of murals for peace
A new pyramid of peace will soon rise up over the Nile.
Anayat Durrani gasps in awe
Art Miles began with a humble aim to offer an empty canvas
to children and adults of the world in an effort to promote peace and harmony through
mural art. Thirteen years on, the organisation has coordinated over 4,000 murals created
by over half a million people from more than 100 countries. This mammoth celebration was
launched this week in Egypt to mark the International Day of Peace.
The murals have 12 specific themes -- multicultural
diversity, environment, sports, music, women, senior, celebrity, fairy tale, peace, unity
and healing, mentor, and indigenous peoples. Each of these murals created over 13 years
measures 12 feet by five feet. By the end of the year, the group plans to have all the
murals assembled into a massive "Muramid" that consists of digitised murals to
form a skin for a pyramid structure that will float down the River Nile, designed by Tarek
Naga, senior architect for the restructuring of the Giza Plateau.
"We dreamt that art was a language that could cross
all barriers, that perhaps even the hardest of hearts would understand how a picture is
worth more than a thousand words," said Joanne Tawfilis, who along with husband
Fouad, are the founders of the Art Miles Project.
The Art Miles Project began in 1997 in Bosnia when Joanne
worked with orphans in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina "on a bullet-riddled
bedsheet where 350 orphans painted the first mural after five days of discussion, crying,
grieving and building consensus."
Since then the Tawfilis have travelled the world and have
done murals with people from the four corners of the globe, from tribes in remote areas to
displaced peoples to survivors of natural and human disasters. Through countless
volunteers they have organised groups to coordinate and create murals abroad including in
war-torn areas and have provided much of the art materials themselves.
The Iraqi Children's Art Exchange (ICAE) coordinated the
Iraq Art Mile partnering with three Iraqi artists to create a series of murals painted by
Iraqi and American children and youth with the working title: How Will They Know Us?
"The murals were an opportunity for youth on both
'sides' of the huge cultural, political and language divide to tell the 'others' who they
were," said Claudia Lefko, founder and director of ICAE. "All the painters and
collaborating artists felt very inspired, and moved to be part of this worldwide
expression of peace and non-violence in the world."
Through the International Education and Research Network
(iEarn) and coordinator Manal Fitiani, Palestinian children from schools in East Jerusalem
have created powerful murals about Jerusalem. "They drew through different eyes; one
as a religious ancient holy land, others as a peaceful land, and in other murals as a
mother who carries all the pains, dreams and tears," said Fitiani.
A mural called "Palestinian woman" was created by
students and their art teacher at Al-Quds Preparatory school for girls in the Old City,
Jerusalem. Fitiani said the students from the school come from large families who live in
small homes inside the wall of the Old City so that they can retain their Jerusalem ID.
She said these families face severe social and economic hardships. The mural depicts life
inside the wall that surrounds their city and is painted with symbols of their culture and
Disabled students in special education schools also
contributed to several murals, most about the environment, peace, and other themes. In
many instances, the mural projects have served as a source of expression and healing.
"I found the mural art project to be very important
for our children to express their feelings and their dreams. This is a big chance to get
others to know and understand their suffering and send a peaceful message to other
children in the world," said Fitiani. "This piece of art carries in its lines
and colours lots of symbols, and messages to the world. Art is an international language
that all people can understand and feel."
Murals were also created throughout the US, including
murals by Iraqi refugees in Troy, New York and a peace mural by the Al-Awda Palestine
Right to Return Coalition in Carlsbad, California.
Students at Van R Butler Elementary in Santa Rosa, Florida
have completed 13 murals in the past three years for Art Miles. They have worked as
partners creating murals through the International Intercultural Mural Exchange for the
past two years.
"We have completed paintings with children from Japan
and Abu Dhabi. The themes for the painting were peace, culture and compassion," said
art teacher Constance Rogers. "If our children realise how similar our feelings and
lives are, how can we not learn to see we are all part of one big global family?"
The Tawfilis say the Art Miles Project is really about
building bridges of friendship and understanding between people of diverse cultures and
backgrounds. A strong focus is on mural participation by children of the world. Joanne
calls the murals "peace building with children" and said the collection of over
4,000 murals "is a monumental visual piece of history in the making by those
concerned about issues involving environment, women and children's rights, and other
social issues plaguing our planet."
Fauzia Minallah, director of Funkor Childart Centre in
Islamabad, has done several murals with Art Miles. "Some of them are very special,
for example, the mural that was painted in the shanty town of Islamabad and displayed at
the 'Concert of Hope' in New York," said Minallah. "And now recently the one
started by Pakistani children and finished by Austrian children through the Art Mile
Austria coordinator Maria Bader who after this connection raised funds for the flood
victims of Pakistan. Art Miles Mural Project is a beautiful project that gives 'hope' in
these dark times."
Minallah and her students also worked on a joint mural
between Pakistani and Italian children that was started in Islamabad and completed by
Italian students at the Albornoz's Fortress of Narni, Italy. Guiseppe Fortunati, an
Italian computer teacher, coordinated the event in the city of Narni. The town of Narni
inspired CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and is a theme depicted in many of the murals
created by his students.
"We like creating Art Miles projects and many students
in Narni, Italy and in many others schools have the opportunity to work together and also
through the Internet to create murals and peace canvases," said Fortunati, who has
also done a mural exchange with students in Japan.
Joanne, a retired United Nations executive, was chosen out
of 3,000 by Oprah Winfrey to be one of "80 Leaders that Can Change the World".
Her tireless work is an inspiration to the many lives she has touched in her travels.
Through the Tawfilis's passion, the Art Miles Murals Project has connected millions
worldwide and has become the artistic symbol of peace they had envisioned 13 years
"I am in awe of Joanne and Fouad and their commitment
to bring peace through art to all the children in the world," said Marci Brewster, a
teacher at West Jefferson Middle School in Conifer, Colorado, whose school contributed
three murals. "When you start to see how global this all really is and the music,
art, and stories that are told, then one is truly inspired."