Last week, I visited Malta to launch ‘Caught in the Middle’, The Donkey Sanctuary’s report highlighting the issues for donkeys in the Middle East. The launch of the report was linked to the ‘Mediterranean Peace Donkey Exhibition’ as part of the Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Arts Biennale, which opened on Friday 13 November 2015 and continues till 7 January 2016.
The Donkey Sanctuary sponsored the exhibition, which is curated by CARAVAN, an inter-faith, arts-based, peace-building charity. CARAVAN started in Egypt in 2009, led by the Reverend Paul-Gordon Chandler, who was working in Cairo and got to know about our work with our local partner the Egyptian Society for the Protection and Welfare of Working Animals (ESPWWA).
The 21 painted fibreglass Mediterranean Peace Donkeys that make up the exhibition are spread through three buildings at the heart of Mdina, and part of the fun was finding them. As you can see in the pictures below, all are dramatic and thought-provoking. All have names. All but one were painted by well-known artists from across the Mediterranean and Middle East Region, and from across the religious spectrum. The exception, the Happy Donkey, was painted by many artists of the future, the pupils of Gozo Primary School.
While I was in Malta, I talked to the Artistic Director of the Biennale, some of the artists, various visitors, and staff and pupils from Gozo Primary School - who I also visited. The donkeys were very popular and over the next few months they will be appearing in many selfies! People told me their feelings for donkeys, concerns about the treatment of donkeys, their memories of how donkey use has changed in living memory; the artists told me how they felt about their work; and at the school I learnt about the effect the Happy Donkey Project had on the school and surrounding community. Everywhere they captured people’s interest and made them think. Many people loved the donkeys, but not everyone liked them: I talked to one man who found them quite troubling, but he couldn’t say why.
Already the Minister of Culture is asking about extending the exhibition, taking the donkeys to the Citadel in Gozo. CARAVAN is receiving enquiries about holding Peace Donkey projects in other cities in Europe and the Middle East. As an old lady in Cairo once said to an ESPWWA staff member: ‘Just keep talking about donkeys; no-one else is’. We will be following up the exhibition and the launch of ‘Caught in the Middle’ with a meeting of donkey welfare organisations working in the Middle East to explore how we can get to more donkeys in the region - and ideally build donkey-assisted therapy into some of this work to bring healing to donkeys and people who are jointly affected by conflict.
We will keep you updated.
This report contains graphic content that some may find upsetting.