Art in war: Creativity as resilience

An artistic showcase hosted by Dal's CFPS

- October 11, 2012

Ian Keteku performs a poem at the Resilience Through the Arts event. (Nichelle Hubley photo)
Ian Keteku performs a poem at the Resilience Through the Arts event. (Nichelle Hubley photo)

In war-torn countries, something as simple as a song, drawing or poem can help keep human spirit alive.

Last month, that spirit was celebrated at Resilience Through the Arts, an event held on Friday, Sept. 28 at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax. Dal’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies (CFPS), in collaboration with the Child Soldiers Initiative and the Resilience Research Project, all at Dalhousie University, hosted the event as part of a two-day workshop focusing on the challenges of civilian self-protection in violence-stricken areas of the world.

“Artistic expressions and performances help to keep communities together that are torn apart by violence” said Carla Suarez, Dal’s Trudeau Scholar with the CFPS and the driving force behind the idea for the event. It included art exhibits, poetry reading, spoken word and presentations about the role of arts in surviving violence, attracted more than 90 attendees including artists, activists and students.

Slam poetry, breakdancing and more

Third-year student Rebecca Reisman attended the event because of renowned Ian Keteku, the 2010 World Slam Poetry Champion.

“Sometimes the first step in changing our actions is changing the way that we think about words,” said Keteku to the crowd. His poems, with topics ranging from the love of his life (his laptop) to the journalistic work he did in Africa, had the audience snapping, clapping, laughing and crying during his performance.

Presenter Lindsey McClain Opiyo explained how breakdancing helps youth in Northern Uganda communicate political messages to the community. The Break Dance Project kept young people occupied as they practiced a few days a week at the youth centre.

“Art provides platforms for conflict survivors to add their voices to the debate, to express their visions for what the future should be like,” Opiyo said during her visual presentation showcasing how art is used as a tool for peace-building.

Art as a thermometer

Grace Acan, co-founder of the Women’s Advocacy Network, shared a poem capturing what it was like to survive as a young girl in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. She was abducted in 1996 by the notorious rebel group. The poem was an example of how storytelling helped to unite women, and will be part of her forthcoming book called Stories from the Dry Season.

“We wanted to speak out against the injustices that happened to us, we want justice, we want apology, we want reparations, we need it to end,” said Acan, explaining her motivations in founding the network, which boasts more than 200 members.

Tracy September, a South African cultural activist, offered her perspective on the functional purpose of art and music in her country. She provided the audience with examples of how music and art are used for resistance and protest during and after the apartheid.

“Art is like a thermometer that measures the resilience and soul of the people,” she said. Artwork produced by youth living in conflict was on display as part of the art exhibition by the Children/Youth as Peacebuilders (CAP). Linda Dale, founder of the CAP, uses art as a tool of therapy for youth in countries affected by war.

Suarez was excited by the variety of perspectives that came through at the event.

“This event demonstrates the importance of having a multidisciplinary approach to understanding complex topics, like civilian self-protection during violence,” she said.


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