Speaker: Sonia Deotto

Art and Activism for a Nonviolent World

Sonia Deotto is co-founder and executive director of OraWorldMandala, a global peace movement whose objective is to use art and activism to spread the practice of ahimsa (nonviolence).  Since 2004, the headquarters of Ora World Mandala Research/Action Lab have been located at the Peace Research Centre of Gujarat Vidyapith (a university founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920) in Ahmedabad, India, where it functions as a laboratory for research and action to promote nonviolence through art and science in cooperation with local communities affected by social conflicts.  The Lab has created an extension program in collaboration with various educational institutions located at its geographical opposite side of the globe along the Tropic of Cancer, in Mexico.

OraWorldMandala has emerged out of research on the Mandala’s concept, a universal icon of peace.  It is a synthesis of three concepts – Ora: (Latin) “invitation to pray”, World: “our planet and its human continent” and Mandala (Sanskrit): “circle”.  The concept of mandala has taken shape from the visions of many ancient traditions and civilizations where external reality is perceived as a reflection of human consciousness.  The mandala represents that human beings are interconnected with each other and with the earth through five elements that are manifested in many forms (from the space and air that we share, to the plants and animals that are the part of the life cycle).  Because humans lack consciousness of this connected relationship, the project aims to magnify our harmony with this interdependence.  The art and science of a “World Mandala” is a way to express the interdependence among all beings. 

Trained in Italy as a social artist, Sonia experienced a life-changing moment at the age of 28 years when she met the Dalai Lama in 1999. He suggested she study Gandhian philosophy to attain inner and outer peace. Thus started her journey of self-discovery. She became a research fellow at Gujarat Vidyapith, involved in organizing with twelve religious communities of Ahmedabad a series of peace actions as part of a reconciliation process. Her aim was to connect India with a country on the other side of the Earth – Mexico – while experimenting with the tenets of Gandhian philosophy: truth, non-violence and compassion. “My outlook was transformed once I got involved in [the] project,” Sonia said in 2008. “It gave me a fresh perspective on life. Now, I feel I’m helping others while growing spiritually myself.”

The OraWorldMandala project seeks to promote cohesion among people through artistic representation of mandalas via global community offerings of the five elements (earth, fire, water, air, space).  The project organizes various events (called “actions”) in communities around the world.  The first action was conducted at Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi’s ashram) in Ahmedabad on April 23, 2005, with 500 people from 8 different religious communities coming together in a congregation where they sang devotional songs, worshipped, prayed and shared their lunch in order to experience the essence of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of harmony. The action culminated in an offering of one of the five elements, earth. All 8 religious communities brought soil from their respective sacred places and placed it in a common receptacle.  Subsequent actions have taken place in both India and Mexico, involving offerings of the natural elements, art, music, and prayer by children and others in various communities.

Sonia lives between India and Mexico to serve the OraWorldMandala.  

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