For a few weeks late last year, a palpable buzz descended on the streets of Victoria, on the island of Gozo in Malta. Children on their way home from school and old people out running errands or taking a stroll would converge outside the open studio of artists Emma Victoria Morgan and Abi MacLeod Clark, fascinated by the duo’s latest project and eager to strike up a conversation about donkeys, art and their role as messengers of peace. What was drawing all the locals in the community was a donkey - rather, a strikingly colourful life-size fibreglass donkey sculpture, aptly named All Aboard - that Emma and Abi were readying for display at the Mdina Cathedral as part of the Mediterranean Peace Donkey project.
This unique project, curated by East-West peace-building arts charity CARAVAN, who received some sponsorship from The Donkey Sanctuary, was unveiled in mid-November last year at the Mdina Cathedral Biennale and featured 21 life-size fibreglass donkeys painted by leading Mediterranean and Maltese artists. The aim was to draw attention, through the symbol of the donkey, to the need for peace, religious harmony and compassion across the Middle East and the Mediterranean, donkey welfare in zones of conflict, and humanitarian assistance for migrants/refugees. Locals and tourists flocked to see the beautiful sculptures, and even Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, stopped by for a visit. Now, we are happy to announce that the 21 donkeys are headed to Gozo’s Ta’ Pinu National Shrine, a place of pilgrimage for centuries, where they will be on display until the end of February.
Emma and Abi interpreted the All Aboard donkey as a mosaicked representation of the traditional Maltese fishing vessel, the Luzzu. According to them, the donkey’s determined eyes, which are said to protect the fishermen while at sea, represent its constant search for peace. Within the hundreds of mosaic pieces, made of recycled pottery, one can find photographic images of the island of Gozo (where the artists reside) and 21 little stylized people, representing the 21 countries which border the Mediterranean Sea.
Their work mesmerised locals. “People were curious, amazed, in awe of it,” the two artists told Stephen Blakeway, Director of International Operations at The Donkey Sanctuary, when he visited Malta in November for the opening of the exhibition. “We endlessly spoke for three weeks about donkeys, the donkey project, and the peace initiative. One of the things that we found was that because we were working in the street, we engaged a whole different section of the local population - the older generation. They all stopped to talk to us about donkeys, wanted to know what it was about, why we were doing it, where it was going, what it was for. We had people relaying their childhood stories about donkeys.”
Children were even more expressive of their enthusiasm when they stopped by to see the artists working on their donkey mosaic (and sometimes getting their parents along as well). “The children loved it... hugging it, kissing it, always coming to ask us about it!” recalls Abi.
Indeed, the All Aboard peace donkey proved to be a powerful force for bringing people across generations together.
The Mediterranean Peace Donkey exhibition continues from 15 January to 28 February 2016 at the Ta’ Pinu National Shrine in Gozo, Malta.
Click here to see a short film on the making of the All Aboard peace donkey by Maltese-Italian filmmaker Federico Chini.
Watch artists Emma and Abi in conversation with Stephen Blakeway below: