Celebrating 59 Days of Independence

June 23, 2014

Celebrating Independence through Art and Activism

In 2014, people around the world will celebrate the Independence Days of 59 countries through a series of simply executed celebrations that convey a great appreciation for cultures other than their own. It is part of a community based project created by artists and activists Heather Layton and Brian Bailey ‘09W (PhD).

kids in an African classroom

In February, Megan Brown ‘12 and her students in Malawi learned about Kuwait and the country’s journey to liberation.

Layton, an artist and senior lecturer in Art and Art History at the University of Rochester, and Bailey, associate professor of Adolescence Education at Nazareth College, have a long history of creating socially engaging art that benefits the community.

ON VIDEO: Heather Layton and Brian Bailey discuss the 59 Days of Independence project.

Through their latest project, 59 Days of Independence, they are inviting people of all ages, professions, and nationalities to celebrate the independence days of 59 countries that gained freedom from British colonization.

person in an emu costume on a beach, near a red, blue and white striped hat

In March, Jude Cowan Montague and friends in London celebrated Mauritius’ Independence in an event that included food, songs, stories, art, and an appearance by “Maurice” the dodo bird. The Dodo was first discovered in Mauritius in 1598.

So far, the grassroots effort has grabbed the attention of people on six continents who have participated in more than 30 celebrations, including a city-wide poetry contest, flying flags, elementary school sporting events, and calls to prayer.

children by a mural

In February, a team of artists from the Ngecha Artist Association in Kenya worked with villagers to create a mural in honor of the people of Grenada on Grenada’s Independence Day.

man playing accordian outside next to woman reading

In April, Rosa Kristin Juliusdottir of Akureyri in northern Iceland organized a celebration to honor Ireland’s struggle for independence. She and her friends made banners with ancient Celtic symbols, recited Irish poetry and literary texts, played Irish music, sang, and feasted on Irish food.

tea and table setting

In February, Faeeza Masood ’10 ’11W (MS) of Pittsford, N.Y., honored Kuwait’s Independence Day with an extra special tea time in memory of friend from Kuwait.



“By recognizing someone else’s independence, you’re showing that you care about his or her well-being in the same way you care about your own,” says Layton, who adds that the idea behind the project is to promote “freedom for all, not just for me.”

people carrying flags, running on a beach

In January, Layton and Bailey read the book “Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games” and flew flags in California to celebrate Sudan and South Sudan’s Independence Day.

Layton and Bailey see the project as a stance against colonization in all forms, including that which is based upon race, class, religion, gender, and nationality.

Sign on top of building: '#Haikus4Gambia'

In February, IBé of Minnesota invited 49 poets in the Twin Cities to write 49 haikus inspired by the Gambia. After obtaining funding through Kickstarter, the poems were broadcast on billboards throughout the city. To learn more about the project, visit: www.HaikusforGambia.com

Their previous projects include Home Drone, a multimedia exhibit that challenged the U.S. government’s drone program.

'Hola Sre Lanka from Nicaragua' written in beach sand

In February, while visiting Nicaragua, Anne Esse from Rochester, N.Y., took time to acknowledge Sri Lanka’s independence.

“You don’t have to be an artist to participate and no act is too great or too small,” says Bailey. “Whether it’s wearing another country’s colors to work or taking time out to cook a traditional meal from another country.”

According to Bailey, plans are currently underway for celebrations like a dart tournament in Nagaland in honor of Egypt, and an arts festival in Fullerton, California, in honor of Pakistan.

women on a mountain top, holding Guyana's flag

In March, Lori Beer, Maribel Pregnall, and their students celebrated Guyana’s Independence Day by hiking to the top of a mountain in the Hudson Valley, New York (USA) carrying the country’s flag.

As of July 1, 40 of the 59 independence days, including the U.S., Canada, Egypt, and Pakistan have yet to take place. And there’s no limit as to how many people can celebrate a country.

people holding sign reading 'Happy Independence Day to the People of SriLanka'

In February, members of the Tribal Reforms and Development Organization in FATA, Pakistan, celebrate the Independence Day of Sri Lanka by playing a cricket match with kids and passing out sweets.

In 2012, Layton and Bailey were named “citizen diplomats” by the U.S. Department of State for their body of work, which includes art installations designed to challenge assumptions about urban gun violence, fear of other cultures, and the prevalence of consumer culture.

paper flag on a city pole

In February, a group of friends from Uganda honor Sri Lanka’s Independence Day with a special prayer.

Right now they are continuing to spread the word and are looking for more people to take part in the project. Celebrations began in January of this year and will continue through December 2014.

men (and one woman) kneeling in prayer

In February, a group of friends from Uganda honor Sri Lanka’s Independence Day with a special prayer.

To participate, read the guidelines accompanying the adjacent list of countries.  Contact Layton or Bailey with questions or for more information.

Join in! Pick a country (not your own),  plan any type of celebration for that country on its Independence Day, and document it on the project’s Facebook page.

January

1st Australia
1st Sudan (now Sudan + South Sudan)
4th Myanmar/Burma
31st Nauru

February

4th Sri Lanka
7th Grenada
18th The Gambia
22nd Saint Lucia
23rd Brunei
25th Kuwait

March

6th Ghana
12th Mauritius

April

18th Zimbabwe
27th Sierra Leone
27th South Africa

May

25th Jordan
26th Guyana

June

4th Tonga
29th Seychelles

July

1st Canada
1st Somalia
4th United States
6th Malawi
7th Solomon Islands
10th Bahamas
12th Kiribati
22nd Maldives
23rd Egypt
30th Vanuatu

August

6th Jamaica
14th Pakistan
15th India
19th Afghanistan
31st Malaysia
31st Trinidad & Tobago

September

6th Swaziland
19th Saint Kitts and Nevis
21st Belize
21st Malta
30th Botswana

October

1st Cyprus
1st Nigeria
1st Tuvalu
3rd Iraq (from the League of Nations under British)
4th Lesotho
9th Uganda
10th Fiji
24th Zambia
27th Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

November

1st Antigua and Barbuda
3rd Dominica
30th Barbados
30th Yemen

December

2nd United Arab Emirates
6th Ireland
9th Tanzania
12th Kenya
16th Bahrain
18th Qatar

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Category: Society & Culture

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