Friday, September 12, 2008

Ambassador Sanders' Remarks at Iftaar Dinner 2008

Ambassador Robin Reneé Sanders
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Iftaar Dinner featuring Bruce Onobrakpeya and
introducing the Art in Embassies Program
Chief of Mission Residence
Friday, September 12, 2008, at 6:00 p.m.

Assalamu Alaikum, Ramadan Mubarak. I am honored to welcome such distinguished guests during the holy month of Ramadan, a special time of prayer, fasting, service, and commemoration for the revelation of God's word to the prophet Muhammad.

Muslims in the United States often celebrate Ramadan with the encouragement and support of non-Muslim friends, colleagues, and neighbors. So it is fitting for me, and members of the U.S. Mission representing our country, to honor the friendship and traditions of a great faith by hosting this Iftaar dinner- my first- at the official residence of the American people here in Nigeria.

It is also befitting that this is my first official act upon returning to Nigeria and assuming my duties after spending time with my family. It is in this spirit that we come together this evening during Ramadan, as family, to celebrate the Muslim faith and to learn more about each other. We all share a commitment to peace, to love of faith, and to love of country. As we break fast together we note that America treasures friendship with Nigeria, and welcomes and honors your faith.

As you know, an important part of America’s moral fiber is tolerance. Americans believe that no one should be treated differently because of the color of their skin, where they were born, or what they believe. Not only do Americans reject intolerance, but we celebrate diversity. Hence the theme of this Iftaar dinner is “Democracy and Diversity: The Strength of a Nation”. It is also the theme that I have chosen for the official artwork of the U.S. Residence, done in partnership with one of Nigeria’s most premier artists, Mr. Bruce Onobrakpeya. On this unique occasion both Bruce’s and the Residence’s collections are being exhibited for the first time.

Bruce Onobrakpeya is a living memorial to diversity and has challenged and changed the art scene in Nigeria and the world over the past 50 years. Since his first one-man exhibition in Delta State in 1959, Bruce has participated in over 70 exhibitions in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. His works are featured in several important public and private collections in Nigeria and abroad, such as the Vatican Museum in Rome and the National Museum of African Arts in Washington, D.C. In April of this year, one of Bruce’s works was sold for the largest sum ever paid for a piece of art in Nigeria.

Bruce Onobrakpeya has been a bridge builder between the United States and Nigeria. He has said that his residency at an art school in the United States in 1975 changed his life. It helped to instill in him a dream, which has now been fulfilled through his annual Harmattan Workshop Series in Delta State. I hope you enjoy, as I do, the wonderful pieces Bruce has personally selected to display for you this evening.

Together with Bruce’s pieces, we are introducing these two art collections at the residence. The two pillars, democracy and diversity, go hand-in-hand with the progress and development of any country. The United States and Nigeria have these two pillars in common. And these are the themes you will see reflected in the art and sculptures shown here this evening, which highlight the array of diversity- ethnicity, religion, gender and age- that make any nation not only strong, but better.

All of these pieces are connected, just like all of us who live in diverse, democratic societies. We must always remember this, and I hope that as you view these pieces and reflect on their beauty you will keep these themes in mind. Each piece renews our faith in all of us moving forward together, but also underscores the work that we still must do together in today’s global village.

As we celebrate this Ramadan season let us enjoy the food and friendship as family, and use the art on display as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Ramadan in our own lives, on our shared values of family and community. “Ramadan Kareem”, and thank you all for coming.