In September of 2016, artist Courtney Leonard traveled to Switzerland, to conduct a two day exchange program in coordination with the Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, where Ambassador Keith M. Harper was serving as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Ambassador Harper, a Cherokee Nation citizen, invited Leonard, an artist and filmmaker from the Shinnecock Nation of Long Island, New York, to Switzerland. Leonard’s current work embodies the multiple definitions of “breach”, an exploration and documentation of historical ties to water, whale and material sustainability. In collaboration with national and international museums, cultural institutions, and indigenous communities in North America, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, and the United States Embassies, Leonard’s practice investigates narratives of cultural viability as a reflection of the environmental record.
In Geneva, on the first day of the exchange, Leonard met with Geneva- based contemporary artists and Joerg Bader, at the Geneva Center for Photography. She also visited the Geneva Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art ( MAMCO) where the artist met with Lionel Bovier and Alexandra Catana Tucknott. After her visit to MAMCO, Leonard traveled to the Geneva Museum of Ethnography and the Geneva Museum of Urban History (Maison Tavel), and concluded her day with a visit of the Lake Geneva Museum in Nyon, where she met with curator Lionel Gauthier.
The next day, Leonard traveled two hours east of Geneva to the Lycee-Colllege des Creusets to address four high school English classes. She shared images of her art and related the challenge of keeping Native American culture alive while so many of its sources, such as whaling, are no longer part of it. The artist challenged the students to think about how the environment affects their culture, and what their civilization would look like were the landscape to change significantly. Following her remarks, the students engaged in lively discussion with Leonard about her life as an artist in the U.S., Native American culture, and environmental conservation.
This exchange program enabled Leonard to experience the rich history, culture and art of Switzerland, while sharing her experiences of employing art to promote cultural and environmental sustainability.
Early in the morning of September 14. The Vice Principal drove Leonard to the school, where the artist spoke at four English classes, each of which had between 20 and 24 students. The students ranged in age between 16 and 19 years old. After the presentations at the high school, Leonard traveled back to Geneva, having had the opportunity to experience the rich history and culture and art of Switzerland, while sharing her experiences as an international, contemporary artist, working on environmental issues in the U.S.