Broken Chair, the unsettling and dignified sculpture of the Place des Nations
The Place des Nations’ many visitors often wonder what “Broken Chair” symbolizes.
Disagreement between nations?
The gap between rich and poor countries?
The violence plaguing the planet?
Visible from the Palace of Nations’ “ambassadors' court”, made of Douglas fir wood, Broken Chair stands in delicate balance on three legs – the fourth having been violently blown off as if by an explosive charge. A way of showing that even mutilated, victims of war violence are still standing tall, with dignity.
It was on August 18th 1997 that the NGO Handicap International established – initially for a three-month period – artist Daniel Berset’s monumental sculpture in the Place des Nations, calling on all States to sign, in December in Ottawa, a treaty to ban landmines.
Broken Chair was a questioning though not choking evocation of these weapons’ many victims, and it would later embody the necessary vigilance of the citizens and civil society’s organizations, so that States deliver on the commitments they made.
Dismantled in 2005 for the renewal of the Place des Nation, its return was subject to a great uncertainty and a vigorous debate. It was settled at the very last moment, thanks to the support of many personalities and a diffuse attachment to this artwork whose renown had spread internationally.
When Broken Chair returned in March 2007, Handicap International decided to extend the symbolic force of the artwork, this time in support of the banning of cluster munitions, which were banned as well by the Oslo Treaty in December 2008.
Photo: © Handicap International
A global meaning
In April 2016, Handicap International decided to give the artwork’s presence on the Place des Nations a new meaning. Broken Chair now embodies:
- The desperate but dignified cry of the civilian populations butchered by all kinds of armed violence, and the States’ obligation to protect them and rescue the victims;
- The fierce ambition – which must mobilize policy makers and citizens – to durably accompany the persons, families and communities that are scarred, weakened or destabilized by conflicts, so that they can regain the autonomy to which they are entitled.
The Broken Chair sculpture both symbolizes fragility and strength, imbalance and stability, violence and dignity. Its presence in the Place des Nations allows everyone to develop a personal reflection about their responsibility to refuse the unacceptable, and to act.
Photo: F. Dumonal © Handicap International
- Name: Broken Chair
- Owner: The Handicap International federation, humanitarian organisation.
- Author : Genevan artist Daniel Berset, from Bienne.
- Project : Paul Vermeulen, co-founder of Handicap International Switzerland.
- Carpenter: Louis Genève.
- Engineer: Thomas Büchi.
- Architects of the Place des Nation’s renovation: Arlette Ortis and Sandra Robyr.
This twelve-meter high monumental sculpture is made of 5.5 tons of Douglas fir wood, a volume of 8.2 cubic meters. Made up of two removable parts, it had to be transported on site by special trucks, and was assembled using two cranes before being anchored to the square’s underground structure.
Initially erected at the center of the lawn, in front of the Palace of Nations’ main entry. Broken Chair was repositioned in 2007 on the same axis as before, facing the United Nations “Flags Valley”.
The redesigned Place des Nations was inaugurated on March 29th 2007 by Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of the Confederation.