Sharjah, United Arab Emirates – 2011

Launched in 2011 during the Sharjah Bienniale, the Ship of Tolerance was a particularly influential piece given the complex issues facing the Middle East and the fact that local children had very limited exposure to painting given local religious customs and traditions. For some of them it was a first time drawing and creating images based on their lives and understanding of their culture. The project was presented by The Department of Culture and Information, Sharjah, and curated by Galerie Brigitte Schenk, Cologne.

‘The Ship of Tolerance’ has been traveling the world with the mission to create dialogue around the fundamental idea of tolerance since its initial launch in Egypt (Siwa) in 2005. It has since traveled prior to Sharjah, to Italy (Venice Bienniale) in 2007 and Switzerland (St. Moritz) in 2010, and following Sharjah the ship continued its journey to other countries around world.

Believing the quality of a society is determined by the education of its children, the Kabakovs hope to ‘rally children worldwide with the message ‘Tolerance: Learn It and Live It’, at a young age to make many of the world’s problems obsolete in the future,’ stated Emila Kabakov.

The artists work collaboratively with children, age six to twelve in each host country, inviting them to create drawings and artwork that are then integrated into the boat and the sails alongside work from previous installations. The art represents the historical influences of each region as well as the concerns, dreams and desires for the future, inspired by the idea of tolerance, as envisioned by this next generation of influencers.

The subject of tolerance, a key issue facing nations worldwide and of particular importance in the Middle East, is further explored through talks and workshops with the children in each location with materials developed for ongoing education campaigns.

As the project was initiated in Egypt, the ship is based on the construction of an ancient Egyptian ship of rather inspiring dimensions 20 x 7 meters with a mast height of 13 meters. The sail is fabricated from the drawings by the children. The launch into the water is the central performance of the entire project with music and dance.

Sharjah, the third largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates, was of a location of interest to the artists noting that while some of the emirates have distinguished themselves through grandiose architecture, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah since 1972, has been committed to culture and education of it residents.

Sharjah received the UNESCO award of being the Cultural capital of the Arab world for 1998 and boasts seventeen museums exploring a range of art, science, and cultural disciplines.