As I sit at Figtree's CafÃ© in Venice watching the ocean waves on an early sunny morning, Sona Mirzaei strides into the cafÃ©. She is filled with excitement. This dark haired beauty recently took Copenhagen by storm after she became the only American artist to participate in the exclusive international art project "Elephant Parade Copenhagen 2011". Combining her love of wildlife and her passion for the arts, Sona Mirzaei is committed to spreading the word about the plight of Asian elephants.
The Elephant Parade is an open air art exhibition of 100 fiberglass elephant statues painted by 100 artists. In the past century Asian elephant populations have plummeted from over 250,000 to less than 35,000. The increase of human population coupled with the loss of more rain forests each year has had a dramatic impact on the numbers of elephants in Asia; additionally, more than 400 elephants a year are killed by trains, land mines and poachers. Thankfully, the Elephant Family has found an innovative way to encourage an impressive array of notable artists to contribute to the public awareness and conservation of Asian elephants.
Sona explains why and how she became involved in the Elephant Parade. "I have always adored elephants and all kinds of animals. When I learned about what has been happening with so many Asian elephants I was absolutely horrified and decided there and then that I would find a significant way to make a difference. I'd been interested in collaborating with Danish artist Per Hillo for some time and it suddenly occurred to me that we would be a perfect team for this project.
The rest, of course, is history. Sona led the way, prepared an application which was then sent to the Elephant Parade committee and reviewed along with thousands of others. Weeks later Sona was honored to learn that she was the only American artist who was selected to be a representative for EP 2011.
The exciting and surprising news for Sona was that she would be given the opportunity to create her elephant in front of thousands of onlookers at a popular, high-end department store in central Copenhagen called Illum. As she tells of her adventures, it's obvious that she was touched by the experience. "I had no idea that there would be so many people. They were very interested and enthusiastic while we were there painting; it was really refreshing." She smiles and sips at her tea. "The reception in Europe was fantastic. I can hardly describe it. The vibe in L.A. is very different. People in L.A. are receptive to art, of course, but the superficial undertones are present a lot of the time so it was nice not having to encounter any of that while I was in Europe. I mean, the entire time I was in Denmark I never once had someone ask me who my agent was or if any notable celebrities have commissioned any of my paintings."
Aware that HRH Prince Henry of Denmark would also be creating his own elephant for the Elephant Parade, Sona assumed the public would scarcely take notice of her. "For two weeks, seven hours a day, I would go to work on our elephant, at Illum and I never stopped being amazed at how many people seemed to truly care about what we were doing. Members of the press began talking with us on the third day and by the fourth day we were literally posing for thousands of pictures and signing autographs for strangers. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced."
When the subject turns to her elephant, Sona is all smiles. "I wish I could keep it but I think it would probably overwhelm my sitting room," She laughs. "In any case, if last year's auction is anything to go by I'd probably be outbid." Sona and her partner, Per, decided to name their elephant Triumph of Unity. Sona's enthusiasm is touching as she explains their decision: "We feel that if all religions and all people, regardless of background or belief, were to unite for a worthwhile cause, humanity could indeed triumph over all of life's many adversities. Let us start to believe again in the power of love and togetherness so that we can protect not only Asian elephants, but all living things!" It was Sona's idea to factor all major religions and concepts into their design and the crown was meant to serve as a way of uniting these ideas. When asked about the inclusion of Einstein's formula Sona replies, "It was a way to show our desire to link logic to spirituality. Ideally, after the "Triumph of Unity", a person would be able to preserve their cultural identity without having to disregard facts, reason or common sense." As for the rest of the design, Sona says, "The people, flowers and hearts depicted on Triumph of Unity are representations of the love that we need and would like to project back into the world."
After all the elephants in the project were completed and moved to a secure location, Sona returned to Los Angeles. In June, the artists will find out where their Elephants will be placed. The elephants will be distributed all over Copenhagen and auctioned off later in September. Sona Mirzaei and Per Hillo are excited to be attending the auction on September 8th in Copenhagen.
The statement that follows below was written by Sona Mirzaei and Per Hillo and will be a part of all marketing materials for the Elephant Parade.
Triumph of Unity - We live in a world that continues to be plagued by intolerance, hatred, and violence so the importance of having society place an emphasis on love, peace, understanding, and empathy grows ever more consequential during these troubling times. Sadly, the strife stemming from various religious and political conflicts has contributed both directly and indirectly to the endangerment and potential extinction of many of our planet's wildlife including all of the elephants in Asia. Due to the alarming statistics regarding the rapidly dwindling population of Asian elephants we members of the Elephant Family are doing all that we can to save, protect, and support these cherished beings. Furthermore, we feel that if the prominent political and religious powers of the world were to find a way to truly unite for the common good we could fix many of our planet's numerous problems. The elephant's crown is intended to serve as a symbol for the unification of worldwide spirituality, love, devotion, and motivation--the glory of the Triumph of Unity. If the people of the world are capable of uniting for worthwhile causes, regardless of personal backgrounds or beliefs, then surely we will indeed one day be able to triumph over our many shared adversities. Love is the power that brought together this eclectic mix of international artists for the purpose of helping to save the endangered Asian elephants, and people's hearts continue to be the driving force behind most charitable works, so let us all remember to keep love in our daily actions.
All the best,
Sona Mirzaei and Per Hillo
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Kathy Leonardo has been working as freelance writer for the past 10 years. Some of her articles have been featured in The American Chronicle The Argonaut, The Beachhead, The California Chronicle, Campus Circle, The Santa Monica Observer and many (more...)
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