Naomi Natale: 2011 AHN Awardee

"We must first be inspired to take action.  And really that is what I think art can do best -- it can inspire others to believe in a different reality and take action to work towards that." - Naomi Natale

Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2011 AHN Awards to Naomi Natale - installation artist, photographer, activist and visionary.  We at the Arts & Healing Network are deeply moved by the beauty and integrity of her vision. We applaud Naomi not only for the largesse of her projects, but for their inherent generosity and her ability to share and communicate about them with such poise and power.

Naomi is the founding artist behind One Million Bones, a large-scale social arts practice that uses education and hands-on artmaking to raise awareness of genocides and atrocities going on around the world, this very day. The goal is to collectively create one million bones fashioned from clay and install these bones in the mall in Washington DC.  Afterward, the bones will be stuffed with seeds and planted around the country as symbols of hope and regeneration. One Million Bones requests a sponsorship of five dollars for each bone submitted, thus generating five million dollars to support nonprofits who protect and aid those displaced by violence and genocide in places like Sudan and Burma.

Prior to One Million Bones, Naomi was the founder and director of The Cradle Project, a large scale installation calling attention and raising funds for the 48 million children orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa. Over 550 cradles were created and donated by artists from around the world. All 550 cradles were shown in one exhibit which had over 6,000 viewers and the project raised over $90,000for the Firelight Foundation which supports the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

To learn more about Naomi's outstanding work, please visit and We also recommend watching her TED talk, and viewing this video about the One Million Bones installation in Albuquerque in August 2011.   You could also learn more about Naomi's work by listening to an audio interview recorded by Britt Bravo for the Big Vision Podcast in July 2011.  

Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Naomi Natale from December 2011:

Mary Daniel: You are doing such transformational creative work at such a young age - how did you find your way to this path so soon?


Naomi: When I was in college I traveled to Kenya to work with a non-profit, photo-documenting orphaned children living in Kibera and other slums in the country. While I was there I spent a lot of time reading about many different global issues and when I came back to finish my degree I had no idea how to process that information. Prior to that trip I thought I would continue making photographs that would touch on different themes I was interested in, but after that trip I really didn’t know how to go back to that. But I also didn’t know how to move forward. It took a couple of years and a few critical life defining experiences for me to consider creating art again while finally processing my experience in Kenya.


As a result I founded The Cradle Project, a fundraising art installation designed to call attention to the plight of the estimated 48 million children orphaned by disease and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Using the symbolism of empty cradles to represent the lost potential of these orphans, The Cradle Project was designed to provoke art into action. Over 550 cradles were created – using solely scrap, discarded and recycled materials – and donated by artists from around the world who were drawn to the project’s vision.


Mary Daniel Hobson: How did you get the vision to start One Million Bones?


Naomi Natale: Both The Cradle Project and One Million Bones have come to me as images first, and I think that is because my passion is photography and I’m moved most by an image. But my staged photographic works have always consisted of using symbolism to construct the image and explain a concept. So the idea of re-creating a mass grave to explain genocide quite literally speaks to the gravity of the issue, but more significantly it uses the symbol of a bone to unite us and to attest to our common humanity. It reminds individuals around the world that we belong to each other, because when we accept the idea that we belong to each other we recognize our responsibility to one another. What does it mean for an individual to re-create a human bone in this context? I would challenge every person to find out for themselves. Each experience is personal and different, and when all the bones are collected and laid out together the installation becomes a volume of all of these shared experiences, voices and actions.

But most important to note is that none of this work would be possible if people didn’t come on board from the beginning. Both The Cradle Project and One Million Bones are the result of seriously committed teams whose work and ideas helped to build out the concepts and execution of these projects.  

Mary Daniel: What has been the impact of One Million Bones so far?


Naomi: Some of greatest impacts of One Million Bones have been through our educational component, which is where we are reaching out to educators and asking them to bring this project into their classroom as a way to educate students about genocide and mass atrocities that are happening today in places like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burma. One thing we’re finding more and more as we go along is how many students and individuals don’t know what genocide is let alone that it is actually happening today. This project offers an opportunity for a meaningful introduction to the issue and of different conflicts happening today while also offering a space to place one’s voice.  We consider One Million Bones a visible movement and visible petition against these on-going atrocities.  


Mary Daniel: What is your dream for One Million Bones moving forward?


As for our dreams moving forward….I say “our” because there is a team of us that is working to realize this project. Our team consists of Susan McAllister our Project Manager, Kathleen McEuen our National Liaison and the many volunteer and interns we have around the country. Our dreams for this project moving forward are many. One is that it would be used as a tool to educate thousands of individuals about the conflicts that are happening today while galvanizing them to action in this visible movement. We hope to inspire individuals to not only find their voice in this type of activism but to actually believe in the power of it. Our dream is to use this visible movement model to mobilize people around this issue, to strengthen those organizations dedicated to ending these conflicts by bringing new activists to their community and to ultimately demand action from our government in the face of these mass atrocities.  


Additionally we hope to leave an impact on the field of art and activism.  To explore and break boundaries of what has been done here and what can be done. To inspire social justice organizations to invest resources in an artistic component to their movements, and to remind people all over the world that we must first be inspired to take action. And really that is what I think art can do best -- it can inspire others to believe in a different reality and take action to work towards that.


Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for others who would like to make art that makes a difference in the world?


Naomi: I have a lot of different thoughts and opinions when it comes to working at the intersection of art and social justice. What I feel is most important to convey to those interested in working here is to always keep in mind the value of the work that you are doing. This can be a tough place to find support and resources to keep the work moving forward and that struggle can lead to doubt and compromise which is a dangerous place for an artist or an activist to find themselves. Art is a business: work is produced that has value — cultural value, aesthetic value, personal value — all of which translates into monetary value, thus allowing investment in more work. And the cycle goes on. But I know artists who have been creating work of this kind for years, and because of the struggle for funding they’ve lost their understanding of the value of what they are producing. They continue to do the work because they love it, because it moves people, and because it matters. But when artists (myself included) do this work for free, for less than it’s worth, we are diminishing the value of ourselves. This is a vicious cycle and every time it comes back around it makes it even harder to attract resources.


Mary Daniel: What excites you most about the work you are doing right now?


Naomi: What I am finding most exciting right now about the work we are doing are the partnerships we have made that are building out this vision.  Just recently we partnered with an organization called Students Rebuild, The Bezos Family Foundation and CARE.  This partnership is challenging students around the world to participate in the One Million Bones initiative. Through this partnership each bone made by a Student Rebuild participant will generate $1 donation up to $500,000 for CARE’s work in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This makes this project even more meaningful to students who want to raise money for causes that are important to them without doing the actual fundraising. 

The other aspect I find most exciting are the 50,000 Bone Preview Installations we have been producing. We recently produced one in Albuquerque that was in many ways beyond what words could describe.  You can click here to watch a short video of that installation.  We are now working in New Orleans to produce another preview with bones made from the New Orleans community.

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