Through a project called Art Miles, a couple has inspired people all over the world to express themselves through the creation of collaborative murals.
For Joanne Tawfills and her husband Fouad, their Art Miles Mural Project began in 1997, “in a Bosnian orphanage on a bedsheet full of bullet holes,” she says. Tawfills, an artist, had invited the 350 orphans to create a mural that expressed their emotions about the warfare and tragedy they had seen.
To her surprise, the project immediately inspired these young orphans, who were so eager to represent their emotions accurately that they spent five days simply talking about what they would paint, before any of them so much as touched a paintbrush. The act of creation was so cathartic to them that it “unleashed an incredible beginning of a healing process,” says Tawfills.
“We chose murals because there is something about a huge stretch of canvas and bringing people together to form that consensus that is a magical experience, with profound and joyful results.”
After the Bosnian orphans’ mural was complete, Tawfills realized that she needed to recreate this process everywhere she could. Mural painting was an ideal way for people who have faced tragedy and trauma to face their feelings, and the stunning artworks that resulted were able to help audiences all over the world understand their stories. Soon after completing the art project in Bosnia, Tawfills moved on to Vienna to launch a similar project there—and before long, “it began to spread throughout the world,” she says.
In the twelve years since, Tawfills and her husband have facilitated the creation of more than 4,000 individual murals all over the world. “We have done murals from tribes in remote areas, to street kids, incarcerated people, refugees, displaced people, survivors of natural and human disasters, the handicapped and soldiers returning from war,” she says.
She and Fouad help to connect and coordinate the mural groups, and often provide them with art materials and education. As often as possible, they work on-site with the artists, and have traveled the world numerous times.
The money for the project comes, for the most part, out of the couple’s pockets. However, they have a large network of helpers across the globe.
“Finding materials and people willing to do this is always a challenge,” says Tawfills, “but we have been blessed by having over 100 volunteers working with us on an international level, including in war zones.”
Although the couple has made many sacrifices in order to travel the world helping others to create murals, the painters’ reactions always make their work worthwhile.
“Painting what is inside gives them an inner joy and way to release their pain and trauma that cannot be described in words,” Tawfills says. “The healing process of reaching deep within one’s soul and pulling out that painful experience has become a visual documentation of modern history with the stories of the survivors leaving an imprint forever on the canvas.”
Since beginning the project 12 years ago, the Tawfills’ Art Miles Project has created 12 separate mile-long stretches of murals, each with an individual theme, such as Music, Environment, or Peace. Next September, in an event known as Muramid 2010, all 5,280 murals will be digitized and displayed on a giant pyramid in Cairo, Egypt. The pyramid will float down the Nile River, serving as a symbol of hope for all who see it.
More than anything, says Tawfills, the Art Miles Project is about promoting understanding and building relationships between people of vastly different cultures. “A picture really is worth a thousand words, and there still is nothing like looking at the real mural to understand how every brush stroke echoes the voices and visions of people who care. There is something about the art that brings all people together to build bridges of understanding and respect.”
“If we can learn to respect and understand and appreciate another person’s culture,” she adds, “perhaps in the end we will see that despite all those differences we have so many more things in common that bind us inextricably together as humans.”
For more information visit Art Miles’ website, or check out this inspiring video from their 10-year anniversary.comments powered by Disqus