Government officials are in discussions to bring an international art installation aimed at spreading the message of tolerance among children to the UAE.
The Ship of Tolerance is currently moored on the river Thames in London. It was first launched by renowned Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov in Egypt in 2005 and has since been recreated at art festivals worldwide.
The 18-metre handcrafted wooden ship has a sail made by children from schools, refugee centres and London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. The children painted the silk panels after discussing what tolerance meant to them.
Children in cities all over the world, including Venice, Miami, Havana, Moscow, New York and Rome, have recreated the project. The Ship of Tolerance also made an appearance at the Sharjah Biennial in 2011.
Maitha Al Mehairi, an Emirati postgraduate living in London, is leading a cultural initiative along with other UAE students in the UK to bring the project back to the Emirates.
Ms Al Mehairi invited officials from the UAE embassy in the UK as well as some London schoolchildren who contributed to the sail to the shores of the Thames on Thursday to sign a silk panel emblazoned with the UAE Year of Tolerance symbol — a Ghaf tree.
“I think The Ship of Tolerance presents a great opportunity to inspire the youth of the UAE,” she told The National.
Rawda Al Otaiba, deputy head of mission at the UAE embassy in London, said officials were still exploring options on how best to present the ship, and whether to bring the installation to the UAE by the end of this year or wait until 2020.
“We have two important years in the UAE, the Year of Tolerance  and the Expo 2020,” she said.
“The Ship of Tolerance previously came to Sharjah for the Biennial but this time we’re looking for something bigger. The idea this time is to have something international; have some artworks from Africa, from Asia, from Europe and then mix it together in one sail.
“We want to have more engagement internationally and know, not just what our people think about tolerance, but internationally how people understand the concept.”
Ms Al Otaiba invited two London primary schoolchildren who had contributed to the sail to come to the UAE to participate in similar projects.
Sholto Steel, 9, has ambitions to become a marine biologist. He painted images of the sea and fish on his sail.
“When I thought about tolerance, I thought about the oceans and fish because right now, whales eat 10 tonnes of plastic every year,” he said.
His sister, Esmeralda, 7, is similarly concerned about being tolerant to animals. She used lots of colour to paint endangered species including a rhino, a leopard and a lion on the sail.
Nadja Romain, the director of Art, Action, Change, the foundation that produced The Ship of Tolerance in London, said she hoped the installation would head to the UAE before the end of the year.
“When The Ship of Tolerance was in Sharjah in 2011, it was hugely successful. Since then it was always the aim to bring it back to the region,” Ms Romain said.
“Times have really changed since it was there last. The discussion around tolerance is more important than ever.”