Forest Whitaker strengthens youth capability in South Sudan
In South Sudan, Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and The Whitaker Initative for Peace and Development have recently inaugurated sport and computer centers in the aim of promoting peace-building at a local level.
The sport center, established in partnership with UNESCO and with the support of the initiative “One World Futbol”, is part of a project aiming to mobilize sport activities as means of disseminating a culture of peace and non-violence within IDP camps and communities affected by conflict. The project also hopes to provide camp residents, young people in particular, an opportunity to engage in sportive activities as well as participate in group debates and public events.
The computer center, founded in the town of Torit, (South Sudan) in partnership with UNESCO and companies such as Ericsson and Zain, pursues similar objectives in helping the population promote peace and development in their local communities. This center is available to all the neighboring communities in order to facilitate an access to relevant life information. In a country where transport and telecommunication tools remain critically underdeveloped, a computer center evidently proves to be a key local asset for the empowerment of its citizens as well as the cultural, social and economic development of their communities. Furthermore, the computer center aims to simultaneously function as a literacy center for the Torit region where only 27 percent of those aged 15 and above are said to be literate.
These two centers are part of the initial steps of a global strategy that aims to harness education and communication as tools for young people and local communities to integrate conditions of peace and development at a local level.
Please consult this link to watch an interview of Forest Whitaker with CCTV America.
Metin Arditi launches an initiative among the young students
On 30 October 2014, UNESCO Special Envoy Metin Arditi launched a new initiative with the support of the Arditi Foundation for Intercultural Dialogue.
This initiative consists of organizing a competition among the students of the five leading Israeli Universities: Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University, Haifa University, Tel-Aviv University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The objective of this competition is to write a brief story on the subject of “In the other’s Shoes” – Jews and Arabs in Israel that would address the major themes facing the Israeli society. The Jury of the competition, chaired by Metin Arditi, is composed of the high-level personalities such as Mr Frederik De Klerk, former President of South Africa, Mrs Micheline Calmy-Rey and Mr Pascal Couchepin, former Presidents of Switzerland, Mrs Sandrine Salerno, Mayor of Geneva and many others. The winners of this competition will receive a financial compensation generously provided by the Arditi Foundation.
Metin Arditi has served UNESCO since December 2012. He has undertaken numerous projects aiming to promote peace and development. Metin Arditi also initiated a series of public conferences at the University of Geneva entitled “Cultural Heritage of Humanity: an Instrument for Peace.” The purpose of these conferences was to raise public awareness on the vital role of culture in peace-building and the need to preserve heritage in times of conflict.
In June 2014, the Director-General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova entrusted Metin Arditi with the title of UNESCO Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue.
Marianna Vardinoyannis, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador participates at the launch ceremony for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of UNESCO
In her capacity as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Marianna Vardinoyannis attended the launch ceremony for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of UNESCO, which took place at UNESCO Headquarters on 31 October last. This ceremony paid tribute to late Nelson Mandela, one of UNESCO’s most eminent Goodwill Ambassadors and the 1991 Laureate of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, who exemplified the values that lie at the very heart of UNESCO’s mandate through his outstanding contribution to international peace and understanding.
The Director-General stated during her speech: “This anniversary is a moment for each of us to renew our commitment to the founding principles of this House of Peace, to the values we share, to the dream we hold together of a better world, a world of rights and dignity...We need a new humanism today, to strengthen the foundations for lasting peace and sustainable development, to weave technical, economic and financial progress with a firm commitment to universal values. That is why I wished for this anniversary to pay tribute to a man of universal significance, to a man who embodied our faith in human dignity, our belief in the ability of every woman and man to change society through tolerance, peace and conviction…”
Ms Vardinoyannis declared the following during her speech: “Many of UNESCO’s values are crystallized within Mandela’s philosophy: Peace, tolerance, diversity, dialogue, solidarity, understanding, respect on human rights and dignity. Today we all have many reasons to feel proud. We honor the memory of this great man, but also because we are all part of UNESCO and UNESCO is a part of us. Throughout the last 70 years, UNESCO has become the noblest reflection of our culture. As Goodwill Ambassadors invited to contribute to this colossal work, we are committed today, with all our heart, to continue spreading the ideals which Nelson Mandela so faithfully defended in his life”.
Other high-level personalities were present at this event and delivered their praises on that occasion: His Excellency Mr Michel Joseph Martelly, President of the Republic of Haiti, Professor Iba Der Thiam, Member of the National Assembly, representing Mr Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, Minister of Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, Member of The Elders (group of world leaders working for global peace), Mr Hao Ping, President of the General Conference of UNESCO, and Mr Mohamed Sameh Amr, Chairman of the Executive Board of UNESCO.
The introductory speeches were followed by several performances from artists including the Mahotella Queens group from South Africa, Cameroonian singer Sally Nyolo, accompanied by Sand Art artist David Myriam, choreographer Sam Tshabalala and his dancers, as well as Mory Kante.
This event was organized with the generous support of Ms Marianna Vardinoyannis, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Other personalities associated with our Organization also contributed by their presence to the success of this celebration: Ms Ute-Henriette Ohoven, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola, Mr Alain Husson-Dumoutier, Mr Ino Mirkovic, and Mr Amri Aminov, UNESCO Artists for Peace also attended this celebration.
Salif Traoré’s stirring appeal in favor of literacy on the occasion of his concert at the Olympia.
On September 13th last, during the concert of Magic System that took place at Olympia, Salif Traoré (A’Salfo), UNESCO Honorary and Goodwill Ambassador, had delivered a deep message in favor of literacy and the importance of privileging girls’ education in Africa to his audience. This message followed the song “Savoir” which rights ownership was given to UNESCO programmes in the field of literacy.
The members of the band Magic System were the recipients of the French music award « ‘Disque d’Or » for the album « Africainement vôtre”, during the night of 13th September last.
Salif Traoré was named UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in September 2012. On the 9th of September 2013, on the occasion of the International Literacy Day, Salif Traoré launched the song “Savoir” during an event that took place at UNESCO Headquarters. Composed specifically for UNESCO, this song is a collective song that brings together a dozen of African Artists. All the benefits would be integrally donated to UNESCO to support its projects in the field of literacy
Marcus Miller joins the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Slave Route Project
In his capacity as a UNESCO Artiste for Peace and Spokesperson of the Slave Route Project, Marcus Miller took part at the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of “The Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage”, which was launched in 1994 in Ouidah (Benin).
Ignorance or concealment of major historical events constitutes an obstacle to mutual understanding, reconciliation and cooperation among peoples. UNESCO has thus decided to break the silence surrounding the slave trade and slavery that have affected all continents and have caused the great upheavals that have shaped our modern societies.
“The Slave Route project is, above all, a Freedom Route project. It is a road of resistance paved by the maroons of Guyana and the slaves of Haiti, by artists like William Blake, by philosophers and lawyers, from Frederick Douglass to Victor Schoelcher… all the way until freedom, until the final victory. The Slave Route project reminds us that injustice can never be the foundation of a healthy or sustainable society, and that human dignity always prevails”, emphasized the Director-General during her speech delivered at the opening ceremony.
The three main objectives of the Slave Route Project are to contribute to a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, issues and consequences of slavery in the world; highlight the global transformations and cultural interactions that have resulted from this history; and contribute to a culture of peace by promoting reflection on cultural pluralism, intercultural dialogue and the construction of new identities and citizenships.
“It is a history of our most sinister practices, but it is also about the courageous spirit that resides in all of us to stand up against injustice and about how the weakest can overcome. It is, for me, a history full of deep meaning and inspiration. Having knowledge of our past, our shared past, is crucial for understanding where we have all been together, and where we need to go in the future, making sure we don’t commit the same mistakes, paving stronger foundations for a global community that respects the value of every single person, their inherent rights as human beings and the need to uphold human dignity everywhere. So it is about understanding our identity as human beings that we need the knowledge of the slave trade and slavery”, stated Marcus Miller during this event.
This event provided an excellent opportunity to highlight the project’s accomplishments and discuss its prospects in the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). The celebration also included a roundtable, exhibition on “Africans in India: from Slaves to Generals and Rulers”, a commemorative ceremony as well as performance by Marcus Miller.
“My commitment as a Spokesperson for the Slave Route Project and as an Artist for Peace is to promote and support the teaching of this history, particularly to the young generation - through music, discussions, and interactions. It is easy to forget, and easy to dismiss what happened generations ago and say that it is no longer relevant. I think there is a risk in people forgetting. In people not remembering. And when we forget, history could repeat itself. When we are not aware, we may not see the warning signs when people’s dignity is in danger. So by teaching the young people of the history of slavery, we can also encourage reflexion on what constitutes slavery today, what modern day slavery consists of, who are the most vulnerable and what we, as a human community, are morally obligated to do so that history does not repeat itself”, said Marcus Miller prior to his performance.
This event was also marked by the release of doves around the UNESCO Symbolic Globe. Ms Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti, Ms Claudia Cardinale, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Mr Ali Mahdi Nouri, Mrs Hedva Ser, and Mr Alain Husson-Dumoutier, UNESCO Artists for Peace were also present at UNESCO Headquarters on 10 September last on the occasion of the Slave Route Project anniversary.
Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation, addresses the United Nations Security Council meeting on Children and Armed Conflict
On 8 September 2014, Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation, addressed the United Nations Security Council meeting on Children and Armed Conflict based on the Secretary-General’s latest Report on this issue (S/2014/339).
Forest Whitaker just came back from his week-long trip to South Sudan. “What concerns me most are the conditions that so many children in South Sudan must endure. Throughout the country, hundreds of schools are empty and some have been turned into military camps, as thousands of young people go without basic education. Perhaps worst of all, walking through the cities, I saw scores of child soldiers wearing military uniforms and carrying guns” stated Forest Whitaker during his speech.
In June 2014, Forest Whitaker visited South Sudan accompanied by Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General as well as Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, advocating for disarmament of children, education and working with individuals to help push the country towards peace.
“It is this same underlying philosophy - that we must educate and rehabilitate the victims of today’s violence to prevent tomorrow’s conflicts - that has been at the center of the work that my foundation, the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, has carried out in Uganda, South Sudan, Mexico, and hopefully soon in other countries, too. We work with youths in these countries to develop their abilities as conflict mediators and community builders, so that they can go back to their homes and villages and spread these lessons of peace”, recalled Forest Whitaker during his speech at the Security Council.
The United Nations Security Council meeting on Children and Armed Conflict was also marked by the statements made by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Hervé Ladsous, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations as well as by the members of the Security Council.
Forest Whitaker was designated as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation in June 2011 in recognition of his efforts to highlight education as a power to promote peace and reconciliation between and within communities, his humanitarian and artistic commitments to action aiming to foster reconciliation and non-violence with a view to building peace. In May 2014, the Director-General, Irina Bokova entrusted Forest Whitaker with the title of UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation.
The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) was founded by Forest Whitaker in 2012 aiming to engage, empower and inspire youth, women, and global citizens to promote peace worldwide.
Marcus Miller performs at the 66th Monaco Red Cross Gala
In his capacity as a UNESCO Artist for Peace and spokesperson of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, Marcus Miller performed at the 66th Monaco Red Cross Gala. This event took place in Monaco on 1st August 2014 in the presence of H.S.H. Prince Albert II, President of the Monegasque Red Cross.
Mr Marcus Miller was designated as a UNESCO Artist for Peace on 4 July 2013 in recognition of his commitment to awareness-raising, within the international community, on the virtues of jazz as a tool and force for peace, dialogue and enhanced cooperation between people, as well as for his profound dedication to the objectives of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project - one of the Organization’s flagship projects.
UNESCO has been committed to breaking the silence on the slave trade and slavery through the implementation of the Slave Route project. This initiative aims to reveal the consequences of slavery with a view to combating racism and discrimination, encouraging reconciliation, and building a common heritage. The relevance and major achievements of this intersectoral and multidisciplinary initiative have contributed considerably to highlighting the global transformations and cultural interactions between peoples concerned by this tragedy. Moreover, it also has extensively fed ongoing reflection on intercultural dialogue, cultural pluralism and the construction of new identities and citizenships in contemporary societies.
As a UNESCO Artist for Peace and spokesperson of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, Marcus Miller is also expected to attend the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Slave Route Project to be held at UNESCO Headquarters on 10 September 2014.
In this capacity, Marcus Miller also participated in the different events that took place at the United Nations Headquarters in March 2013, in commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In 2014, he contributed, with Herbie Hancock, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, to the 3rd edition of International Jazz Day, which took place in Osaka, Japan on 30 April 2014 with support of the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz.
The Monegasque Red Cross was founded in 1948 by Prince Louis II to fulfill the humanitarian missions defined by the International Committee of the Red Cross aiming to meet the challenges imposed upon it on a global scale by natural disasters, armed conflicts, and displacements of populations.
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker launches a peace-building program for youth in Mexico
On 7 January 2014, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker announced the launch by the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) of a peace-building program for youth entitled the Harmonizer Program in Mexico. The launch event took place in Tijuana, Mexico on 7 December 2014. This Program has been realized with support of UNESCO and in close cooperation with the Swedish Postcode Lottery, Ericsson, Telmex, and the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (UABC).
The main objective of the Harmonizer Program in Mexico is to harness the power and the potential of youth to instill and disseminate values, attitudes and behaviors of peace in conflict-affected areas. It also encourages social change and transformation in urban areas affected by violence.
In the framework of this Programme, the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative will train, in close cooperation with the local partners, vulnerable youth experiencing the aftermath of violence and conflicts in Mexico. Among other skills, this Program will also include the training on conflict resolution, community building, life coaching, information and communication technologies (ICTs), as well as support, for three years, of the development and deployment of positive leadership and constructive change in their own communities.
« Peace and prosperity can only be attained by communities and nations heeding the voices of our diverse and vibrant youth. That’s why it is so important to work in partnership with youth. Youth are not only the builders of our future, they are amongst the architects of change today. They are positioned, in our fast and connected world, to promote the significance of education, personal empowerment and leadership and to build peaceful and resilient communities » stated Forest Whitaker during the launch ceremony.
Forest Whitaker was designated as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation on 21st June 2011 in recognition of his efforts to highlight education as a power to promote peace and reconciliation between and within communities, his humanitarian and artistic commitments to action aiming to foster reconciliation and non-violence with a view to building peace”.
The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) was founded by Forest Whitaker in 2012 aiming to engage, empower and inspire youth, women, and global citizens to promote peace worldwide.
The Harmonizer Program in Mexico is part of the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN), a program that has already been established by WPDI in South Sudan and Uganda. The YPN is a global initiative that seeks to nurture a new generation of leaders committed to reconciliation and conflict prevention.
A brief video of the launch ceremony is also available.
The 2nd International Jazz Day to take place in Istanbul, Turkey on 30 April 2013
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue Herbie Hancock, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu and its Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ӧmer Ҫelik, are pleased to announce that the main event for the second annual International Jazz Day will be hosted by Turkey in the city of Istanbul.
Held every year on 30thApril, International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools and groups from across the world to celebrate jazz, learn about its roots and highlight its important role as a form of communication that transcends differences. This year, the main concert for International Jazz Day will be held in Istanbul, Turkey. UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, stated, “I am delighted to announce that Istanbul will serve as the Host City for the 2013 International Jazz Day celebration on 30thApril. A meeting place of global cultures, Istanbul is an ideal location to highlight the extensive influence of jazz. Official celebrations, concerts and educational programs will take place in Istanbul and around the globe, expanding on the tremendous success of last year’s inaugural International Jazz Day.”
“International Jazz Day is a means to highlight, support, and leverage the unifying attributes of music through worldwide celebratory events and activities on 30thApril each year,” said Herbie Hancock. “On International Jazz Day, jazz is celebrated, studied, and performed around the world for 24 hours straight. Collaborations abound among jazz icons, scholars, composers, musicians, dancers, writers, and thinkers who embrace the beauty, spirit, and principles of jazz, freely sharing experiences and performances in our big cities and in our small towns, all across our seven continents.”
Celebrations in Istanbul will kick off with a special early morning performance for high school students conducted by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others. The evening concert at Istanbul’s famed Hagia Irene will feature performances by stellar musicians from around the world, including pianists John Beasley, George Duke, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Abdullah Ibrahim, Keiko Matsui and Eddie Palmieri; vocalists Al Jarreau, Milton Nascimento and Dianne Reeves; trumpeters Hugh Masekela, Imer Demirer and Christian Scott; bassists James Genus, Marcus Miller, and Ben Williams; drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Vinnie Colaiuta; guitarists Bilal Karaman, John McLaughlin, Lee Ritenour and Joe Louis Walker; saxophonists Dale Barlow, Igor Butman, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter and Liu Yuan; clarinetists Anat Cohen and Husnu Senlendirici; violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; Pedro Martinez on percussion and other special guests to be announced in the weeks ahead. John Beasley will be the event’s musical director.
To date, nearly 80 events have been organized in more than 30 countries, including Argentina, Australia, the Republic of Korea, France, Gabon, Malaysia and Trinidad and Tobago. In Armenia, the Municipality of Yerevan is organizing an open-air concert and will introduce jazz history and jazz performance in several schools around Yerevan. In Mexico, more than ten jazz concerts are scheduled throughout the country. Denmark will host “Jazz as a Verb” in Copenhagen, a day seminar and evening concert for both Danish and international musicians. In India, Jazz Goa in will celebrate the Day with a mega event featuring jazz artists from all over the world. In Swaziland, a special program “Jazz across Borders and Cultures” will include workshops, jam sessions, and concerts over three days.
Forest Whitaker promotes peace in South Sudan with UNESCO
With 72 percent of its population under the age of 30, a peaceful future for South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is in the hands of the young. To nurture a new generation of leaders committed to reconciliation and conflict prevention, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation Forest Whitaker announced today that his PeaceEarth Foundation is launching the Youth Peacemaker Network in South Sudan. The Network will be developed in strong cooperation with UNESCO’s Juba office, the South Sudan Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, and corporate partners such as Zain and Ericsson.
Participating youth from South Sudan’s 10 States will be trained by local and international experts in conflict resolution, leadership, peace and community building as well as mediation skills. These youth will forge peaceful, non-violent relationships with their peers as they work together with their communities, engage with youth nation-wide, receive mentoring and training in business skills to promote attractive learning and skills-based opportunities.
“Reconciliation is a slow process, and it often takes as much time to get out of a conflict as it took to get in one,” said Forest Whitaker. “That’s why it is so important to work with youth to promote the significance of education, personal empowerment and leadership to build peaceful conflict resolution skills and techniques.”
PeaceEarth and UNESCO Juba are working together with South Sudan’s Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sport as well as State-level ministries and Youth Unions to establish computer centers in the State Capitals. These centres will help participants from the Youth Peacemaker Network to share their experiences and access additional trainings through the online platform www.peaceearth.org. Mr. Cirino Hiteng Ofuho, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, said about the project, “The fact that young people will have a place to learn and practice computer skills and communicate with youth from different States and counties, will provide them with future opportunities while also building their relationships and breaking down some of the misunderstandings which lead to conflict in the first place.”
“Peace is an enabling factor for the development and prosperity of South Sudan and to the building of a national identity”, said Mr. Salah Khaled, UNESCO Juba’s Head of Office. “It is essential to empower young people and train them with the skills they need to be tomorrow’s leaders.”
The program uses the field expertise of its key partners. UNESCO facilitates the secure access of youth living in remote areas, and Ericsson provides internet access via mobile broadband, computers, and mobile phones alongside basic ICT and social media training and tools for connecting teachers and students through the global education initiative Connect To Learn. Ericsson also provides on-site project management resources, Wi-Fi coverage, and the Ericsson cloud computing solution to support the program. In support of its belief that mobile connectivity is a tool of empowerment to build peace, Zain is providing 35 mobile broadband dongles with capacity of 1GB per month per dongle. Additionally, Sony Mobile will provide SIM cards for program participants.
The Youth Peacemaker Network begun its initial roll-out by holding its first training for young women and men from Jonglei. The training takes place from 12-15 December 2012 at UNESCO Juba, and covers conflict resolution, leadership, peace and community building, and mediation skills.
Over the next two years, the program will expand to include South Sudan’s other nine States and will continue to support the long-term capacity development of the youth as well as providing mentoring and business skills to promote attractive alternative learning and skills-based opportunities for youth.
The Program in South Sudan is a continuation of Forest Whitaker’s work in North Uganda, where he just finished launching the Youth Peacemaker Network jointly with Hope North, a rehabilitation campus in Masinde, where refugees, orphans and former child soldiers rebuild their lives through education and vocational training. This three year program started with a three-day peace-building workshop at Hope North gathering 30 youth between 15 and 25 years old selected from different districts of northern Uganda (Gulu, Kiryandongo, Pader, Oyam, Abim, Kitgum, Amuru, Agago, Bulisa and Wakiso) who took part in conflict resolution, reconciliation and ICT workshops led by Forest Whitaker, other conflicet resolution experts from PeaceEarth and the Ericsson team.
For more information on the projects and Forest Whitaker click here.
Zhang Jun performs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
UNESCO Artist for Peace Zhang Jun starred in the New York premiere of the 16th Century Kunqu Chinese Opera The Peony Pavilion staged at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Astor Court.
The performance, which also featured the Shanghai Zhang Jun Kunqu Art Center, was part of a major program devoted to Chinese Garden Culture, from 29 November to 2 December. Composer Tan Dun’s updated version of the masterpiece Chinese Opera was co-produced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the US China Cultural Institute (USCCI) and was a centrepiece for the MET’s eight-gallery exhibition “Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreat” currently on view.
On 29 November a VIP performance of the Opera was hosted by Shirley Young, USCCI Chair, Hans D’Orville, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Strategic Planning, and Ambassador Li Baodong, Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations. The evening also included a conversation with Tan Dun and Maxwell K.Hearn, Douglas Dillon Curator in Charge of the Department of Asian Art. Four public performances scheduled 30 November to 2 December were sold out.
Zhang Jun was designated UNESCO Artist for Peace in May 2011 for his “long-term commitment to promoting intangible cultural heritage, especially Kunqu Opera”. He started learning Kunqu in China at the age of 12 and has been awarded with the "Meihua (Plum Flower) Award," China's top performing award, as well as many acting prizes and honorable titles such as "China National Young Cultural Elites" in 2006. He now spends a lot of his time promoting Kunqu around the world, partly through his organization Shanghai Zhang Jun Kunqu Art Center and in 2010, he was invited to Harvard Business School to introduce Kun Opera to the MBA students.
The Peony Pavilion is one of the most celebrated and best-loved Kunqu Opera written in 1598 by Tang Xianzu and was described by Tan Dun as a Chinese “Romeo and Juliet”. It is a love story between 16-years-old Du Liniang and young scholar Liu Mengmei, interpreted by Zhang Jun, that “transcends time and space” (as described by Maxwell K. Hearn, Curator of Asian Art at the MET), and it contains both dreams and supernatural elements. The original opera is in 55 acts and usually lasts more than 20 hours but the performance that took place in New York was an hour-long condensed version that Tan Dun distilled to its essence. Dun has written both new music and adapted the original score adding some recorded sounds of water and birds, and displayed the whole in the MET’s Astor Court, modelled as a Chinese garden, as it was originally staged in China in the 16th Century.
Watch the webcast of Zhang Jun's performance.