Finding Hope

World Economic Forum
Davos Annual Conference
22 Jan 2019 – 25 Jan 2019

The World Economic Forum unveils Finding Hope, its latest commission in Davos by the celebrated Iranian artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo (born 1981). This monumental work of art, created in Iran, spans a total of 186 square metres and consists of three paintings on canvas affixed to the walls of the main atrium of the WEF’s Conference Centre. Finding Hope is Ghadyanloo’s largest indoor commission to date, and is a response to the 2019 Davos Annual Meeting’s theme: Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It follows a series of large-scale public artworks in the United States with which Ghadyanloo became the first artist to be publicly commissioned by both the US and Iranian Governments since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In Finding Hope, Ghadyanloo employs his mastery of perspective not to simply adorn the walls of the Davos Conference Centre, but to create new spaces that interact with the clean minimalism of the interior atrium. The eerily flawless architecture in these paintings, which merges through “trompe-l’oeil’ with the building itself, is complicated only by three bold, symbolic figures, each of which invites viewers to reflect on the current state of the world around them. As world leaders and CEOs walk beneath Ghadyanloo’s surreal panorama, the disturbing tranquillity of these imagined spaces is intended to heighten their awareness of the global issues and anxieties they have come to discuss, issues whose gravity is well illustrated by the telling absence of Donald Trump, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron as they grapple with issues at home.

A far cry from this seat of power, Ghadyanloo was born on a farm in rural Iran during  the Iran-Iraq war. Growing up under sanctions and with his father fighting on the front lines, his experiences have left a lasting impact on his psyche and still inform his present work. In his early career, Ghadyanloo sought to ease the suffering of Tehran’s inhabitants—if only for a few seconds at a time—by painting hundreds of murals and turning the city’s skyline into a dreamlike utopia. Since exchanging buildings for canvases, however, his works have become more concerned with actively revealing truth to those who see them, rather than being passive objects of enjoyment.

Here, for instance, he imposes these images in order to provoke reflection and reaction. In the central painting, a little girl facing away from us represents one child and all children, and the balloon she holds recalls a familiar sense of innocence and precarity. In her anonymity and naivety, she collapses the difference between the privileged minority and everyone else, reminding us that our responsibilities to the next generation, be they economic, environmental or otherwise, are universal. As with the central object of each of these three paintings, she is also notably surrounded by walls—a potent symbol of contemporary geopolitics. Whether these walls are trapping her, protecting her, or both, she is in a state of deprivation: These constructs, like all such barriers, limit vision, freedom and shared humanity.

The two adjacent pictures in the triptych recall the consequences of failing to realise our responsibilities to each other. The tethered balloon on one side must either rise or fall, and, evoking all-too-familiar economic cycles and uncertainties, eventually burst. Facing the balloon from across the hall and bound to it by a “common thread”, a glinting needle hangs like a damoclean sword. It is a fitting metaphor for growing threats to the current order at a time in which Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, recognises that “populism has become increasingly attractive as an alternative to the status quo”. However, it is crucial to notice that the needle is also threaded, and therefore as apt for creation and repair as for destruction, itself evocative of the global role of the Davos milieu at its best.

Mehdi Ghadyanloo is inviting us to texture the surreal minimalism of his unfeasibly smooth surfaces, finely graded blue skies, and unidentifiable figures with our own thoughts, reflections and anxieties for the future. In the three connected figures of girl, balloon and needle, he offers the Davos Annual Meeting spaces to reflect, objects of meditation on which to focus, and symbolic tools for finding hope.