Tuesday 27 November 2012


The acclaimed Panamanian pianist and jazz composer Danilo Pérez has been appointed UNESCO Artist for Peace “in recognition of his efforts to provide outreach music programmes to children living in extreme poverty in Panama and his dedication to the ideals and aims” of the United Nations cultural organization.

The musician, known for his distinctive Pan-American jazz style, has received many awards for his social work in Panama. He is the president of the Danilo Pérez Foundation which provides outreach music programmes to children living in extreme poverty in the country.

Pérez with UNESCO's director-general Irina Bokova
“It’s an incredible honour to be named Artist for Peace, and I take it with a lot of pride,” Pérez told SWAN after giving a lively concert at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris on Nov. 20.

“I’ll do my best to expose youth to the music, the values of the music and what it can teach about how we relate to other people and to our environment,” he added.

Born in Panama in 1965,  Pérez currently directs the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts. He has developed an educational curriculum based on what he calls “inter-connective learning”, which allows students to experience and practice ideas linked to social change through music.

Pérez  also serves as the Artistic Director for the Panama Jazz Festival, an annual event that attracts thousands of jazz fans and provides auditions, admissions and scholarships for Latin American music students and professionals. The tenth edition of the Festival takes place January 14-19, 2013, in Panama City.

The jam session
American jazz legend Herbie Hancock, who will be among the performers, has called Pérez one of the “most exciting” pianists of today, and the Panamanian lived up to that billing with his performance in Paris. He did a jam session with local musicians and even got the be-suited officials present to snap their fingers and shout their appreciation.

Pérez draws on his Latin American roots, be-bop, and Caribbean and world music to create his own individual blend. “He’s just great,” said one Mexican staffer who attended the concert.

According to UNESCO, Artists for Peace are “internationally-renowned personalities who use their influence, charisma and prestige to help promote UNESCO’s message and programmes”. The agency works with them in order to “heighten public awareness regarding key development issues” and to inform the public about UNESCO’s action is in these fields.

(Images courtesy of UNESCO)

Friday 23 November 2012


Standing figure
PARIS - Awe and surprise were probably the most common expressions on viewers' faces during the recent opening of “Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley”, a wide-ranging exhibition that has traveled from the United States to the Quai Branly Museum here.

Through stunning objects, the show takes museum-goers on a “journey” up the 650-mile-long Benue River and introduces the “major artistic genres and styles associated with more than 25 ethnic groups” living along the river’s lower, middle and upper reaches.

The Benue River Valley is an immense region that stretches from the heart of Nigeria to the eastern frontier with Cameroon, and its ethnic groups have long produced remarkable and varied sculptures that collectors have snapped up over time. The current exhibition is derived from both public and private collections in Europe and the United States.

The pieces on display range from objects that look quite post-modern in their abstract forms to sculptures that are so perfectly balanced and intricately designed that they nearly seem to breathe.

Viewers get to admire towering wood statues, maternity figures, helmet masks with “naturalistic human faces”, horizontal masks that seem to fuse human and animal forms, and elaborately forged iron vessels, among other items.

The materials used include wood, metal and ceramic, and all the objects reflect certain meanings and uses. The show makes a point of highlighting community traditions and how current events influenced the pieces produced.

Masks in the exhibition
“Artworks could be made by one group and used by another where meanings might change; stylistic traits could be shared across cultures; and the places where objects were collected may not have been where they were created,” according to the curators.

Some of the most distinctive items in the exhibition are the ceramic artworks from the previously remote upper Benue region. The relative isolation of this area meant that local traditional practices lasted into the late 20th century, and their ceramic vessels served different ritual functions, such as safeguarding hunters and healing the sick.

The curators say that every effort has been made to ensure that the collections were attained by legitimate means, but some viewers will naturally wonder why so many spectacular African works of art “reside” in the West.

“The works of art … displayed in this exhibition were selected with great care and precision by a small group of eminent specialists, who benefited from a lengthy period of intense dialogue and deliberation followed by exhaustive efforts to secure appropriate works of art and to provide documentation,” said Stephane Martin, president of the Quai Branly Museum.

The poster
The exhibition grew out of a special interest by researchers at the Fowler Museum, at the University of California. Marla C. Berns, head of the curatorial team, said the show is a tribute to the work done by art historian Arnold Rubin who did extensive fieldwork in the Benue River Valley in the Sixties and early Seventies.  Rubin wanted to curate a major exhibition but died before he could achieve his dream.

“As Rubin’s literary executor, I had always intended that the project be completed, both as a tribute to him and his groundbreaking scholarship and observations and because I believed, as he did, that the region’s arts were deserving of such comprehensive treatment,” Berns said.

The Fowler Museum first hosted the exhibition in 2011, and since then it has travelled to Washington and Stanford. The Paris show is a result of a partnership between the Quai Branly and the Fowler Museum’s curators.

"Although much remains to be unmasked in our study of the peoples, arts and cultures of Central Nigeria, it is our hope that our efforts to expose new audiences to the artistic wealth of this region will arouse a wider interest and provoke further scholarly investigation," Berns noted.
The exhibition runs until 27 January, 2013.