The Culture of Peace

The Culture of Peace

Healing Hearts Through Mural Art

Throughout the world great human suffering is often caused by conflict, wars and violence or from medical or mental illnesses that result in prolonged sickness and death; or from a deep depression that stemmed from trauma in one’s personal life.  Around the globe millions of malnourished hungry people find their lives drastically changed as displaced and homeless resulting from natural disasters and our declining environment.  One only has to look back on the earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and wild weather patterns to see how Mother Nature has unleashed her wrath upon entire countries and regions.  Most often we find it is women and children who are the helpless victims suffering from profound misery.  Based on such human suffering, it seems a culture of peace could hardly exist.

It has been said that “Everything that is needed to build a culture of peace already exists in each one of us and in the United Nations definition is states that a Culture of Peace is a set of values, attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevents conflict by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations.”

The UN Program of Action adopted in 1999 and UN Resolution A/56/349 adopted on September 13, 2001 introduced the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non Violence Among Children of the World.  At the time, all living Nobel Laureates signed an appeal for all nations to support this resolution.

This visionary program and its eight domains for action (A/RES/53/243) became a driving force that attracted a global art project that recognized the power of art to move and educate people.  Based on the role of Civil Society, the Art Miles Mural Project which began in 1997, joined nearly a thousand other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in their efforts to carry out an action plan to support the decade.  Unfortuantely the decade had begun and was consumed by a horrific escalation of war and conflict around the globe. Coupled with rising numbers of horrific environmental disasters, the world found itself amid massive scales of displacement with people thrust into refugee status that still exists to this day.

However, as with other NGOs and humanitarian aid organizations, there were people and groups that sought ways to facilitate peace building, mending hearts and initiating healing methods in support of a culture of peace.  The Art Miles Mural Project was one of those groups which has now sustained and maintains the belief “An Act of Peace Creates Peace”.

The project began with children painting a mural on a bullet riddled bed sheet in post conflict Bosnia, Herzegovina when former UN Executive, Joanne Tawfilis was assigned to lead an economic development and reconciliation project with the Widows of Srebrenica. Despite the overwhelming work involved with managing the project and with an art background, she found herself seeking a means to tend to the pain in her own heart caused by the incessant stories of genocide and as witness to the results of unimaginable brutality.  It was there the wounds of war felt by the widows, families, and orphans as well as her own impassioned heart, birthed the process became both her and husband Fouad’s now lifelong work.  It was clear to them how this process of creating murals could be applied under almost any circumstances in support of the eight domains of the UN Program of Action.  Together with a 100% all volunteer team on every continent, they have successfully facilitated the creation of more than 4,000 murals with over more than a half million people in over 100 plus countries.

Quantification and validation of how the process works and what specific impacts can be described as “A Visual Documentation of Modern History”. Through these magnificent canvas murals, children and adults alike have expressed their thoughts and feelings about personal and global social issues contained in the eight domains of the UN Program of Action.  These domains address fostering a culture of peace through education, sustainable economic and social development respect for human rights and equality between men and women.  The action areas also include fostering democratic participation, advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity, communication and free flow of information and knowledge and the promotion of international peace and security.

Mural painting—this hands-on experiential learning process has been done in a diversity of locations, including schools, clubs, museums, palaces, parks stadiums, public buildings and church and temple halls and on kitchen floors, World Heritage Sites and the great outdoors.  The massive inventory of murals depict what should have been a global effort to portray the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non Violence Among Children of the World, but instead became the Decade of increased conflict, violence and wars.  But painting these large five by twelve foot murals on canvas had a beneficial impact on people everywhere. Murals were created under the duress of war in venues such as refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East and Latin America, in war zones and in deserted buildings that were strafed and shattered by bombs and machine guns.  Murals sprung up in hospitals with children suffering from cancer and disease, and by local and national communities who wanted to express their own compassion and messages of comfort and healing to their fellow humans around the globe. Art Miles bore witness to the expressive views of people of all ages and all countries and worked to share those views with the broader world community to promote understanding and action.  The project focused on social change through the power of art and peace building—to process, conceptualize and form consensus, and building a foundation and cultural awareness through the their vision to create a “Pyramid of Peace or “Muramid” and the Exhibition of the Century”.

The Tawfilis’s goal was to bring 5,280 five by twelve foot acrylic painted murals (12 miles) utilizing multi-media technology and projection to Egypt near the site of the Great Pyramids of Giza in the form of a giant Muramid.  As history has recorded, what became known to the world as the “Arab Spring” has not ended this vision, but merely delayed it.  The vision to see the Muramid become a beacon of peace remains.

The Art Miles Mural Project promotes culture and education and then becomes the vehicle for amplifying and inspiring individuals and communities to take action.

In Pakistan, Art Miles Coordinator Fauzia Minallah, the first of many Art Miles “artivists” and founder of the Funkor Art Center where children from Pakistan and Afghanistan came together to create art, and in 2001 created a glorious mural exemplifying how children view the world together regardless of religious belief or geographic location.  The focus on girls  “right to read” depicted how education should be an equal right of both boys and girls.  Although they were poverty stricken and displaced, they came together to express their wishes for education and a culture of peace.  A video is available on line at (link to videos and films “Pakistan-Afghanistan”). This mural was used as a backdrop for the Concert of Hope in New York City during the first anniversary of the September 11 disaster.

Art Miles has comforted families who have lost their homes due to both human and natural disasters and elderly or displaced persons who have lost their livelihoods.  Each has been healed in some small measure through art and the acts of friendship and compassion that ensue.

The Art Miles Mural Project success proliferated in content and numbers by fostering a culture of peace through education with a model developed by Japan Art Mile coordinators, Atsuko and Yasu Shiwaku as the International Intercultural Mural Exchange (IIME).  Formalized curriculum guides students in a process where a single mural is created by two schools in two different countries and collaboration initiated through the use of the internet.  This innovative teaching method has resulted in the creation of nearly 300 IIME murals resulting in deepening cultural understanding and respect as well as building friendships. With regard to respect for all human rights, no message is clearer than what comes from the victimized women and children in refugee camps who paint their situations with passion and the thirst for the basic human needs, including shelter, food, clothing and education.

There are twelve themes of the murals with 440 murals per mile and one of them is the Women’s Mural Mile that embodies the quest for equality between women and men and like the Pakistani Murals, starting with the right to education for boys and girls to a women’s role in peace building and negotiations. Democratic participation for all can be seen in the murals painted by children and adults through the creation of murals normally seen in the “My Hero” Mural Mile with images of local, national heroes and Nobel Laureates like Dr. Jane Goodall or Dr. Wangari Maathai,  remarkable and memorable in content and technique.

Advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity is often shown in hundreds of murals illustrating multiculturalism by holding hands and includes passionate and delightful messages of hope touching the hearts of all.  Images predominantly express the commonalities versus the differences in cultures as a common theme among the murals.

Many of the murals are expressions that show the desire and willingness for participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge.  Testimony to this has been the increased number of video productions by the painters themselves that are accompanied by original music compositions and often poetry.  One school studied a mural created by Iraqi refugees and composed a beautiful classical music piece inspired by the mural.  Certainly this extension of creativity is yet another example of how the arts have a positive impact on a culture of peace.  The processes affecting many people involved whether they be teachers, students, parents, and extended families in communities throughout the globe is both phenomenal and tangible.

Most importantly of the eight action areas, is promoting international peace and security.  What better way to support this domain than through a medium that is free of restrictions and full of encouragement to render whatever is contained within the hearts of people who do not wish to live in fear and terror, deprived of their basic human rights.

From Syria, still steeped in unimaginable war, the Art Miles Mural Project Coordinator states that for her and her students “A vision without an action is a daydream, and an action without a vision is a nightmare” and despite the war ravaging her country she continues to paint murals with students.

Peace is possible in each of us as experienced by youth from a joyful famous little Italian town called “Narni”.  Art Miles Coordinator Giuseppe, works with those visions of children to explore, enjoy, rejoice and celebrate the infinite possibilities with filmmakers of the movie “Narnia” that rest within the soul of each individual be it a child or adult.

For Art Miles, the journey continues, winding its way around the world with mural painting events and exhibitions in famous museums to tiny villages in Mongolia, with expressions of their original actions in support of a Culture of Peace.

According to Fouad and Joanne, “We do this from our hearts and there is no feeling that can compare to looking at each looming and individual mural.  They are truly the greatest collection of children (and adult) voices.  Our reward is watching a blank piece canvas evolve into a masterpiece through the imagination and expression of ideas, comradery and sharing that happens to anyone who paints.  It is a delight that tingles our heartstrings and fills us with indescribable joy.  It is truly magically rewarding to see the transformation of the children and adult faces before they start painting and when the last brush stroke is painted, to them stand back and absorb the impact of the final product.  It is here when the founders, and the painters realize a testimonial that “peace begins with me when healing hearts with mural art”.

Joanne Tawfilis

February 18, 2014