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Accessory for Peace

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Remnants of a 1990s European vacation (non-Chevy Chase style) may include a battered passport, rolls of film, crumpled maps and loose change. We may have applied for a new passport, developed the film and put away the maps.

What about the coins rolling around in the drawer? For most of us, the introduction of the euro in 1999 has rendered these coins obsolete. But a Connecticut jewelry designer has created a use for the coins that has helped to inspire hope and peace in countries around the world.

Wendy Black-Nasta has designed jewelry for galleries, private art collectors and museums, including the Museum of Natural History, the American Folk Art Museum and the Boston Museum of Science. In 2002, a reporter asked Wendy Black-Nasta how she would incorporate European currency into her artwork now that it had been taken out of circulation.

"A week earlier, one of my jewelry students had just premiered as a belly dancer," recalls Black-Nasta. "While watching all the wonderful dancers, I was mesmerized by the belts they wore. I thought of taking all the coins (I had) and combining them with coins around the world and designing it into a belt of peace." In the summer of 2003, the International Peace Belt was born.

To date, 160 countries are represented. The belt contains coins, gemstones and shells from respective countries. All materials and labor used to create the belt have been donated. Thirty-one countries are not yet represented.

The belt has been worn in countries including India, Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico and Barbados. Most recently outside the United States, women from Machsom Watch, an Israeli human rights group, wore it at Palestine checkpoint Kalandia. In the United States, the belt has been worn in Connecticut, California, Oregon, Hawaii, New York (ground zero) and at the anti-war peace rally in Washington, D.C., in September. Next summer, the belt will be taken to Egypt.

"The belt has been worn by dancers around the world and by peace activists and spiritual leaders," says Black-Nasta. "The International Peace Belt is available to anyone in any part of the world. Anyone who asks for it has got it. I made it, but it belongs to the world. The only requirement is that they meditate on world peace as they wear it."

After it is worn, the belt is returned to Black-Nasta to add new coins. She cleans the belt and adds new gems if old ones loose their luster.

After all countries are represented, the belt will be donated to the Smithsonian or United Nations.

The person who physically brings the belt to another country is called a caretaker and is in charge of documenting the event. The belt's journey is being chronicled in a film and book. At each appearance of the belt, photographers and cinematographers document the event, and each caretaker is asked to write a chapter for the book.

Local bellydancer Lucy Lipschitz heard about the International Peace Belt through a fellow dancer and contacted Black-Nasta to bring the belt to Tucson. Lipschitz will be the belt's caretaker for its visit here.

The International Peace Belt will be worn in a ceremony from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at Serenity's Way, 2727 E. Grant Road. The event is free, but donations will be accepted to support orphanages in the United States. For more information about the event, call 320-9120. For more information about the International Peace Belt, visit artistsforworldpeace.org. Lucy Lipschitz and Isis will perform the Guedra, a woman's blessing ritual from the Sudan area. Other performers include Troupe Salamat, Gina Gonzalez, Carmen Evans and the Tara Dancers. A variety of dancers will be represented, including bellydancers. Wendy Black-Nasta will open the event with a short talk and viewing of an eight-minute trailer about the upcoming documentary.

Black-Nasta formed Artists for World Peace to assist with the belt. "In order to pay for the traveling and filming, we needed to raise money. We became a ... nonprofit organization. The International Peace Belt is the first major project undertaken by Artists for World Peace," she says.

"We raise money for social causes. We give money away to help feed people; we help battered women ... ." The organization's first major fundraiser generated 650 coats, 400 blankets and food for an Indian reservation in South Dakota, according to artistsforworldpeace.org. Black-Nasta notes that volunteers associated with her nonprofit and the International Peace Belt are not paid. Caretakers who travel with the belt pay their own way to the designated country.

From her contact with international citizens, Black-Nasta has found "many are surprised that there are so many Americans working for peace. People are so turned off to Americans. We have a reputation for war. They don't realize we are doing all we can to work for peace," she says.

With a full-time job, husband and teenage children, Black-Nasta finds herself sometimes working into the wee hours of the morning. Black-Nasta nevertheless remains motivated. "It's so important; I have to keep going. I see the beauty and hope it brings to people's lives. We just have to keep fighting for peace, working and working and working. Whatever we can do will help."

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