Pilgrimage for peace
Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 10:50 p.m.
Vijali Hamilton is living proof that some dreams do come true.
IF YOU GO
An artist, sculptor, poet and musician, Hamilton has spent more than a decade traveling the globe, visiting and working with indigenous communities. Her mission is to spread world peace through the creation of sacred sculpture and performance art in an ongoing "Earth Mandala," a world wheel of peace.
Saturday, Hamilton will share her story through the presentation of her self-produced documentary, "World Wheel: One Woman's Pilgrimage for Global Peace." The film follows Hamilton as she travels to nine countries - Greece, China, Tibet, India, Siberia, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and the United States - translating the people's deepest spiritual, personal and social concerns into 12 symbolic works of art.
Hamilton last visited Gainesville in 2001 when she collaborated with citizens and public officials in Veterans Memorial Park. Together, they carved a circle of limestone sculptures representing American Indian cultures.
"I feel opening our hearts to other cultures that we are not familiar with and bringing understanding between those cultures is my way of bringing peace to this planet," Hamilton said.
Hamilton's unusual journey began with a dream she had while living in the mountains of Santa Monica during the early '80s.
"I saw myself going around the world and using this circle to represent the unity of our lives," Hamilton said. "My whole perception of life and who we are shifted, and I got a glimpse of this interconnectedness which is what I feel is our real nature."
After the dream, Hamilton got out her globe and traced an imaginary circle around it, starting at Santa Monica and moving along the 35th degree latitude. From that circle, she found the nine countries that would make up her first wheel of peace.
Over the next 12 years, Hamilton's studio became the world; her inspiration, its people. Using the simplest of tools, she unearthed the essence of humanity by exploring the nuances of global cultures. And, in the process, she changed the face of the planet forever.
For example, in China, Hamilton's hammer and chisel transformed five massive boulders into faces symbolic of area minority groups that have been compared to Mount Rushmore in scale. After their completion, the community celebrated with music, dance, martial arts and theatrical performances.
In Tibet, Hamilton's canvas was a cavern wall where she painted the life-size likeness of a holy woman symbolizing "She Who Opens the Door to the Earth."
And in India, Hamilton's vision took the form of a community schoolhouse in a small impoverished village. The villagers now use it as a place to sleep and for teaching music, she said.
When she's not traveling internationally, Hamilton funds her expeditions by giving lectures and workshops in the United States, she said. With the help of personal donations and grants, she offers her artwork as a gift to the communities she visits.
In 1999, the sculptress began a second "Earth Mandala" in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. While meditating, Hamilton envisioned the world cut in half at the equator with a nine-point star extending from the center and directing her to Ecuador, Brazil, Nigeria, Somalia, India, Australia, South Pacific Ocean off Nauru, Kiribati and the United States.
With each wheel, Hamilton's search for her next project begins the moment she arrives in a new land.
"I try not to have a preconceived idea of what I'm going to do in a country," Hamilton said. "It all comes out of the relationships I develop and (my) responding to the needs of the people."
On her most recent trip to Ecuador, Hamilton was invited by the owners of the hostel where she was staying to travel to their birth village in the Andes Mountains. The members of the village asked her to carve a sacred boulder the size of a house. From it, Hamilton created a stone sculpture of the ancient deity Achilly Pachacamac that represents the spirit of the community's indigenous people.
As she travels, Hamilton asks each person she meets three questions: What were our beginnings? What has created our imbalances? And what can bring us back into harmony?
"I like to listen to people," Hamilton said. "The art is really a way for their voice to be heard so that they can be connected to a global family."
From their response, Hamilton discovers the foremost issues affecting the minds and hearts of a culture's people, she said. Often, the communities are plagued by political unrest, poverty and prejudice.
"In Ecuador there is a lot of prejudice against the indigenous people," Hamilton said. "Although they make up 40 percent of the population, they are at the very bottom of the social ladder."
Despite being attacked three times and having her tools stolen during her travels, Hamilton said she believes in the basic goodness of people. It is this belief, she said, that strengthens her as she explores the world in its current state of political unrest.
"I think that when we join together and have a way for that voice of peace to come out into the world, there is a hope for our planet to change the direction of destruction that it is on."
This summer, Hamilton will return to Ecuador with a handful of people on a 10-day pilgrimage to the Andes and Amazon rainforest. Hamilton will then stay the season to continue her work with the Shuar community in Ecuador.
"I think Vijali is the most extraordinary person that I've ever met," friend Cathy DeWitt said. "She's so dedicated that she gave up her regular life to do this. And even though she's passionate and bold in what she is doing, she really does have a very gentle spirit."
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