, preventing breaches of peace, and rectifying international disputes by peaceful means, based on the principles of justice and of international law, as formulated in their Charta.

Despite all criticism that such an organization always might attract, the UN enjoys the highest respect throughout the world. Nevertheless, due to world-wide immigration, massive differences in the distribution of material and non-material opportunities, and through the confrontation of different religious beliefs within the society of individual countries and regions, the coexistence of people has not become easier. Only a few people are able, based on their consistent and convincing conduct of life, their extensive education, and their intellectual independence, to be heard in respect to the global question of peace, justice and the protection of the environment. Many representatives from politics, business and religion are no longer considered able to formulate and deal with the questions of the times, the problems, and wishes of the people.

In regard to other cultural areas, it is art, which is still able, with few limitations, to awaken the interest and the trust of the people. The desire to occupy oneself with art seems unbroken. Art still offers a wide range of possibilities and invites one to concern oneself with the subjects in question.

In December 2008, the sixtieth anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations in the Palais de Chaillot in Paris was celebrated. Since the ratification, it has formed the foundation of the humanitarian fundamentals of international law. Considering the high respect that art enjoys in its formulation of human rights, it is no wonder that the Studio Styria of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation initiated an art project on the occasion of the anniversary of the human rights Declaration. For the broadcaster, the choice did not fall on media-art, as one might have imagined, but on painting.

Oskar Stocker, born 1956 in Lienz, Tyrol, has lived and worked in Graz for many years. Last year he was chosen by ORF Styria to be their “Artist in Residence” and was commissioned to create an unparalleled frieze of humanity. Stocker’s painting spans more than 150 meters and shows portraits of a total of 124 residents of Graz, each of whom originated in a different country – from Egypt to India, from Bulgaria to Somalia from Japan to Iraq, from Lithuania to Peru. Extensive research and a cautious approach made it possible that 124 women and men each visited Stocker in his atelier in the studio of the Graz Broadcasting Centre, to have their portraits painted.

Thirty years ago, Vienna became the third official seat of the United Nations, following New York and Geneva. To celebrate this anniversary, the UN, in conjunction with the Republic of Austria, shows Oskar Stocker‘s panorama of nations in the Rotunda of the Vienna International Centre. After Graz, Vienna is now the second station of this impressive presentation.

Recent – and most recent – history teaches us how diversely the term ‘nation’ can be used. The idea of a nation can be used and abused as a dangerous weapon against others, but at the same time it can also induce the feeling of home and belonging, which is needed to make survival possible. The term ‘nation’ can be ethnic or cultural. The painter, Oskar Stocker, interprets the term very personally, by giving it a face. He is concerned with people.

More than 190 countries belong to the United Nations. But in these countries live people from thousands of cultures, who alone or united, voluntarily or under force, find themselves under the one roof of their country. The approximately 290,000 people who live in Graz come from more than 150 different nations, but together they all form the residents of the capital of Styria.

When Stocker places the 124 faces painted by him in an unordered and unhierarchical manner, he neither can nor wants to show a representative crosssection of the population of Graz. The artist does show, however, a sample of the life together in the city, independent of gender and age, skin colour and language. It is only the origin in a particular nation that forms the basis of his selection. The interaction between the portraits represents the many cultures which found a new home here – who meet, sometimes harmoniously and sometimes critically, here and who, for better or worse, make up the multicultural character of Graz.

During the sittings for his portraits, the artist was able, despite time constraints, to quickly come into contact with his models. He asked them questions, for example which memory they had of their arrival in Graz – if they could remember the weather or their first meal in their new home city – while making sketches of those to be portrayed and taking their photo. Despite the short time, these meetings were impressively slow and intense.

For Stocker, eye contact was of special importance. In a manner similar to Antonello da Messina in the 15th century or to portrait painters of later periods, he sought the eye of the person being painted, whether they were laughing or looking serious. For this reason, all of those who were portrayed are presented at the same eye-level and with similar gestures. When we look at Stocker’s faces, we can only guess at the biographies and life opportunities. They reflect experiences and meetings, concern or indifference, departure or arrival, diffidence or independence. In their quiet presence they are eloquent witnesses of their history.

The painter wanted to show his models in a manner which makes possible a quiet dialogue with the observer, who can now draw conclusions as to which nation each individual represents and can attempt to read the message of their physiognomy or skin colour – but the name of the country remains concealed. The portrayed persons meet other human beings, face to face.

In this respect, the title, FACING NATIONS might be misunderstood. It is not a confrontation between nations which takes place. It is, rather, a meeting between the representatives of nations – between the persons pictured in neighbouring portraits, and in particular between those pictured and their observers, the representatives of their own individual nations, in Vienna and in later stations of the exhibit.

The fascination with the portraits appears unbroken. With FACING NATIONS, Oskar Stocker stands equally in an impressive tradition and in the present interest. But the 124 faces are more than just a portrait gallery. Since the rules of traditional painting seem to have been dissolved, the term “historical painting” can no longer be upheld in its traditional form. The work presents no admonition, no mandatory message, and no general appeals to the viewer. Rather, its task could be seen to be the capturing of the concrete present in picture, the describing of the concrete instant, and thereby the artistic condensing of a memory. In this respect, FACING NATIONS is an entirely new, deeply appropriate, and very contemporary form of historical painting and thereby an important contribution to memorial art of the present. Oskar Stocker’s painting shows that art does indeed deserve the interest and the trust of the people. With FACING NATIONS, Stocker created a frieze of persons, which expresses the profound wish of humanity – to live together in freedom and harmony and to shape the face of a city in benevolent proximity to one another. Stocker’s portraits document the human state which found written expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and which is indispensable for the coexistence of nations in the future.

Curator, “Kunst-Station Sankt Peter Köln”

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Curator, Kunststation St. Peter Köln

Foto: privat

A dialogue. Oskar Stocker talks with Peter Wolf


P: To paint a portrait of humanity – isn’t that a form of presumptuousness? You have to ask yourself, “Is there one face of humanity?“ The face is as different and as unique as the structure of DNA or as a fingerprint.

O: I think about this question a lot: Where is individuality and uniqueness clearly recognizable? When has the border to uniformity or abstraction been reached – or already crossed? Since you mentioned the fingerprint – at first glance, it is not
distinguishable and if what research says is true, then the DNA of all people is almost identical, with only small differences. But still, each person is unique, one-of-a-kind and distinctive. So the picture of humanity would be the sum of the pictures of all humans who have ever lived – or at least of those who are alive today. As a painter, I use the methods of the government agencies – no matter whether for a driver’s license, passport or any other piece of identification – identification is made primarily by the face.

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facing nations