Sponsored by the Embassy of Switzerland, and supported by the British Council, the CARAVAN interfaith art exhibition sees the work of Western and Egyptian artists, both Muslim and Christian, who were each asked to decorate a life-size fibreglass donkey that was sculpted by the noted Egyptian artist Reda Abdel Rahman.
The donkeys were first exhibited at the Anglican Church of St John the Baptist in Cairo, a centre for interfaith dialogue for over 80 years. They were then placed in strategic public locations throughout Cairo, where they achieved huge amounts of interest. They will now come to St Pauls
before being auctioned by Sothebys, with all profits going to charities in Egypt that serve the poorest of the poor, regardless of their creed.
The CARAVAN exhibition follows in the footsteps of a number of public art displays that have featured painted animals, yet with an added depth in its symbolism, intention and message. The donkey symbolises peace in both Christianity and Islam, and is found in both the Bible and in the Quran. Examples are numerous, such as both Jesus and Omar Ibn El Khattab, the second caliph, each riding donkeys when they entered Jerusalem. The donkey also represents the poor, as it is an animal of burden, and this is especially the case in Egypt.
The Reverend Paul-Gordon Chandler, Rector of Cairos Episcopal Church of St John the Baptist from 2003-2013 and Founder of CARAVAN, said: Believing that the arts can be one of the most effective mediums of building bridges of understanding, respect and friendship between East and West, their creed and cultures, the exhibition seeks to communicate the important message of tolerance between Christians and Muslims, living together in peace and with compassion, a message that comes out of Egypt for the world.
The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Pauls, said: There are over 40 million donkeys on this earth and 96% of them live alongside the poorest people of the world. They are known and loved for their hard work, resilience, loyalty and stubbornness. They have been used for the best and worst of human intentions: from carrying the war wounded to medical help at Gallipoli, to bearing explosives to kill in todays war zones. Jesus chose a donkey to symbolise the divine humility. Similarly in the Islamic tradition, the Prophet was carried by Ya`fūr. This exhibition, by both Muslim and Christian artists from Egypt, calls us to remember the peoples of that country today and what can be achieved together rather than apart. It also, at a time when both Muslims and Christians suffer persecution for their faith in many places, reminds us that just as the donkeys journey together in the Cathedral towards the Holy, so humans only become spiritually alive when they travel together in peace and with compassion.
The Honorable Dominik Furgler, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United Kingdom (and formerly Swiss Ambassador to Egypt), said: I am particularly delighted to be directly associated to this wonderful initiative. In a world and time where sectarian tension, prejudice or ignorance seem to prosper, we must do whatever we can to further dialogue and the mutual knowledge about our religious traditions and convictions. This exhibition is doing just that, with the arts uniting us as a language of love and peace.
Mark Stephens, British Council Country Director, Egypt, said: We are delighted that the CARAVAN Festival of the Arts has forged this link with St Pauls Cathedral to bring these beautiful decorated donkeys to a London audience. One of the British Councils goals is to connect people through the arts, which is why we have supported the festival, which aims to use the arts to bridge cultures. We hope these artworks will generate as much interest in London as they did in Cairo.