Tuesday, 6 April 2010

one planet, one people

In 2001, the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art presented an exhibition focusing on the Bahá'ís. The exhibition ("One Planet, One People: The Bahá'ís - a Worldwide Community") ran from 2 June to 21 October. As well as a series of panels outlining the teachings and history of the Bahá'í Faith and a profile of its followers, it included a multimedia display, a series of works of art by Bahá'í artists and a "Tranquillity Zone" (a space for private prayer and meditation developed by Bahá’ís in Swindon which have been set up in hospitals, police stations and offices around the country). The exhibition was expected to attract over 40,000 visitors during its five month run. It was arguably the biggest public exposure of the Bahá'í Faith to take place in Scotland since the visit of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to Edinburgh in 1913 (a subject covered in depth by Anjam Khursheed in his 1991 book, The Seven Candles of Unity).

At the time, the exhibition was described as marks-ing the fruition of a long-term relationship which the Bahá'ís have had with the museum since it opened in 1994. Although at the time, it was disappointing that the Faith was not included in the museums "Gallery of World Faiths", a positive contact was maintained and developed. Interestingly, the event which finally prompted the museum to host the exhibition was a letter from a Bahá'í couple who visited the museum and who asked why there was so little about the Faith displayed there - which proves that some good can come out of complaining after all. The exhibition was partly sponsored by the Bahá'í Council for Scotland.

Noteworthy items on display were an original letter from 'Abdu'l-Bahá to Andrew Carnegie (on loan from the Internaional Bahá'í Archives in the Holy Land), a "One World Tree" and a model of the New Delhi Temple (commonly known as the "Lotus Temple"), borrowed from the Peace Museum in Verdun, France. The tree consisted of branches constructed by Scottish Bahá'ís around the country and was used to collect thoughts, reflections, hopes and aspirations for humanity which visitors to the exhibition could hang on it. I visited the exhibition three times: at its opening, around halfway through its run and on the closing day. During the exhibition's lifetime, we had the unforgettable events of September 11th of course. There was a clearly noticeable change in the nature of the thoughts, reflections, hopes and aspirations - and the emergence of new fears - that visitors wrote to leave on the "One World Tree".

To coincide with the exhibition, the Bahá'í Publishing Trust produced a 32-page full colour glossy booklet complementing the display panels, which could also be used as a general introduction to the Bahá'í Community in Scotland. This was entitled, A World-Embracing Vision. I was manager of the Bahá'í Publishing Trust at the time (based in Oakham). It was a difficult time for the Trust (wasn't it always?) but I was determined to get this booklet out. The goal was to have it ready for the launch of the exhibition, but that didn't happen. In the end, it was launched at the close of the exhibition and was adopted as a sort of legacy of the St Mungo display. I'm now sorry that I didn't put my name on the book. Admittedly some of it was adapted from existing sources (there are only so many ways you can describe a Bahá'í House of Worship after all) but I consider it the best (and most original) thing I worked on during my sixteen years at the BPT. Here's a review of the booklet, published on amazon.co.uk (not written by me, I hasten to add!):

Does exactly what it says on the cover (16 Jun 2009)

This booklet's aims are set out in its subtitling: "the Baha'is... who they are, what they believe, and what they do" and it covers the ground well. The text is comprehensive it is well illustrated with many photographs in colour, and the whole is well laid out and presented. It has a number of strengths that make it particularly useful in sharing information about the Baha'i Faith. It is tailored to the British (primarily the Scottish, but with more general application) community in its presentation of Baha'i history and activity. The photographs are well chosen and wide-ranging. The content includes a lot about what Baha'is have been involved with, what they actually do to try to help make the world a better place. In summary it is an excellent introductory work to be shared with enquirers and therefore a valuable resource. Not only that but many Baha'is will find it worth reading for their own information and will want to keep back a copy for their own bookshelves.

The themes of the eight panels were: "Being a Bahá'í"; "The Importance of Family"; "The Bahá'í Community in Glasgow"; "The Bahá'ís in Scotland"; "Bahá'ís in the United Kingdom"; "European Bahá'ís"; "Bahá'ís Around the World"; "Bahá'u'lláh". Although this kind of display is commonplace today, it was a real step forward for the Scottish Bahá'í community - and possibly the first time I'd seen this sort of display used for educational purposes. The banners are still in use at various events and locations around Scotland.

In addition a series of events was planned to run in parallel with the exhibition including seminars, arts presentations and discussion groups.

See the eight-panel display created for the Bahá'í exhibition here:

Find out more about St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art:

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