Important global issues have been pushed forward by women alone
By Nika Jazaee
Nora Weller is the director of Cambridge Academy of Global Affairs a platform which provides consultancy on foreign policy and training for government officials and executives. She is also the founder of ARTUM, an internationally focused platform on Art and Cultural Heritage. We met her in London to discuss her involvement in current global affairs and her passion for art and preservation of cultural heritage. Nora was born in Kosovo during the time that Yugoslavia still existed; her school years became jeopardised due to the conflict and she eventually left the country. She is raised in a mix of cultures and is fluent in eight languages. She studied International Relations and Conflict Transformation in Vermont, Transitional Justice in South Africa, Law at University of Cambridge, and specialised in Art Law in Los Angeles. Her journey is like no other, her passion for peace building, gender balance, social equality and cultural promotions is recognised internationally as she is a board member of important establishments in London and Cambridge. Recently in London, Nora directed an exhibition on Feminism and Art, where she told us about how important it is to look deeper at the role of women in diverse societies and the feminist factor, also why the refugee crisis is close to her heart and her personal commitment in providing help.
Tell me us a little more about yourself, your work and your passions?
I am a lawyer, I have worked for several year with the United Nations in various war torn countries, few years ago I have set up Cambridge Academy of Global Affairs to expand my professional experience and interest and work more closely with academia based in Cambridge and abroad. I work a lot with foreign Governments, in foreign policy and legislative reform. I have always been an art fanatic and I have a vast art collection of my own, therefore in all my journeys in conflict parts of the world I use to spend time with local artists. They represent the real soul of the society, the flesh and blood so to say. As a result of my interest in art, in the past year I have worked very hard with a team of artists based in London, to create an establishment that would support artist who come from conflict affected parts of the world, we have now a number of artists from Lebanon, Kosovo, Serbia, Israel, Turkey, and other countries, with whom we work through NWGallery and ARTUM. The idea is to promote their work and the circumstances which drive their artistic ambitions. So on the one hand is promoting cultural values, and on the other hand is introducing different artist and their concepts from different social contexts to the wider audience internationally. This then results into a natural cultural exchange, awareness raising and it has its educational values as well. My passions are rather extreme, but as a mother of two I have to act responsibly, so no more spending time in various tribes in Africa. I love skiing and windsurfing and my children love these sports two now, so we travel accordingly. We also like to learn more about my cultural heritage so we travel and spend time in the Balkans a lot, especially in Kosovo and Albania.
We also like to learn more about my cultural heritage so we travel and spend time in the Balkans a lot, especially in Kosovo and Albania.
Can you tell us a bit more about your work on Art and Cultural Heritage?
I am currently doing research on Cultural Crimes in International Law. I am a looking at the most important cultural sites which where destroyed by the current conflict in the Midlde East and the past ones in Africa and the Balkans. On a more tangible level, I like to put together art exhibitions which tell an important story. The most recent exhibition I have directed and curated it is called SEEDS+SOUL and it treats the subject of feminism and art. Through the exhibited works, SEEDS+SOUL offered stories of genuine struggles by different generations of women artists, from nine different parts of the world. These works of art explore challenges that women face through a very raw and sincere course of exchange. They expose vital issues affecting women in their respective countries and portray them through different layers of artistic and cultural investigation. It was so beautiful, so moving and a very personal exhibition, from the artists’ point of view.
Last year I put together the exhibition “A Moving Identity” which was held in the prominent Science Park in Cambridge, and it featured ten international artists who where/are refugees, or somehow through their family history went through migration and displacement. The exhibition was a great success, it sold out, and the proceeds went to the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, through our partner iPlatform, of the Institution Quraysh London who are committed to improve the education of refugees globally. situations go through and that they are not able to prevent. Participating artists where from Syria, Lebanon, Kosovo, USA, Germany etc. The most moving and beautiful thing was the involvement and the determination of the artists to put this subject matter on display, that is the matter of a refugee identity, the other beautiful part was to see the exceptionally amazing work by artists from Syria like Abdalla Omari and Mohamed Hafez, and those from Kosovo, Gazmend Ejupi and Bekim Retkoceri who went through the same type of displacement and suffering, and their stories merged through their art, and the viewer had a piece of history in front, alas an ugly one and a still ongoing one, but one which was documented through the eyes and soul of four young artists.
It’s about trust, social acknowledgement, and social acceptance. Another good thing about this exhibition is that the artists are from different ages and generations. The youngest is aged 23, and the oldest is 53. You’d think that something must have changed over a period of 30 years, yet it seems that it hasn’t, and that is showing a very important point and message through all of it.
What inspired you to hold an exhibition for refugees?
Last summer, I was in one of our adventurous trips with my two children and my daughter’s godmother Xheraldina. We were driving through Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. As we were driving we passed by the extend line of refugees who were walking for miles and miles, assumingly from Greece, through Macedonia, towards Serbia in order to reach Hungary, which would be the first frontier of the European Union. What stuck into my head is that none of the refugees looked at us, or at the passing cars, they clearly did not expect us to stop, or help them, I felt a sense of deep embarrassment and failure. Another thing that struck me was my children’s questions, which were very innocent but required a rather complex answer: Mama why are these people walking? Don’t they have a car? Where are they going? My first thought was, put a child in front of a politician and throw a few simple questions like this at him/her! For weeks to come I couldn’t get that picture out of my head, their determination while they were walking, and the eagerness to arrive, in a place totally unknown to them, in the journey of hundreds of miles in 30-40 degrees heat.
Mama why are these people walking? Don’t they have a car? Where are they going?
I was very moved because I had experienced displacement myself, and some of my close friends and family were in impossible situations, and then witnessing the refugees with my children by my side was a difficult moment. Of course upon return in Cambridge I immediately planned something to help the refugees, and that is how “A Moving Identity” exhibition came to life. It would have been impossible without the help and involvement of my dear friends in Cambridge and the amazing artists. I am happy that something really good came out of it, because the children at the camp in Jordan got into an educational programme and the support now its continuous through other projects. When I look back, I find it rather impressive, art is a luxury commodity but if used for the right reasons it can play such an important role in improving culture, allowing the deepest of expressions to be on display and help important causes.
Can you tell us who has been your biggest inspiration in life?
There are a few individuals who influenced me throughout my life very profoundly, and certainly a series of events. My career as a young diplomat in my mid twenties took me to many parts of the world where there was devastation, active conflict, social division and other social injustices. Sharing time with individuals and groups of people who had little to look up to, and very little to look forward to, created a certain drive within me, it made me feel that it is up to the rest of us who are free to make choices, to choose to make a change. It is not a major thing, it is the most natural thing, to reach out to others.
What is the biggest challenge in your life?
I work around 12 hours a day, I also travel frequently, and at the same time I have two children and a household to run. So that is my ongoing challenge, and I know that many of your readers will recognise this challenge all too well. How I wish the day was 26 hours long, it would give me those two extra hours. I try to include my children into many of my activities, travel, even work meetings. We learn so much from children’s wisdom, and their presence in itself makes us perceive life and business decisions differently.
Is it important to create more space for women and allow them to take on leading roles? It is extremely important for me to constantly debate and find better solutions for women globally. Different societies have their own priorities and women are facing advantages and disadvantages in different forms at various levels. I believe that we are all much more exposed to all of this due to the current form of globalisation and very rapid access to information, and thus are in a better position to use the information to the advantage of women. Some very important global issues have been pushed forward by women alone. I was recently at the canonisation of Mother Theresa at the Vatican, where the entire world was gathered to celebrate the life of a woman. Furthermore a very important case on the destruction of Cultural Heritage, a field of great interest to me, was put forward at the International Criminal Court by Fatou Bensouda, a woman chief prosecutor. Women have the capability and the sensibility, but more than anything we have the instinctual drive. After all, we give birth to men!