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(Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union, 1933 & Dnepropetrovsk, Soviet Union, 1945)

Model of the ‘Ship of Tolerance’, 2006
115 x 186 x 52 cm
Bamboo, hot melt, rope, textile
Inventory number: 3105, acquired in 2012
donation Ilya & Emilia Kabakov

Ship of Tolerance is a project by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov that started in 2005 in Siwa, Egypt. Its goal was to engage children and young adults from different cultures and backgrounds in a conversation about the meaning of tolerance and the appreciation of differences in cultures and ideas. With the help of local artists and art teachers, they translated their ideas into drawings that were used for the ship’s sails. The ship itself was built by student carpenters, guided by carpenters from Manchester, UK.

From 2006, the ship travelled to cities like Venice, Sharjah, Miami, Havana, Moscow and New York. Each time local children and young adults were invited to participate in workshops, discussing, drawing and contributing to the creation of the sails, while hundreds of visitors came by to learn about the project and view the construction. Using the tremendous media coverage of their project, the Kabakovs were able to show how art can contribute to a world of people that are curious about each other, respect differences and are able to learn from each other. Born and educated in the Soviet Union in 1933 (Ilya) and 1945 (Emilia), the art of the Kabakovs is deeply rooted in the Soviet social and cultural context. While Emilia immigrated in 1973 via Israel to New York, Ilya only moved in 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism. Their collaboration only started in 1988.

Ilya Kabakov started his career in the 1950s as an illustrator of children’s books. He was a member of the Union of Soviet Artists and as such he was secured steady work and income, but had to accept censorship. Besides his ‘official art’, he started to produce ‘unofficial art’ credited to an alter ego. His work has always been inspired by daily life and the kafkaesque situations he experienced. Questioning and analysing ideologies, convinced him that authoritarian will to power always makes projects fail. Against this background, the Ship of Tolerance project is a beautiful call for inclusiveness, open-mindedness and respect as the basis for a shared world to live in.

Christiane Berndes, Curator and Head of the Collection at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven