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Local prayer flags headed to Cuba

Public invited to take part in project today

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A Winnipeg congregation hopes their prayers for friendship and peace will soon float in the warm Cuban breeze.

"They are visual reminders of prayerful intentions," Rev. Teresa Moysey of Harrow United Church says of the prayer flags her church plans to send to Cuba.

Members of Harrow -- as well as the general public -- are invited to decorate a prayer flag today with mixed-media artist and printmaker Deborah Danelley.

The free sessions are open to children this morning from 10 to noon, and to adults from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at Harrow United Church, 955 Mulvey Ave.

Danelley will provide each participant with a piece of white fabric measuring 20 by 30 centimetres to embellish with fabric, paints or stamps. She'll take the completed flags with her to Havana, Cuba, in April, where she'll teach several workshops in a week-long cultural festival in Muraleando.

Muraleando is a community art project that encourages residents to paint murals and other artwork on walls and buildings in a poor Havana neighbourhood. Every April, residents are invited to a cultural festival packed with art, theatre, music and dance workshops. This year will mark Danelley's fifth visit to teach art classes at the festival.

The Crescentwood resident pays her travel and living expenses in Havana, but accepts donations to purchase new art supplies for her workshops. This year, she'll also squeeze the prayer flags into her suitcases, and once in Cuba, will exchange them for the flags made during the festival.

"I hear the words solidarity, friendship, peace and hope," she says of her intentions behind the project.

"These are basic kind of things, but they're at the heart of what (the flags) are about."

Prayer flags originated in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, where small pieces of coloured fabric decorated with words or symbols are strung from trees or buildings. As the flags flap in the wind, Buddhists believe their prayers carry beneficial vibrations across the countryside.

Moysey says her congregation will hang the Cuban-made prayer flags inside their sanctuary as well as outside their building on the corner of Mulvey Avenue and Harrow Street. She's not clear how the relationship between Harrow United and the Cuban artists will develop, but she's confident it will grow in unexpected ways.

"Connecting with others changes who we are individually and collectively and helps us understand how we are part of a larger whole, a world community," Moysey explains in an email interview from Victoria, B.C., where she was attending a seminar.

The congregation has previous experience with prayer flags. A few years back, they strung some outside their building, allowing them to blow in the wind until they were tattered and faded.

Danelley first visited Harrow United one Sunday morning last fall to speak about her annual art workshops in Cuba as part of the church's series exploring the connection between art and justice, Moysey explains.

That series continues on Sunday with a presentation by Nadine Calver on the spirituality of quilting. On Feb. 17, members of the congregation's digital photography group will display photographs of sacred spaces.

"One of the ways we are exploring those connections is to have an artist approximately once a month at our Sunday worship, with an invitation to share how art has brought about transformation individually or in the community," says Moysey.

"Art is a way that integrates head, heart and soul as we explore and express faith and faith questions."

Danelley admits she's been transformed by her annual visits to Havana, which were sparked by a chance meeting with Manuel Diaz Baldrich during his 2008 visit here for an exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery. Although she speaks minimal Spanish, she's built strong connections with Baldrich and other Cuban artists, and hopes to further that relationship with her annual visits to Havana.

Raised Anglican but no longer a churchgoer, Danelley believes she has found her true calling in making -- and sharing -- art.

"For me, it was something else that led me to art, something spiritual," says Danelley, who first studied fine arts in her 30s.

"I never knew why I was led that way until my first year in Muraleando."

For more information about the Muraleando project, visit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 j13

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