Monday, 14 March 2011

The Soul of Symbols

Re-Begin symbol

Flag of Colombia

Akawelle - 'also known as love'

There's a lot of conversation around symbols of the soul in our lives whether it's dreamwork, personal psychology or simple self-analysis- but what about the soul of symbols themselves.  What symbols mean and accomplish whether it's an icon of a movement, a jewel of emotion, a country's flag, a well-known brand, or other product of nature or humanity.

Many feel the present well-known peace symbol is a bit worn around the edges, associated mainly with the 1960s, therefore somewhat contained in its visual potential.  Lately I've noted contests by visual art organisations for designers to generate a new one.  The VPP is interested in 'symbols of love' - how society has marketed, mis-used or even mis-understood them - and how that creates opportunities to generate new ones.  In current history- Hallmark holidays with rather low-brow marketing machines - while sometimes clever and creative - lead us away from the true integrity of love - generating symbols and gestures tarnished and false.  The stage is set for something new and solid - sustainable, inspiring, even revolutionary when taken all the way - towards new models of meaning and power.

On the evolution of symbols - one month ago - on the 14th of February - the Fairtrade Foundation of London launched the first certified Fairtrade gold after an emotional event the week before to announce the historic occasion.  This gold will be tracked and guaranteed to ensure not only a fair wage, but an environmentally responsible extraction and real wages and benefits for the community from where it is mined.  One of the miners present - Juana Pena Endova from Peru - talked about the extremities of mining for gold, making sacrifices as a single woman with four children.  Jeweler Stephen Webster talked about the limited opportunities of mining families.  Activist Gregory Valerio commented at the event that 'symbols are more important than words' in talking about his work with ground breaking Green Gold or Oro Verde in Colombia.  Valerio who has worked tirelessly for years to transform the jewelry industry said 'We have put the soul back into gold.'

"There are very few words I can think up to describe this historic moment.  Gold has changed and the gold story now belongs to the small people again, the artisan miner and the artisan jeweler. It is these people who took the risk, not the big companies or brands. It makes me realise that all change comes from the margins and the future is always in the hands of the unreasonable person who refuses to accept the status quo".

Besides Colombia's deep and rich history with gold - it is also currently the largest exporter of flowers to the United States.  And creatively enough, home to what is probably the largest open air poetry festival on the planet - the International Poetry Festival of Medellín.  Many of these poets are dedicated to peace in their art and work- not only for Colombia but for the world.  In 2006 the Festival received the Swedish Right Livelihood Award ("the alternative Nobel Peace Prize") for its work on peace and non-violence. 

On other transformative trade projects I spoke to Zoë Adams, the Executive Director of the Strongheart Fellowship Program in Liberia- a program which inspires to generate young leaders out of the hardest hit areas of the world.  Strongheart is partly funded by partner Akawelle Jewelry - a project of 17 year old Lovetta Conto, a finalist of the Childrens Peace Price, who creates necklaces - pendants of handcrafted leaves - out of thousands of leftover bullet shells from Liberia's civil war.  [I'm suddenly reminded of Eve Ensler's statement at a recent talk in London that 'bullets are frozen tears'].

The young Lovetta Conto has taken a symbol and tool of violence and made it a symbol and tool of beauty and life.  'Life' is inscribed on each leaf.  As she states on the Akawelle website - 'It is even possible for new life to arise from something as terrible as war'.

The work of Conto and the Strongheart Fellowship serve a strong counterpoint to the current concluding trial of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor in The Hague for war crimes - which received  attention last summer when varied celebrities gave testimony regarding his gifts of blood diamonds.  Today's Liberia has the first elected female president of Africa. 

Where there is crisis there is opportunity - a refrain referenced in our own personal journeys of development.

When I was growing up in San Francisco my Italian mother recounted to me a story during the re-building of post Second World War Italy - Coca-Cola suddenly arrived on the scene with a series of presentations and 'workshops'.  What these workshops entailed one can only imagine but my mom, ever the activist - from her London mini-skirts shocking 60s Rome to arguing on the role of women in the Catholic Church - raised her hand during one of the presentations and asked the woman at the front of the auditorium if Coca-Cola contained any fruit juice.  She tells the story in dismay even now remembering clearly the response was yes.  Post-war regions around the world now, just like yesterday, present opportunities for new business.  But more importantly - a time for healing, an opportunity for social change and transformation, as well as emerging creative commerce.

Last year, when I told people I was starting a blog connected to my Project and desired to mention many named 'flower revolutions' in past history how could I know that a 'Jasmine Revolution' was about to take place in Tunisia a few months later!  Why look to history when we can look powerfully to the present?   I found three beautiful photos (this time not mine) of the three flowers of present revolutions - the lotus of Egypt, the jasmine of Tunisia, and the striking pomegranate flower of Libya.  The pomegranate is a symbol of righteous justice in many religions, and while the struggling revolution in Libya is un-named I find the name and the stunning photo I found quite appropriate.

Here they are - just some of the Flowers of Revolution of the Arab Spring:

Jasmine of Tunisia

Pomegranate Flower of Libya

Lotus of Egypt

Coming back to the soul of symbols - Meghan Connolly Haupt, founder of C5 Company, director of Sulsso - sustainable jewelry and creator of the blog- - pointed out to me:  'How many people probably wear a necklace of a gold peace dove or flower generated by slave labor.'

What kind of peace jewel is that?
***  ***

The healing Pepper flower of Liberia

Reflecting now on jewelry, gold, flowers, peace and poetry:  Whatever the past, the Earth continues to give up its poetry and reveal her treasures to us - whether it's the historic gold of South America or the intricately designed flowers of Africa.

How we respond in moving towards a more sustainable, just and inspiring future - is up to us.


  1. Bravo! Wow, how many people don't realize their jewelry of peace being from slave labor! How little we ever really know about where things come from and how they got into our hands.
    Thanks too for putting my symbol of ReBegin up! Nice to see. PEACE / PACE Federico!

  2. What a beautiful post and thanks so much for referring to my page about pomegranate symbolism!

  3. Hallo, may I ask where zou got the Re-Begin symbol from? Looks good. Thank you!