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Craven Arts Council debuts new exhibit celebrating 100th anniversary of "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

 An original illustration from Kahlil Gibran's 1923 work "The Prophet."
Illustration from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran, published 1923.
An original illustration from Kahlil Gibran's 1923 work "The Prophet."

“On Beauty: The Prophet” is an exhibit opening July 14 at the Bank of the Arts in New Bern. The exhibit features 40 works of different mediums – ranging from ceramic eggs to concrete sculpture to watercolor paintings – each inspired by a chapter of Kahlil Gibran’s 1923 book “The Prophet.”

Kahlil Gibran is a Lebanese American writer, poet and visual artist, who immigrated to the U.S. alongside other Christian Lebanese people in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “The Prophet” is his most well-known work. It includes 26 chapters of poems and fables, each addressing a different facet of human life: birth, death, religion, childhood, houses, pain and pleasure, to name a few.

For the 100th anniversary of the book’s publishing, the Craven County Arts Council & Gallery asked local artists to select a chapter from the book and create artwork inspired by its topic.

In addition to the exhibit, CACG is hosting a viewing of the 2014 animated film adaptation of “The Prophet” on July 21st at 7pm.

Jon Burger is the CACG’s executive director and a sculptor. His sculpture is inspired by the first chapter “The Coming of the Ship.” Burger spoke with PRE’s Ryan Shaffer about the exhibit.


Ryan Shaffer, PRE: This is PRE, Public Radio East, I'm Ryan Shaffer. I'm joined in the studio by Jon Burger, executive director of the Craven Arts Council & Gallery. He's helped plan an exhibit at the Bank of the Arts titled “On Beauty: The Prophet.” John, it's great to have you here.

Jon Burger: Great to be here.

Shaffer: This exhibit is inspired by the 100th anniversary of “The Prophet,” a book of 26 poetry fables by Kahlil Gibran, a noted Lebanese American poet. Could you tell us a little bit more about the book and its significance?

Burger: It's the 100th anniversary, but the book came out in 1923. It is transcendental poetry, so even though it's called “The Prophet,” it does not really identify with one religion or anything like that. You'll see elements of Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Sufi, Buddhism and that's all part of the region that Gibran was born and grew up. The book had a huge following back in 1923 and for decades after his death. But it also had this great resurgence with the counterculture movement and the hippie generation. It was not uncommon to give people copies of this book for graduations, births, deaths, marriages, and things like that because of the chapters and what they touched on. It was very popular for almost 100 years.

Shaffer: What should we know about Kahlil Gibran and the Lebanese diaspora in the US?

Burger: There was a lot happening in that time. Gibran actually went to France first. He was a friend of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, before coming to New York. But that diaspora affected all of America, including here in New Bern. We have a a sizable Lebanese population that's still has many descendants in the area, so it's a ripple effect through time in which we still have the benefits.

Shaffer: What is it about the book or in Kahlil Gibran that resonates with you?

Burger: I think it's sort of the very transcendental nature of what he's talking about, because it does not fit into one plain box. I think it can appeal to a lot of people. Like many as a young man, my faith was all over the place, and I explored a lot of things, and Gibran’s work seems to fit whatever label or box I could put myself in, so that really appealed to me. There's a famous quote that there are many paths up the mountain of truth, so it doesn't matter how you get to the top. It's just that journey, and there are many things that will help you along.

Shaffer: Let's talk about the exhibit. The Arts Council is bringing in artists, and they're tasked with creating a work inspired by a chapter from the book. Who are the artists, and what might we expect from them?

Burger: We have a lot of local artists, but we also have artists from across North Carolina and I believe we have at least one from outside North Carolina.

Shaffer: We've kind of hinted around this by the book covers a long list of subjects, religion, beauty, pleasure, death. How are some of these displayed?

Burger: You see a lot of mediums in there. We've got representational watercolors. We have ceramic pieces, a concrete piece. A lot of painting, epoxy and resin work. They've all sort of picked different chapters and the exhibit. covers a wide gamut. You'll see very representational stuff of people working for the chapter on work as well as very abstract things and mandalas. One piece you can't miss as you walk in this Michaelé Rose Watson’s piece “444 Possibilities,” which is made up of 444 ceramic eggs of different patinas, glazes and finishes. Some are cracked, some have holes, some are completely round, and it's inspired by Kahlil’s chapter called “On Children.” It's about the possibilities of youth, and as they move forward. You can't miss it. It's an installation probably 6 feet across by 6 feet tall. It’s a spiral ramp with all these eggs going up it, and it's a very beautiful piece.

Shaffer: You're an artist. What mediums do you work with, and can we expect work from you to be on display?

Burger: I'm primarily a sculptor. I do mostly metal work, but some wood. In this piece, I did put a piece made a concrete. It'll be a six-foot-tall cloak called “The Cloak of the Prophet” that will hopefully have a light in it, but we're figuring that out right now. There's always some last minute things.

Shaffer: What chapter of the book is it related to?

It's related to the first chapter. “Almustafa, the chosen and the beloved” is one of the first lines, and the figure of Almustafa has always spoken out to me. This man who wandered the desert for 11 years. He was exiled from his city. Everyone knows who he is, but he talks about not using his fame to take advantage, but that he watched them and everything he knows comes from watching other people. That this is not some innate thing that makes him special, but that it is the interactions of the people around him and that his position as an outsider gives him some insight into that. So, I made my piece inspired by that.

Shaffer: Thank you, John.

Burger: Thank you.

Shaffer: That was John Berger, executive director of the Craven Arts Council & Gallery. The exhibit “On Beauty: The Prophet” opens July 14th at the Bank of the Arts. The featured work will be displayed through August.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.