Artist Highlight: Peace Caravan Project

6:09 PM

Last week I was so excited to speak with photographer, filmmaker, and artist Marla Mossman about her latest project. I contacted her for an interview for the International Arts Movement because I thought her travels were so intriguing and her mission statement so awesome. Check out her gallery.

Read about the Peace Caravan Project, a body of photographs and stories documenting life along the Silk Road:

A woman from Jordan | A woman from Turkey

Departure in Jark Village Waras District, Bamyian Province, Afghanistan Departure in Jark Village Waras District, Bamyian Province, Afghanistan

Founded in 1996, the Peace Caravan Project is a non profit art project sponsored by the NYFA. Created by photographer, filmmaker, and artist Marla Mossman to explore and document places where cultural exchange continues to thrive just as it did thousands of years ago. Mossman travels along the Silk Road, an ancient series of trade routes that serves as a meeting place for nomads and merchants to carry goods and materials from the Mediterranean to China, crossing Central Asia and the Middle East. The significance of the Silk Road lies not only in the exchange of goods and materials, but in its cultural ties - between peoples of different race, religion, and political background. What piqued Mossman's interest was her search for her religious and cultural heritage and the threat of the indigenous traditions disappearing with the onset of modernization. We caught up with Mossman to ask a few questions about her time spent with the peoples of the Silk Road.

Camel Caravan Camel Caravan in Mingsha Sand Dunes Dunhaung, China.

IAM: What first interested you in starting the Peace Caravan Project?

Marla Mossman: It began with the idea of the relationship to all religion in the 21st century when I was asking the question of why don’t we have peace today. I was engaged in a study program of my own religion of Judaism and found a book of essays about Jewish merchants who had emigrated across this great Silk Road in the 2nd Century B.C. and how they populated this region. The fact that the great religions are still at war today, I wondered, Are these religious tenets, doctrines and these old stories relevant today? After centuries of the great religions, why is there no peace on earth? It is important to me to walk on that same path where the prophets and sages walked and see how the people are living in the shadows of the ancient monuments today. I go into the synagogues and mosques and churches and ask the questions: Why are we still at war? 

  IAM: Did you find your expectations met? 

  MM: There is a lot of fear in the world. Everywhere I travel people tell me I am a brave girl, or they ask, Why are you going there? Aren't you afraid? I photograph people in their everyday lives so that we will see that we are all similar living our daily lives. Events happen in pockets, but when the media gets involved or a press team comes and reports on them, everything becomes a superlative, exaggerated. I was in Afghanistan at a time when no foreigners were allowed on the street. Yet journalists were calling in to my fixer. If there wasn’t a body count of 10-15 people, the news team wouldn’t show up. The Peace Caravan Project is about the people out of the mainstream of history - showing our similar loves, fears, hopes, and dreams.

Uyghur Mother and Child in Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Region, China Uyghur Mother and Child in Xinjiang, Uyghur Autonomous Region, China

IAM: Are there any specific examples of cultures you encountered and instances of peace among differing cultures that remain vivid in your memory? 

  MM: The amazing part of being a photographer is that when I look at one of my photographs I am drawn back to that very instant that I took it, remembering every detail as if I were there, back in time.

  IAM: What were your favorite artifacts that you encountered along your journey? 

  MM: Praying with women in the Cave of Abraham, in the ancient city of Sanliurfa, located in the Kurdish portion of southern Turkey. The Prophet Abraham is believed to be born in this cave. Celebrating the Holy day with 10,000 local Uyghur Pilgrims who pray at the first Islamic shrine in China located in the Taklamakan Desert near the village of Hotan. Planting a Peace Vase in the remote village of Jark in Waras District, located in the Central Mountain region of Afghanistan. Praying and lighting Shabbot Candles in the Synagogue in Kabul with Zablon Simintov, the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan. Praying with HH Dalai Lama and 20,000 Buddhist monks in Spiti, India at Tabo, the 10,000 year old Monastery, deep in the Himalayas

Cave of Abraham Sanliurfa Turkey Women Pray in Cave of Abraham SanliUrfa, Turkey.

IAM: What were people making making, and where, and with what?

MM: The Peace Caravan's mission of peaceful coexistence is the topic of my most recent film shot in Mbale, Uganda. Kawomera: Plant, Pray, Partner For Peace is a documentary about a group of Ugandan Islamic, Christian, and Jewish farmers who grow and export coffee together, setting the example of peace. Other places where people are making or growing for trade that come to mind are all remote villages situated in the valleys of the Karakorum, Himalayas and Kunlun mountain ranges. Of course there are too many to mention and detail here:

+ Hotan, China - white jade and silk that has been traded for centuries. 
+ Yarkan China - knife makers for centuries. + Turphan, China - grapes for raisins traded through out Central Asia. 
+ Kashgar, China, - a unique handmade musical instrument. 
+ Kabul, Jark, Sequal, Afghanistan, - carpets that are traded to the region. 
+ Kashmir, India - world-renowned carpet weavers.

Tea with Bedouin Family in Syrian Desert near Palmyra. Tea with Bedouin Family in Syrian Desert near Palmyra.

Visit Marla's page on the New York Foundation for the Arts website to DONATE to her project. Check out her film trailers for KAWOMERA: Plant, Pray, Partner for Peace and Peace Caravan Journey Along the Silk Road Xinjiang, ChinaIf you are interested in pieces she has written, check her out on the Huffington Post and the Peace Caravan Project Blog. 
All Photographs by Marla Mossman©Marla Mossman 2014

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Finding the little joys in this large, beautiful world we live in.

When I'm not designing and fixing liturgy full time, I'm usually involved with lots of other creative projects like photographing, painting, floral designing, and experimenting with cooking!

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