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A bust of the Dalai Lama is one of 21 sculptures of humanitarian peacemakers from all around the world depicted in bronze by Meera Censor, an Ashland artist who donated them for permanent display at Southern Oregon Universityís Hannon Library. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Homage to peacemakers

ASHLAND — The 21 bronze busts of humanitarian peacemakers on display at Southern Oregon University's Hannon Library provide a powerful sense of Ashland sculptor Meera Censor's intent: that "violence doesn't work for social change, it only begets more violence."

Censor donated the sculptures to SOU, which has put them on permanent display. The collection will be dedicated at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, on the main floor of the library, with a reception following in the Meese Room. It is free and open to the public.

The victim of prolonged domestic violence in her teen years, Censor says she had a "peak experience of nonviolence" when she literally turned the other cheek to her attacker and saw him break down in tears and shame. That moment led to her life as a self-taught sculptor, memorializing leaders from Gandhi, Chief Joseph and Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.

Censor, 66, a massage therapist and mother of five grown children, began sculpting in a 1997 art class, executing a bust of Gandhi, who was the inspiration for her and in the lives of most of the people she sculpted. The sale of two busts of Gandhi gave her the funds she needed to sculpt the rest over seven years, often donating them to museums or shrines in their native lands.

Sculpting is costly in time and money — materials and expenses for one bust amount to $3,000, she says.

"Whatever you do from the heart, you may not make much money, but the joy will follow," says Censor, who passionately studies each peacemaker and also has donated her library on the subject to SOU.

Lauding the spread of nonviolence in the Occupy Wall Street movement and other causes, Censor says, "Young people are starting to have a voice. Something has to change, but it has to be nonviolent.

"I only want peace on the planet. Violence is too expensive. You can control people with violence, but you can't get their love."

Censor's short, colorfully illustrated book, "Humanitarians for Justice, Nonviolence and Peace" sells for $15 at the SOU library and bookstore, and on Amazon, with proceeds being used to finance a final half-dozen sculptures.

After that, she says, she will donate all money to the foundations of each of her subjects.

Delighting in telling stories of nonviolent social change — especially those of unknown heroes — Censor goes over the details of the life of Tariq Khamisa, a 20-year-old pizza worker who was murdered by a 14-year-old as he was making a delivery. The teenage killer committed the act as a gang initiation. The victim's father, Azim Khamisa, and the killer's grandfather joined to create the Violence Prevention Forum, speaking to 18,000 school children every year (www.tkf.org). His book, "Azim's Bardo: From Murder to Forgiveness, a Father's Journey," is a tale of "incredible forgiveness" and one of the books Censor donated to SOU, she says.

She sculpted naturalist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, for saving environmental beauty as a place of peace, she writes in her book. Einstein is honored for speaking out against atomic weapons. Cesar Chavez, Meena Keshwar Kamal of Afghanistan and Marshall Rosenberg, founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, also are honored.

Censor's website is www.humanitariansculpture.com. She teaches nonviolence in schools and at the library, with her sculptures as teaching materials. She may be reached at 541-488-5683.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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