Build Peace 2017: Dialogue on Creativity and Public Imaginations for Peaceful Futures

This Dialogue was part of the plenary for Build Peace 2017 — Making Paper Count: New Forms of Citizen Participation in Peace Agreements, a conference at the intersection of peacebuilding, technology, and arts, held in Bogotá, Colombia. Build Peace 2017 was organized in partnership between Build Up and Policéntrico. Find the full 60-page conference report here, and all conference plenary proceedings on Youtube.

You can read about the other Dialogues here:
Dialogue on Social Media, Viral News, and the Future of Confidentiality in Peace
Dialogue on Information and Communication Technologies to Monitor Peace Agreements

Build Peace 2018 will be in Belfast, Northern Ireland in October 2018.

The dialogue Creativity and public imagination for peaceful futures introduced national and international examples to examine ways in which the arts can support coexistence, reconciliation and memory in conflict and post conflict scenarios. The conversation was moderated by Michaela Ledesma, Programs Director of Build Up, and featured Diana Weymar, Independent Artist, and Catalina Cock Duque, Executive Director of Fundación Mi Sangre.

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Left to Right: Catalina Cock Duque, Michaela Ledesma, Diana Weymar; Background: Claudia Meyer, graphic recordist

If there’s anything that peacebuilders have learned over the years, it’s that a signed agreement is not the end of a peace process. In fact, it often marks a new beginning, with the difficult task of understanding and working through the myriad emotions and traumas from the conflict. Those affected by the conflict, including victims, perpetrators, and the larger society, must define together what peace means and how to live it.

One of the first steps in that process is to heal the wounds and beginning reconciliation between fragmented and adversarial groups. Time and time again, peacebuilders turn to art methodologies, a rich toolset for unpacking emotions and expressing them in alternative ways, that allow both the art-maker to begin to understand their emotions and perspective, and the viewer to begin to develop empathy.

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Fundación Mi Sangre is an organization in Colombia that works with youth to make art and music, so they can become agents of change with a strong voice in defining peace in their communities. Catalina Cock Duque, Mi Sangre’s executive director, explained how they engage land mine victims with music-making and psycho-social accompaniment, which began the reconstruction of the social fabric in their communities, and began to heal the wounds of their soul.

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The work, with schools and communities, aims to create curious youth through art and games, and to find ways of learning by doing. These are powerful tools, she argued. “It’s different from when a teacher says, ‘Empathy is.’ It allows you to connect at a different level.”

Connecting on different levels is the core of the work of artist Diana Weymar. In her studio practice, she explores textiles as a memory medium — alone, until Build Peace in 2015, where she facilitated the making of a tapestry on both sides of the Buffer Zone in Nicosia, Cyprus. For Diana, “textile is something that connects us all. We all wear textiles and attribute meaning to them. Embroidering your clothes is like a tattoo.”

In her current project, she invites participants to embroil their thoughts and feelings on a blank page that gets displayed to other participants and communities around the world, before finally coming back to its home community. “It’s an emotional journey, from sitting alone in a chair with a blank page, to have a page travel the world, to places [you’ve] never been,” she emphasized. “The idea that your work will travel is a potential for transformation. You go back to the self [to understand] that what you express will be seen and witnessed by other people.”

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It’s these moments of personal reflection, empathy building, and speaker and audience coming together, that present some of the greatest potential for the healing and transformative power of the arts. But in societies carrying a lot of trauma, there are some very delicate paths to traverse as an art facilitator.

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Diana Weymar

“First thing,” asserted Diana, “let go of the expectations; hold space with others.” The space must start small, and be allowed to grow organically, at the speed the participants are comfortable with. Sometimes difficult things come up at the table. A facilitator needs to know how to handle discomfort. “It’s easy to get people to talk [about the conflict], but it’s hard to let that leave the room without doing damage.”

Mi Sangre has specialized teams to work with trauma, a separate program they work on. In schools, Catalina said, they don’t dig too deep, but are prepared. “We don’t try to open wounds that can’t be left open.” But as facilitators, they aren’t prescriptive in their approach. They practice letting go.

“We’re not necessarily discussing peacebuilding,” Diana noted, “but that’s what it is when people walk into the gallery and see all the work from so many people.” The bottom line, Catalina revealed, is the power of change within each person that art can unlock. “If each of us dare to change one small part of our reality, that is how we are going to succeed in the peace process in Colombia.”

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Key takeaways

— Art and games are important tools in peacebuilding to unpack emotions and express them in constructive ways, that allows both the art maker to understand their emotions and the viewer to develop empathy.

— Personal reflection carries great power for healing and empathy building, but it risks reopening trauma. That can do damage if it leaves the room. Partner with trauma specialists if that is part of the work.

— Art creates shared values — when people view art, it’s not necessarily an overt peacebuilding act, but it brings together many people and helps them agree on one thing for a short period of time.

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Build Up transforms conflict in the digital age. Our approach combines peacebuilding, participation and technology.

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