HAND SIGNALS: ANTHONY ASAEL

The United Nations comprises 193 member countries: photographer Anthony Asael has been to all of them. And, in addition to the countless miles clocked thus far, this altruistic artist and social activist is rapidly gaining ground.

As founder and executive director of Art in All of Us, Asael has spearheaded collaborative youth projects in 700 schools worldwide that introduce children to their global peers by way of creative cross-cultural exchange. Aiming to inspire empathy across borders, Art in All of Us (AiA) is underwritten by highly regarded institutions such as UNICEF and is supported by a vast network of volunteers. “We believe in the power of art to transform lives,” states the AiA mission. To date, 55,000 children have participated in AiA projects since its 2005 founding, many from developing nations or areas devastated by natural disasters, where the act of creation nourishes recovery and growth.

Born in Brussels in 1974 and raised in a multi-cultural home, Asael was an avid traveler and photographer from an early age. This past September, 400 photographs taken by Asael and AiA co-founder Stephanie Rabemiafara were published in the anthology, Children of the World, alongside original poems and artworks by the children themselves, offering an intimate perspective on the many facets of modern-day humanity.

This platform is highly idealistic; were you met with much cynicism when you were first starting out? How do you cope with skeptics? Passion is the basis of everything; it can and should be shared with everyone that you are working with; it’s essential for success. When I started and had the idea, at first everyone thought I was a simple utopian dreamer, but if you have passion then you can achieve. Perseverance was crucial for North Korea. It took two and a half years, but we got there. Even UNICEF couldn’t help us with that country, but we persevered and we made it. And then, one month after our visit, they called us back to organize a drawing contest with 5,000 students—the first to be coordinated like that in that particular country. So, there’s a need to convince others of your passion through perseverance.

Having forsaken the corporate world for your non-profit work, how do the rewards compare? By meeting children from so many different backgrounds everyday, you’re always being enriched. I always teach the children, but I always learn from them.

How was AiA instrumental in recent natural disaster relief efforts? We had done work in Haiti after the earthquake, and a refugee camp there actually came to us with the idea to do something for Japan after the tsunami. I really liked that the idea came from them. We managed to create a network of schools and created artworks dealing with solidarity and sent decorated bags to children of northern Japan with creative materials. The bags had been drawn on by children, 700 in total, and now the Japanese children can reply so that it’s a two-way exchange because it’s not only important to receive, but also to give back.

How does one best facilitate cultural exchange? The best way to know more about the culture and the people and to share with the people is just to stay with them and to listen… listening is very, very important and sharing is very important. Art is a perfect language to share and communicate. If people don’t speak the same language they can still understand each other through art, which is a concept that children understand immediately… much faster than me.


This reading is by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Anthony Asael.

1. A very dominant personality. He/she will live life on his/her own terms, choosing his/her own direction.

2. Not particularly fond of machinery, as it tends to be disobedient at odd moments.

3. A staunch friend—extremely loyal and easily forgiving of the foibles of his/her friends.

4. Fond of the good things in life, but not inclined to overdo it. Likes them in moderation.

5. Strong, close-knit family background—much of this is where his/her confidence comes from. He/she has been well-loved in childhood, and so can accept love well now.

6. Both responsible and courageous—an unusual combination.

7. Fond of travel—and good at it!

8. Delights in the feeling of closeness that comes from good conversation and deep communication.

9. A bit of a temper when thwarted, but gets over it nicely.

10. Strong intelligence and quite practical, with a tendency to occasionally drift off into a dream and lose track of what he/she are attempting to accomplish. It’s not permanent; he/she will pick up the threads eventually and that period of drift actually adds creativity to his/her accomplishments.

TEXT BY Emilie Trice

THE DESIGN ISSUE

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