12 January 2023

Using Art to Make the World a Better Place

Ariane Braillard is an alumna of the Geneva Graduate Institute, as well as an art expert. Here she shares her life experiences and how art has helped her contribute to a "friendlier, more inclusive society".

I was born in Geneva at the onset of World War II. My parents were Swiss with Protestant, Catholic, French and Flemish lineage, a multifaceted identity, although hardly exotic by today’s standards. It is also in Geneva that I received  my academic education in music, modern literature and social history. I attended the Geneva Graduate Institute from 1964 to 1970.

With its unique intellectual heritage –- the Red Cross, the Prisoners of War Conventions, the High Commissioner for Refugees, etc. – this city fostered my concerns for the enforcement of human rights of all kinds, and Geneva also instigated in me a call towards the universal values embodied  by the creation of the League of Nations and all the numerous international organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that were further initiated in its wake.

Indeed, my “Swissness” – this feeling of belonging to a specific country – emerged in me from all those roots. But this tiny Switzerland nestled among larger European nations paradoxically prompted me to feel a citizen of the world, as Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said. 

Even though I realise how much still needs to be done to further enforce Switzerland’s democratic ideals in Switzerland itself and to address today’s conflicting debates regarding patriotism and identity politics versus international law overriding these, I am still very fond of my country. 

I have tried to show my gratitude by serving my homeland in different guises. In Geneva, as I was managing a private art dealer’s office, I actively engaged for many years in the defence of prisoners of consciousness behind the Iron Curtain. These prisoners had been diagnosed as lunatics by psychiatrists  to stifle political dissent.   

Later in New York, after volunteering as a curator for the Swiss Institute, I was promoted to serve as its head. For me, that was the beginning of an enduring adventure with the visual arts, in particular. Finally settling down in London for personal reasons in the early 90s, I received comprehensive training in fine arts as a painter and print maker. This education enabled me to serve for approximately 25 years as a Trustee of the Swiss Cultural Fund in Britain, an institution that was formerly the cultural arm of the Embassy of Switzerland in the United Kingdom.

Subsequently, after taking part in the renovation of the Swiss Church in Covent Garden, London, I acted as a volunteer on its Arts Committee and suggested an unusual collaboration with the curatorship’s department of Goldsmiths University of London. The new concept resulted in many art shows and performances in the Church’s premises, which currently also offers artists' residences.

In parallel, I have been and still am engaged via my family's foundation based in Geneva - the Braillard Foundation - in the training of a new type of urbanist dedicated to designing resilient cities in the face of climate change. 

In summary, as a visual artist and a curator, my professional trajectory has been outside of the conventional canons, but turns out to fall well in line with today's transverse current artistic practices.

My life's puzzle is finally unveiling an image, as my spiritual quest attempts to merge with my creativity: meditating, painting, playing the piano, jotting down daily reflections, making time for my husband's and my own family and simply trying to inspire hope around me: I still believe in the positive ripple effect of these simple activities.