Interfaith Inspiration

CARAVAN: Navigating the Journey to Unity Through Art 

By Nathan "Bam" Stanton
The opening of the "I AM" exhibition by CARAVAN at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, UK. 

The opening of the "I AM" exhibition by CARAVAN at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, UK. 

In 2009, an NGO (non-governmental organization) in Egypt increased interfaith cooperation through a universal practice: the arts.  

Paul-Gordon Chandler, an author, art curator, and interfaith peacemaker founded CARAVAN. A name that indicates the journey that unity and interfaith work present. Akin to the many miles journey families took in times when camels, donkeys, and horses were the mode of transportation.  

Peace donkeys are in CARAVAN's "In Peace and with Compassion" exhibition at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. 

A defining characteristic of interfaith cooperation is understanding that it is a journey, not a destination. I have learned the power of the arts to salve the wounds that divide us and the ground upon which that commonality can be built.   

Paul-Gordon Chandler, the founder of CARAVAN, was raised in Senegal, West Africa, where he learned the power of cooperation from Christians who received Muslims and worked through the challenges of a multiracial and multi-religious society. These experiences have indelibly formed Chandler’s worldview.  

He helped found the organization with the input of Cairo’s imams and other religious leaders. The first exhibition, “On A Caravan,” was held in a well-known Cairo church. Chandler explained that the founding was an urgent matter to address the growing discord between Arab society and the West. They “journeyed” together, and thousands showed up. That exhibition, featuring artists from all over the world, showed a real hunger for unity.  

Organically curated, CARAVAN is up to the task. Perspectives on division were being changed by cultivating creative demonstrations of peacebuilding. The success of the first exhibition opened doors for more programming to happen.  

In 2013, CARAVAN began to focus on the symbol of the donkey and its role in the journey. A symbol of peace and compassion, they created an idea of an exhibition where they spread fiberglass donkeys throughout Cairo that had been painted by artists from all over the world to great acclaim. This art project culminated in their being shipped for a show in St. Paul Cathedral in London, where 100,000 visitors witnessed this exhibition of a beast of burden suddenly made light and beautiful by the power of art.   

Chandler counts Khalil Gibran as a spiritual guide for much of this work. A mystic, artist, and writer, Gibran has left his mark on many. His recent work, “In Search of a Prophet: A Spiritual Journey with Khalil Gibran,” is a measured, deliberate homage to a man who embodied the interfaith movement and its vital enmeshment with the arts.  

“[Gibran] is a unique figure as a spiritual guide. He tapped into a unique commonality with humankind,” shared Chandler over a phone call. “Gibran had a love for the mosaic, which is the life of humanity despite its differences.”   

The sometimes hard, sharp edges become a beautiful mosaic of life with the incredible love of each culture, race, and religion. As much as we would like to be all alone, we have been placed by a divine creator amongst those who believe and think more directly than we do. This grace creates a tapestry that will one day blanket the world. Although this work is hard to build trust with others, it is a worthwhile practice that yields an abundant crop of which the arts are only the beginning.   

Nathan “Bam” Stanton has been an artist working in mediums that include painting, writing and speaking for over 20 years. His most recent journey included working as a pastor in Chicago for 13 years and founding a not-for-profit, Forgive.Us., an organization dedicated to encouraging artists to speak out about injustice. It’s founding was followed by a 20,000 mile RV trip around the country to host Forgive Us events. His heart is to build a bridge on which division in America can heal. Bam is now embarking on his next mission, to motivate and inspire businesses, organizations and schools into forgiveness, resilience and creativity. His work has been also been featured in WBBM ChicagoRV Today, Rootless and Rova Magazines. He currently resides in Oak Park, Illinois with his wife and 5 children.