Tag Archives: Safwat Saleem

Live from TED2015: Alicia Eggert illuminates the future with peace


The Future is hard to read when so few countries in the world are at peace. Photo: Ryan Lash

The Future: installation by TED Fellows Alicia Eggert + Safwat Saleem, TED2015, Vancouver. This piece illuminates the overall state of peace or conflict around the world. Each light bulb represents one of the world’s 206 sovereign states; bulbs representing states at peace are lit, while bulbs representing states in conflict are unlit. The Future is a FineActs.co commission. Photo: Ryan Lash

Anyone headed for the TED2015 Fellows lounge will be greeted by bright lights. Look more closely, and you’ll see the word “FUTURE” spelled out with light bulbs — some illuminated, some not. This installation — created by TED Fellows Alicia Eggert and Safwat Saleem and debuting at TED2015, explores the prospects of world peace, country by country, while interrogating not only what constitutes a country, but what constitutes peace. Here at TED, we asked Alicia Eggert to tell us more.

Tell us about The Future.

Two TED Senior Fellows, Julie Freeman and Yana Buhrer Tavanier, recently launched an initiative to encourage artists and activists to collaborate on projects for social change, called Fine Acts. They put out a call to the rest of the Fellows to submit artworks along the theme of peace. I started brainstorming, and I came up with an idea to make a sign that uses light bulbs to make the word “peace”. Each light bulb would represent a different country, and the bulbs would be turned on or off depending on whether or not each individual country was in conflict or at peace.

The Future debuts at TED2015, at the Fellows Lounge. Photo: Mike Femia/TED

The Future debuts at TED2015, at the Fellows Lounge. Photo: Mike Femia/TED

As soon as I had the idea for the piece, the next question was, “What does peace even mean, and how do I determine the number of countries in the world?” It has raised all these issues that I’d never considered before.

I reached out to the TED Fellows community on Facebook, saying, “Does anyone have thoughts about this, or want to weigh in?” Safwat Saleem started sending me his thoughts about how you might determine the number of countries, or how you would determine the state of peace. He was so helpful, I asked if he’d want to collaborate on it. He’s a designer, and I figured he would do a great job designing the typeface and all the other little things about the work. He said yes, and the piece evolved from there.

For example, we decided to make the word “future” instead of “peace.” As you know, the theme of my artwork is time, and I’d wanted to do some kind of piece about the future for a while. Using the word “future” adds the dimension of time to the concept of peace, another layer of meaning.

How did you end up determining what conflict is?

Actually our very first challenge was to determine the number of countries in the world, which would dictate the total number of light bulbs we would use to create the word “FUTURE.” In the end, we decided to be as inclusive as we possibly could by representing all 206 sovereign states. This number includes some states that are not officially recognized by the United Nations.

Our next challenge was to decide the on/off state of each of those 206 bulbs. One of the prompts Julie and Yana sent to us was a link to an article in The Independent that talked about the Institute for Economics and Peace, an organization that releases a study every year about the state of peace or conflict around the world. This article claimed that only 11 countries in the world were free from conflict in 2014.

The base of each light bulb is etched with the name of a sovereign state. Photo: Mike Femia

The base of each light bulb is etched with the name of a sovereign state. Photo: Mike Femia

But the IEP’s report was several months old, and it only addressed 162 countries, not all 206 sovereign states. So in addition to using data from the IEP, we also consulted websites like warsinthetorld.com, and Amnesty International’s 2014/2015 report on The State of the World’s Human Rights. Ultimately, we had to draw an arbitrary line in the sand to make a distinction between “peace” and “conflict”. For instance, the IEP’s report lists a numerical score for various criteria, such as perceived criminality in society, political instability, violent demonstrations, and homicides. We often used those scores to make our decisions.

Safwat and I did independent research, defined our own parameters, and came to our own conclusions about each and every state. We did this intentionally to see whether there would be any countries we didn’t agree upon. There ended up being only six countries that we did not come to the same conclusions about initially, but it was not difficult to find a compromise.

How does the piece work?

Each individual light bulb’s base has been laser-engraved with the name of the sovereign state it represents. All the light bulbs are wired in, and it’s just about turning the light bulb just a little bit more into the socket to get it to switch on. We’re aware that peace isn’t binary — it isn’t an on-off thing. There’s a continuum and spectrum of peace to conflict.

But if a country’s in conflict, the light bulb will be off. Only the lights of countries at peace will be on. Right now, the future, literally, will be kind of grim and dark. Only 33 of the 206 bulbs are currently lit. But we hope that illuminating the overall state of peace around the world in this way will spark conversation and debate and awareness. And we hope people see the big picture: how conflict happening in some really faraway places affects everyone, billions of people around the world. We might not feel it here, but hopefully this will show how it is affecting us.

Can people look up the data behind the artwork, to get more detail and context?

We’d like to create a website down the line, and make that information available. What’s interesting is that I think different people would make different decisions about what constitutes peace. One of my dreams is to make this project available to people in other countries, so if an artist or an activist wanted to do their own version of The Future, they could determine their own number of countries, their parameters for determining levels of peace or conflict, as well as use their own language and typeface design. I would love to see many different versions of this being made.

TED2015 attendees walk past The Future. Video: Mike Femia/TED


Sparks, spies and space: 12 surefire holiday gift ideas from the TED Fellows

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and still looking for stocking stuffers? In the nick of time, we’ve rounded up a dozen charming and original offerings, sure to delight your hardest-to-please people. There’s something for everyone — fine-art photographs, rugged mobile wifi gear, plenty of world-class, cutting-edge music, games, sweetly satiric tees, a chance to save blue whales, and much more. Happy holidays from the TED Fellows!


1. The gift: Fine-art photographs of faraway ruins
Perfect for: The armchair adventurer
Spanish artist Jorge Manes Rubio seeks out the world’s abandoned places and creates art that memorializes them. His project Buona Fortuna, for example, celebrates the lost churches in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale del Cilento in the south of Italy, abandoned after a series of devastating earthquakes and landslides decades ago. Rubio is working to make these beautiful ruins safe and reopen them to the public in 2015. And to fund the project, he is selling limited edition, large-format color photographic prints of the sites.
Get it: Order directly from the artist (Between €1500 and €3000, depending on size and frame choice)


2. The gift: Sunken Cathedral
Perfect for: The vinyl fetishist
Bora Yoon’s epic sonic odyssey Sunken Cathedral is a multimedia treasure-trove ready to be explored. The album can be experienced as a CD, as a 12-inch, two-disc limited edition blood-red vinyl LP, and as an interactive app. Seven years in the making, Yoon’s project is on the first-round ballot for the Grammys — including best classical solo vocal, and best-engineered classical album of the year.
Get it: Order it from the artist. ($12-$35)

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3. The gift: Nikko & the Spark
Perfect for: The kids
Energy-efficiency entrepreneur Jen Indovina moonlights as an app-creator for kids, making engaging with science history and concepts exciting and fun. Her interactive storybook app Nikko & the Spark introduces young people to electrical energy via a story of a child inventor, based on the life of inventor, scientist, and entrepreneur Nikola Tesla. Once the story’s over, you can dive into action with selected labs and interactive games based on Tesla’s work in electrical engineering.
Get it: Download from Play and iTunes ($2 – a steal!)

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4. The gift: Existential casual wear
Perfect for: The romantically world-weary
Designer Safwat Saleem’s world is populated by the characters who are fed up with bullshit — but in the funniest and sweetest possible way. “Coupled” is a series of designs depicting somewhat complex relationships between random objects. We love this one of two people floating off into space. And it’s available in a variety of colors and sizes.
Get it: Order through Safwat Saleem’s shop at Society6 ($22), and while you’re at it browse a huge selection of his greeting cards, mugs, prints and pillows!

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5. The gift: Animal Madness
Perfect for: Cat people (and dog people, and donkey people, etc.)
Part-memoir, part history, part research adventure, Laurel Braitman’s book delves into the wild world of animal psychology. From depressed and anxious dogs and cats to traumatized elephants, distressed zoo animals and beyond, Braitman not only sheds light on animals’ emotional responses and coping mechanisms, but reflects on what they tell us about human mental health.
Get it: Order from Amazon ($19)


6. The gift: BRCK
Perfect for: The road warrior
When the folks at Ushahidi get fed up with unreliable power and internet infrastructure in Nairobi, they responded by creating BRCK: a rugged, rechargeable, mobile wifi device with a battery that lasts up to 12 hours and can be shared with 20 people. BRCK is currently taking the device to rural schools in Kenya to give kids access to the internet. But the ultraportable BRCK is equally good for anyone who needs to stay connected in remote areas.
Get it: Order from BRCK ($199)

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7. The gift: Lonesome Roads
Perfect for: New-school classical music fans
Dan Visconti is breaking new ground as a 21st-century composer who uses classical music as a tool for social justice and community interaction. Lonesome Roads is the first full-length album of his works, a blend of American folk and pop and classical avant-garde — recorded by members of the world-class Berlin Philharmonic and the Horszowski Trio. One reviewer calls it “just plain rapturous.”
Get it: Order from Amazon ($17)

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8. The gift: So the Arrow Flies
Perfect for:
The politically intrigued
Actor and writer Esther Chae’s So the Arrow Flies is a political thriller about an alleged North Korean spy and the FBI agent who interrogates her. Written and performed as a solo piece by Chae, the play explores complex political and social issues, including America’s national security apparatus, global identity and gender roles. This volume contains both the English language script and its Korean language translation.
Get it: Order it through Amazon ($10)

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9. The gift: Ouya
Perfect for: The gamer
Award-winning game creator Kellee Santiago left thatgamecompany to throw her weight behind Ouya, an Android-powered wireless console and controller that you can plug directly into your TV. The huge variety of games available — shooters, RPGs, action games, and so on — are downloaded directly to the console, and are free to try before you buy. You can also use Ouya to stream music and video, and surf the Web.
Get it: Order it from Target ($90)


10. The gift: We Are Alive
Perfect for:
 World-music lovers
Ethiopian American singer and cultural activist Meklit Hadero’s music is imbued with poetry and multiplicity. Her hybrid sound draws from her Ethiopian heritage, jazz, folk songs, hip-hop and art rock, soulfully and intimately bridging frontiers between language, tribes and disciplines. (Check out the title track on YouTube!)
Get it: Order it from the artist ($10)

Photo: Erik Olsen/NYTPhoto: Erik Olsen/NYT

11. The gift: Saving blue whales
Perfect for:
 Animal lovers, conservationists
Sri Lankan marine biologist Asha de Vos is setting sail for her native waters to undertake crucial research to prevent blue whales getting killed by ships. To fund her journey, she has launched a campaign on Fellow David Lang’s new science-funding platform Open Explorer, where supporters can follow her adventures. Fund her research in the name of your recipient, and they may get the chance to name one of these endangered giants!
Get it: Visit de Vos’s page on Open Explorer to donate


12. The charitable contribution: Embrace Baby Warmer
Perfect for:
Those with hearts of gold
Every year, millions of infants around the world die due to conditions related to premature birth and low birth weight — including hypothermia. This is especially a problem in developing countries, where families have little access to hospitals and incubators. In response, Jane Chen created the Embrace baby warmer — a low-cost, portable, easy-to-use, sleeping bag–style infant warmer designed to regulate the temperatures of infants, without the need for a power supply. Embrace has already reached 144,000 infants in 105 countries, but needs help to continue rolling out its life-saving work. Bonus: donations received by December 31, 2014, will be matched by the Peery Foundation.
Where to donate: Visit Embrace to read about the program and to make a holiday donation.


Give me your fussy, your bored, your hard to buy for: the TED Fellows gift guide

Still hurting for gift ideas? Never fear. The inventive and iconoclastic TED Fellows are coming to the rescue with the recent fruit of their labors. These inspired and unusual items — from Chinese-inflected banjo music to a remote-controlled underwater vehicle — are sure to delight your loved ones. Just be gentle stuffing that all-terrain vehicle into the stocking, or Grandpa George into the mushroom burial suit.


The gift: The littleBits Synth Kit
Perfect for: Aspiring musicians and actual musicians
The latest ingenious offering from Ayah Bdeir’s littleBits electronic building block company lets you snap together a modular synthesizer from 12 pieces. The product of a three-way partnership among littleBits, comedian-musician-anthropologist Reggie Watts (watch his TED Talk) and famed synth maker KORG, the littleBits SynthKit can be mixed and matched with any other littleBits kits to create all manner of musical artworks and toys with sound.
Get itOrder it through the littleBits website ($159)


The gift: The Muslims Are Coming!
Perfect for
: The social-justice-minded comedy fiend
Comedian and filmmaker Negin Farsad‘s hilarious documentary follows a group of Muslim-American comedians as they tour Middle America on a mission to combat Islamophobia and convert it to Muslim love. Featuring Farsad, and co-produced by TED Fellow Andrew MendelsonTMAC also features public interventions like the “Ask a Muslim” booth and the game show “Name That Religion” — not to mention special appearances by comedy heavyweights Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Maddow.
Get it: Order the DVD ($15), or purchase it via iTunes or Amazon ($9.99)



The gift: OpenROV Kit
Perfect for: Explorers, your resident Jacques Cousteau
David Lang and his friend Eric Stackpole wanted to explore an underwater limestone cave in California, but they didn’t have the remote-controlled robot that would make it possible. So they decided to build one — opening up the process for instructions and advice from the public. In the process, they not only invented the OpenROV, the world’s first affordable, open-source, remote-controlled underwater robot, but formed a thriving global community of underwater explorers.
Get itBuy the latest iteration of OpenROV ($849)


The gift: City of Refuge
Perfect for: Fans of pop, folk and bluegrass, and folks with eclectic ears
Singing, songwriting, Illinois-born, Nashville-based, Chinese-speaking clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn weaves together disparate musical traditions and genres from the past and present to create an exuberant and soulful sound. Features My Morning Jacket’s Carl Bromel, the Decemberists’ Chris Funk, Turtle Island String Quartet’s Jeremy Kittell, atmospheric jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and Mongolian string band Hanggai.
Get itAvailable via Amazon ($14)

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