We've just returned from Woodstock, NY after the opening of our first ArtsAction Group exhibition in the US. We had lots of folks coming through the gallery, viewing the work, and asking questions about our work. On exhibition were several large scale body maps created by children and youth from Kosovo and the Brentwood Residential Center (which is a facility for girls involved in the juvenile justice system). We also had photographs documenting 6 years of our work, in Kosovo and last year's projects in the Western Sahrawi refugee camps, as well as a viewing of a film illustrating our work in both of these communities, as well as animations created at Fellbach-Haus this past spring.
A special thanks to Beth Humphrey, artist and arts educator, who facilitated this installation. We look forward to growing the partnership with students and teachers in that region of NY State as well as connecting them, through the arts, to the Kosovar and Western Sahrawi communities.
Just back from presenting our Kosovo work at the Art, Peace and Conflict Conference at the Desmond Tutu Centre at Hope University in Liverpool, UK. People from around the world presented their work linked to arts, peace and conflict.
Our presentation, currently a working paper, covers our work in Kosovo spanning 1997 through the present. The work encompasses both community and grassroots-based fieldwork, as well as theoretical framing to illustrate how youth in specific communities, both rural and urban, processed their experiences during and after the protracted conflict and war whilst participating in arts programmes. The visual and performing arts projects were/are enacted across formal and non-formal venues such as refugee camps, community centres, museums, public schools, and cultural centres.
The paper discusses how the arts are utilised within four specific identity-based phases:
1. Existential-Conflict in medias res (≥ 1990s) - survival, basic psychosocial responses;
2. Processing and Healing (post-war July 1999) – transitions between trauma, uncertainty, nostalgia;
3. Freedom (immediate post-declaration of independence in February 2008) – dynamics in collective validation and esteem;
4. State building and community building (2008 and beyond) – transitions from euphoria to ambiguity and fear.
The entire event was uplifting, inspiring and a testimony to the power of the arts as a tool for healing and transformation. Stay tuned for more information and links to the individuals and organizations that presented over the 3-day event as well as to our final paper.
We are directing people's attention to an article by Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan-American writer and researcher. She recounts her experiences going to what the Western Sahrawis refer to as the Wall of Shame - a militarized sand berm built and guarded by the Moroccan military - during her visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps to attend the FiSahara, an international film festival. The sand wall is approximately 2,700 km long and is heavily mined. Thanks to Sandblast for sharing Part 1 of Errazzouki's story which can be found at Jadaliyya, an independent ezine produced by ASI (Arab Studies Institute), the umbrella organization that produces Arab Studies Journal, Tadween Publishing, FAMA, and Quilting Point..
ArtsAction Group joins global campaign calling for culture to be included in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
"We believe that culture is both a driver and enabler of sustainable development and that the explicit inclusion of targets and indicators for culture in the Sustainable Development Goals will enable transformative change."
We have returned from working with our friends and colleagues at the community center Fellbach-Haus in Suhareka, Kosovo. This was our fifth year of co-creating another week of workshops that included body maps and another deeper look into stop-motion animation.
The Body Map project began in the USA with students from Adelphi University creating their life-size hybrid body map artworks using the content of individual "I Am Poems" or responding to the prompt "Outside my window I see..." as well as collective art/mark making. Each group of 3-4 students was charged with finding a way to work together and to come up with a hybrid person that represented, collectively, each member of the team. This project is loosely based on the body maps projects that come out of countries such as South Africa and Tanzania.
At Fellbach-Haus, the Adelphi body maps were shared as a way of sending greetings from the US students to the Kosovar students as well as a means of illustrating how the children and youth at Fellbach-Haus could go about creating their work. For this project the figure or body is the canvas upon which the group of students collectively shares their ideas, hopes, questions and dreams for the themselves and for an outside audience. This kind of artmaking asks students to consider the lives of others near and far away (US/Kosovo), engage in team work and collective decision making, as well as persistence and commitment in completing the work within a specific time frame. As one student put it, after viewing the final piece, "I've never felt so big before!"
The stop-motion animation work this year was titled Open Stories. For this project youth responded to the prompt "Outside my window I see..." or they interviewed adult family members about their actions and experiences during the Kosovo War. We viewed the work of artist William Kentridge and discussed his use of drawing as a medium as well as how he used the social and political realities of his country's conflict to inform his content. The student animations are an interpretation of other people's experiences during the war or a commentary on contemporary social issues facing the country today. As a final point, it's important to note that all of this work including the curating and final exhibition, takes place over a 5 day period. Pretty impressive.
Brief video showing students' working on body maps as well as final stop-motion animations.
A member of ArtsAction Group attended the Aspen Institute's "Policies for the Growing Refugee Crisis in the Levant" in Washington DC this week. According to UNHCR, the number of Syrian refugees has surpassed 2 million, with Lebanon receiving the lion’s share, followed by Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. Government and UN officials and experts on forced migration and humanitarian relief discussed the context and implications of the growing Syrian refugee crisis. Speakers included:
ArtsAction Group is a signatory to statement of support for education in emergencies for Syrian refugees
Part of the Education Cannot Wait Campaign
Statement of support for education in emergencies for Syrian refugees:
Education Cannot Wait
We call on the international community to support education for all Syrian children who are displaced or refugees due to the crisis.
As part of a full-scale regional education response, we specifically call for the full financing of education for the largest population of Syrian refugees in Lebanon through a UN plan endorsed by the Government of Lebanon and the Secretary-General of the United Nations by funding the global humanitarian appeal RRP 6.
By funding this plan, we will show it is possible to get children into school during an emergency and continue with the full-scale regional and global responses for education in emergencies because Education Cannot Wait.
Artist Federico Guzmán' Participates in the The International Biennial of Contemporary Art Foundation of Cartagena de Indias: #1 Cartagena
By Cindy Maguire
Federico is one of our partners in art and social justice work! We met Fico through his collaborative work with the Western Sahrawi refugee camp communities in SW Algeria. We also team up with him through our arts and human rights courses at Adelphi University. His work in #1 Cartagena is a beautiful reflection of his artistic talent and commitment to justice.
#1: Cartagena is an issue-oriented project with works spread throughout the historic district. #1: Cartagena reflects on the cultural traditions of the people, the history and the deep connections to the colonial past, as well as encompassing literature, cinema, music, dance and crafts. The Biennial focuses on the idea of presence in its multitude of meanings, conveying how the past continues with us in the present.
by Debbie Newman
Anyone who's had the privilege of visiting/experiencing Kosovo will appreciate the contagious spirit of reinvention that exists throughout this rapidly transforming nation. Working hard to establish their national and cultural identity and gain global acceptance, the Kosovar people have fought hard to sever ties with Serbia -- from whom they sought independence in 2008 -- and gain recognition as a country in their own right. And while Kosovo still faces an uphill battle (they have yet to be embraced by the United Nations or the European Union), they took a key step towards asserting their autonomy this week by embracing the power of social media.
According to yesterday's New York Times, Kosovo has already managed to carve out a new identity for itself in the digital realm. As the NYT reports, Kosovar citizens recently joined forces with members of U.S. Congress in petitioning Facebook to update their geopolitical tags. Even better? They actually succeeded. As a result of their digital media campaign, Facebook has agreed to acknowledge Kosovo's emergence as a sovereign nation by recognizing its place on the world map. (Previously, residents and visitors to the region who wished to promote their geographic whereabouts online were forced to register/identify with Serbia.)
And while this may, perhaps, seem like only a minor victory, it's important to consider the influence Facebook wields in shaping our global perceptions (and, seemingly, our modern news cycle). For a country like Kosovo -- young, resilient, passionate, determined -- the chance to air their history and struggle for acceptance on a global stage is already cause for celebration. That the rest of the world is finally taking notice of (and reacting to) their predicament may be seen as a beacon of hope. And, perhaps, a harbinger of more happy news to come.
Enas Elmohands, member of Arts Action Group, teaches students at Calhoun High School on Long Island, NY about the Moroccan government's occupation of the Western Sahara and the consequential refugee situation in Algeria. Calhoun High School has dedicated programming addressing human rights issues. Enas worked with Adelphi faculty member Diana Feige on this project.
Enas and another Adelphi student, Tyra Busigo presented to small groups of students on different pressing human rights abuses, including human trafficking and what's going on in the Western Sahara. In Enas's group a range of issues were covered including the history, geography, human rights violations, as well as the role of women in the camps. It's news to most people that women and men have equal rights and women take on leadership roles across the camps and in the diaspora. The role of arts and culture to push back against the human rights abuses was illustrated through the work of the ARTifariti festival. Early in the conflict between the Moroccan government and Western Sahrawi community, violent protests were the norm. Over time, the community has moved away from violent protests to working with arts and culture as a 'weapon' to fight the oppression as well as to raise global consciousness regarding this situation. The culminating activity was for each student group to share their human rights issue with their peers as well as to find some way of taking action in support of human rights for Western Sahara.
Finding ways of fostering human rights for all is a multifaceted endeavor, both large and small. Engaging youth in these issues is critical to imagining future worlds with less discrimination and more opportunities.
ArtsAction Group has just returned from Camp Boujdour, Western Sahara as participants in ARTifariti: International Art Encounters in the Western Sahara. Members who traveled to Camp Boujdour, about an hour outside of Tindouf, Algeria, were Enas Elmohands, Emma Exley, Cindy Maguire and Rob McCallum. The focus of ARTifariti 2013 was the creation of the Sahrawi Art School located in Camp Boujdour, in the Sahrawi refugee camps. The new school is "an open and participative learning space for the Sahrawi community in the camps." and works with an understanding of the arts as a form of personal expression, resistance and transformation in response to the human rights abuses by the Moroccan government in the occupied zones. ArtsAction Group is a signatory on a manifesto that outlines a range of supports we and other universities and cultural organizations from around the world will provide in solidarity with the community.
As part of the festival we introduced PackH2o, an innovative solution to water transportation and storage that relieves physical burden and protects against contamination. The Ministry of Water and Environments of *SADR with the support of ArtsAction Group and PackH2o, are conducting a needs assessment for a future roll out. Two of the packs were silkscreened by Sahara Libre Wear and featured in the ARTifariti fashion show!
ArtsAction Group held two arts workshops for children at the local primary school. The first workshop was for the students' to share their stories about water through drawings and a large scale collaborative mural. We shared a water story mural created by a group of students from the Allen-Stevenson School in New York City with the Sahrawi students. In this part of the world water, as one student put it, is the gift of life, as problems with access and quality are a ongoing and growing concern for the camps. For the second workshop balloons were introduced as a medium for creating sculptural headdresses. One of our aims was to introduce the students to art making with non-traditional materials, incorporating skill-building activities through directed play. After much laughter, experimentation and popping of too many balloons the group came up with beautiful, fanciful head dresses. Children were spotted wearing their headdresses throughout the camp center later that evening.
We are deeply moved by the experience and the hospitality extended by ARTifariti and the entire Sahrawi community. More updates and sharing of the project will be forthcoming! Stay tuned.
*ARTifariti is a project of the Ministry of Culture of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic SADR and the Association of Friendship with the Saharawi people of Seville AAPSS.
Artifariti festival - International Art encounters: An excellent video outlining the context of the festival
Two weeks to go before a team heads for the western Sahara. We will be taking 50 packH2O waterpacks with us to roll out at the arts festival. "The PackH2O Water Backpack took home the 2013 People’s Design Award at the National Design Awards gala in New York, Thursday, Oct. 17. Todd Oldham announced the winning design and presented the award to president and CEO of Grief Inc. David Fischer. PackH2O attempts to solve the global clean water crisis by giving people the power to easily transport their own water." www.packh2o.com
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