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Local artist shares positive message of ‘Oneness’ through art

Kerry Soori McEachern and her "Oneness" sculpture.
Kerry Soori McEachern and her “Oneness” sculpture.
(Karen Billing)

Rancho Santa Fe artist and graphic designer Kerry Soori McEachern has created a community collaborative art project to promote the message of unity, peace, love, and inclusivity for all.

Her “Oneness” sculpture debuted on May 14 in the Beloved’s Garden of Oneness exhibit at the Encinitas Community Center as part of Encinitas Art Night. Over 700 people came through the exhibit to experience a cross-cultural, interfaith celebration with art, performances and speakers.

The “Oneness” installation is a large typographic sculpture partially covered in a rainbow of messages folded up into paper origami flowers. Each note includes a person’s reflection on the meaning of oneness and wishes for the future of humanity and the planet .

“It was all based on what I’ve learned through Sufism, the concept of oneness, that everything in existence is in harmony and connected,” said McEachern. “Though varying in color and message, the flowers all have one thing in common: being made of paper. This is a reminder to humanity that regardless of the external, physical, cultural and religious differences, we all originate from existence and the same source of life. That is, we all share the gift of life.”

Beloved’s Garden of Oneness exhibit, which features 11 artists, will stay on view in Encinitas until June 30. The exhibit is sponsored by the MTO Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism, a global nonprofit organization.

Sufism, as MTO Professor Nader Angha says, is “a bridge between religions.” It is a discipline and education that facilitates a journey of self-knowledge for people to achieve cognition of their true selves, to free themselves from limitations and attachments, and experience freedom, peace and tranquility in their lives.

The school’s students, like McEachern, represent a cross-section of humanity, from all walks of life, different cultures and religions.

McEachern has been a Rancho Santa Fe resident since 2015, with her husband and two young children. American and part Persian, she was born in Orlando, Fla., and lived in Iran until she was 14.

Her background is distinctly unique: her father was an American from Georgia, raised Baptist, and her mother is Iranian and a Muslim but not from a religious family. They met and married in Iran in the late 1970s and escaped to Florida during the revolution when all Americans were ordered to leave the country.

The beginning of the Iran-Iraq War and the political climate made it difficult for Iranians in America and shortly after her first birthday, her mother returned with her to Iran. Her father was not allowed in the country and they became estranged by the time she was six. At 14, she convinced her mother to let her build a life outside of Iran and reconnected with her father in Orlando.

In Iran, she sometimes felt like the only American and in Florida, she also felt misplaced. Though an American, Farsi was her native language and she didn’t understand the American culture of the south. For a long time, she struggled with who she was.

“I was trying to figure out my path,” McEachern said. “I searched a lot for answers about what was my identity.”

McEachern discovered Sufism in 2002 and in her very first session when the speaker asked the question: “Who are you?”, she felt it was speaking to her heart.

He next read a quote: “If there were one in the world, and that one were you, what would be your name? Who would you be? Would you hate? Would you love? If there were one, and that one had all the knowledge of the universe, and could respond to all your needs and all your wants, what would you do? Sufism is about this ‘One’.”

“This was the beginning of this beautiful journey to go back to the original version of who I really am,” she said.

In her journey of self-cognition, her art became a way to express the teachings of Sufism. She also started getting involved with interfaith community activities, bringing her perspective from a very unique, multicultural background.

In 2019, McEachern was among the faith leaders in attendance at Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear’s Interfaith Community Prayer Breakfast. The event was held a week after the Poway Synagogue shooting in which four people were shot and one woman killed.

“Everyone was very saddened and distraught by the tragedy,” McEachern said.

At the breakfast, Blakespear invited every representative to take responsibility and create more awareness, acceptance and tolerance in their communities. McEachern took that message to heart.

“At that moment as an artist and a Sufism student, I thought what could be done to take action, beyond just words,” she said.

McEachern discussed her idea for a oneness art celebration with MTO and brought it to the city of Encinitas in 2019, working with the city’s cultural arts department to curate the exhibition as part of Art Night. Due to the pandemic, it was delayed until this year.

With her Oneness sculpture, she wanted to get the public involved and put out the call starting in September of 2021. She spoke at interfaith meetings, schools, churches and community organizations to spread the word about what she was looking for. Each participant would be asked two questions: “If you had the chance to make one lasting statement, what would you say?” and “If you could make the world a better place for all human family, what would your message be?”

She left behind colorful papers and a little box to submit messages, provided pre-stamped envelopes and a QR code as a way to submit answers online.

From September 2021 to April 2022, she collected 900 messages.

“It was very touching. It was an honor and a joy, the most beautiful reward I could receive,” she said. “I was touched that so many human beings took the time to reflect in their hearts and share these wonderful jewels of hope, peace and unity.”

The styrofoam Oneness sculpture she designed and had constructed is 100 inches wide, 80 inches tall and 12 inches deep. Working with a group of 25 volunteers from MTO on April 16 they worked nonstop for nine hours to fold 900 flowers—during a Ramadan fast no less. Handwritten messages were written on papers of different colors and textures and those collected via email were printed using many different fonts.

McEachern and the volunteers worked with focus and care: “Each flower represents a human being and is very precious,” she said. As they folded the flowers, they read the messages and absorbed the poignant words of a person they never met.

Days later, working in the cleared-out living room of her home, she and another MTO volunteer worked for another 14 hours straight to place all of the flowers onto the sculpture.

The end result? So many different flowers, each style and person different, coming together in unity. McEachern hopes the piece reminds people to stop and reflect, “Remember your human dignity, that you can be so righteous and that you can make a difference in the world,” she said. “It’s a reminder to go back within and remember your uniqueness and vision and what your message is.”

A close-up look of Kerry Soori McEachern's installation “Sliver of the Infinite Labyrinth".
(Karen Billing)

In addition to the Oneness sculpture, McEachern also created two other unique pieces to debut at the show. “Sliver of the Infinite Labyrinth” features multi-colored paper cuts of the word “oneness” translated into 110 different world languages. It took almost 200 hours to create.

Her other piece, “One Light in All”, is a wood box laser cut with words of oneness. When lit from within, the words project all over the wall. At the Beloved’s Garden exhibition, it was placed in a blackout tent for people to experience the full effect.

While the works in the Beloved’s Garden exhibit will remain on display through June, May 14 was a one-night-only showing of her Oneness sculpture and other pieces. It is the hope that the sculpture will be displayed in other settings as she is working with organizations like the 11:11 A Creative Collective in Los Angeles and has met with The Getty Museum about showing the piece as part of their events for their 25th anniversary this summer. She hopes it can be shown again locally.

And it is still a work in progress. Her goal is for all sides to be fully covered, which will take about 3,000 messages and 3,000 unique voices.

Just one person and artist, McEachern said she was honored to be part of this effort. At a time when there’s so much negativity, she believes it is a chance to show that there are people who believe in love and unity.

“Even though we are different, we are all part of the same human family,” McEachern said.

Additional messages can be emailed to soori@sooriart.com


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