Children of the World dream and paint about Peace.
The main message of the murals
To contribute to world peace, that is a huge claim. So on what is this claim founded on?
Surely these big murals all painted on a canvas having the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x 3,5 m) will startle anyone when first just wishing to pass by, but then will be gripped by what these murals convey. When a woman was going home after work, she crossed the platia in Chios where all the murals were hanging during an exhibition in 2007. While passing through the exhibition of murals displayed outside, in open air, on the main square, she saw suddenly the mural from Lebanon with the title 'Enough! We want to live." The woman started to cry. Naturally she was conscious of a war having taken place in Lebanon 2006. It entailed a major conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah movement. But something else had gripped her when she saw this mural by now dubbed as the one which keeps on walking.
All these murals can be taken to be big letters not written but painted by children and youth. They convey to the world messages not only about peace, but more importantly how they feel to be growing up in a world more often rivited by violent conflicts, if not outright wae.
These murals need to be understood in a way which is not akin exactly as to how art historian would interpret paintings by Van Gogh or more so in the case of Chios the painting by Delacroix called "The Slaughter of Chios". The latter belongs to this category of man in conflict as portrayed throughout art history.
Delacroix, The slaughter of Chios
It should be noted that these paintings evoke political tensions and conflicts. Lorenz Richter reaccounts in a book edited by Jürgen Mittag about 'The Idea of European Capitals of Culture' that this painting by Delacroix provoked a controversy with Turkey when the Council of Europe wanted to exhibit paintings depicting the history of Europe. (1) Turkey was offended, as if the narrative being told should not be critical of what took place in the past when Greece emancipated itself in 1921 from the Ottoman rulership.
Once it became known that Poiein kai Prattein would organize together with the Prefecture of Chios a Kids' Guernica exhibition in Chios 2007, Takuya Kaneda from Kids' Guernica Japan expressed the wish that a new peace painting would underline the wish to reconcile these past differences and therefore allow for a new and positive relationship between Greece and Turkey. The result was that after the exhibition and start of a new canvas, there was brought about the Izmir-Chios mural stressing intercultural dialogue, and not only that, but the fact that before any other languages there is the language of painting which can create a common bond.
The Izmir-Chios mural of intercultural dialogue
So many times deep historical wounds cannot be overcome. Misgivings, fears, anger, pain prevails over seeking peace with the others. Alone what Germany has gone through since 1945 is an example to be studied since redemption work means to institutionalize friendship with countries who have suffered during Second World War not only the consequences of war, but also as expressed by the Holocaust under terrible hostilities against humanity and every living creature whether man, woman, child, Roma, Jew or intellectual. (2)
Hence the paintings of murals does include the work of redemption. When children return back home and ask their parents and grandparents if they have ever experienced war, then this memory work conveys as well whether a position is adopted like Albert Camus did when writing his letter to the German friends prior to him entering resistance against German occupation or if a white-black moral scheme prevails to uphold an enemy picture made up of stereotypical images of the other e.g. those Germans or these French. A good answer to that is the mural of Gezoncourt since it starts out from a question: "The other: enemy or friend?"
Indeed the peace process starts with children and youth. Once they learn friendship, openness and trust as being the best basis for dialogue, they can envision a world in which peace and not permanent terror has a chance to make things possible.
Dreams and Imagination are needed to give shape to reality -
follow-up to the Chios Declaration of Peace.
Children do not merely dream, they imagine the future as something in which they can realize their dreams.
They see in their present life how adults have problems with themselves and how they live in a world full of imperfections: unemployment, sickness, war, destruction of nature and especially lack of human warmth. Children take up these problems but add their dreams and imagination to overcome such obstacles as they feel being responsible for everything.
There are children who have suffered under all kinds of abuse, physically, emotionally and mentally. They need to protect themselves differently from others but step first of all out of a silence which imprisons them. As victims of abuse they live in self denial and therefore beyond any human reality. Moreover they are victims of a conspiracy of silence which adults and the world throws like a dark cloak over them. The wish to destroy the innocence of children is linked to the fear that these imaginary witnesses will speak out one day as to what really took place. Thus the appeal to adults not to destroy the innocence of children and to let them express themselves freely in their imagination.
The philosopher Adorno speaks about conveying everything to the imaginary witness as a way to pass on the demand for truth and a truthful life in future. Painful experiences have been made during the Holocaust of Second World War; other, equally terrible atrocities in other wars and violent conflicts have led to abuse of children. The abuse of power relates directly to the abuse of children. Something manifests itself in such acts but only by going through these painful experiences traumas can be overcome. For that is needed the courage to speak out, not to remain silent. The best testimonies are art works through which children express their imagination. All of them express the wish not to be hurt by others nor to be exposed to violence and war.
In brief, by bringing together these messages of peace painted by children and documented by video, the Kids' Guernica exhibition will show how children uphold human dignity despite all odds working against them.
Kids' Guernica movement - 2005 - 2010
The Kids’ Guernica movement extents formal art education by initiating bottom-up actions based on collaborative work as part of informal learning processes. Chios will be a place to reflect upon such informal learning processes and to look at the results i.e. what messages children are sending into the future through such works.
The paintings are all brought about by local action and through special Kids' Guernica workshops. Since bringing about such huge paintings (7,8 x 3,5 m as the original size of Picasso's Guernica) is a process, Kids’ Guernica means putting emphasis as well on how the children arrived at that particular painting. Most important are the questions children have when learning how to resolve conflicts with other(s) and in the world. Often life is perceived only as a struggle requiring soldier like qualities such as being fearless in the face of death but peace requires quite another strength and courage in order to be fair and just in all fields of society. More over the world needs to be confronted not with prejudice or hatred but with the full trust in the imagination so as to be able to question reality how it is while not subcumbing to cynicism as if there are no solutions. For this is needed self confidence but also trust in other people. It is when children can give their own meaning to growing up in such world, then they are free to mature into full responsibilities for what they going to do now but more so later in their lives.
POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN worked closely together with the International Kids' Guernica Committee with Takuya Kaneda as coordinator. Several priorities were upheld during that initial phase when collaboration seemed still possible. The strong point were:
- to continue the story of Kids’ Guernica with special focus on Lebanon for Chios May 2007
- to draw attention to children with special needs e.g. in Chios will be shown two peace murals from India, one done by blind children, the other by children with special needs
- to further art education not only inside but equally outside of schools as children need in this modern world a different environment if they are to grow up in a healthy manner
- to work towards the Chios Declaration of Peace as part of the preparation for the Kids' Guernica exhibition in Athens, October 2007 in conjunction with the Symposium "Productivity of Culture" organized by the Network of European Cultural Capital Cities at the Zappion Megaron
From Kids' Guernica to Guernica Youth
By 2012 it became apparent what was already a first impression in Kastelli 2006, namely that something is amiss when the murals are painted by children and youth, but when it comes to the exhibitions, then only the adults (coordinators) show up. Also many issues remained as more and more challenges to the basic concept were left unanswered.
Any movement has to face various issues, but crucial is that murals are painted by children and youth, and not by adults. Or if done with the help of adults, these interventions should facilitate rather than limit and restrict the expressions of the children and youth.
Moreover the movement cannot be merely about painting beautiful pictures since the challenges of war and related behaviours are too serious and huge to be ignored. The relation of these murals to a world depicted by global newscasters as filled with breaking news whenever another bomb goes off somewhere, that has to be analysed and interpreted in time to respond with thought through measures in education and in all institutions influencing the socialization of children and youth. Growing up in this world is no easy task. Especially the youth feels to be under too much pressure. There seems to be more fear of making mistakes rather than given the freedom to make them in order to learn out of them.
The murals themselves offer a reflective and therefore evaluative framework as far as respect for the freedom of expression goes and what children and youth themselves can develop under any given circumstance.
1. Lorenz Richter (2008) "Die Kunstausstellungen des Europarats" in: Die Idee der Kulturhauptstadt Europas. Herausgeber: Jürgen Mittag. Essen: Klartext. p. 19 - 54
Note: see specal mentioning of Delacroix's painting on page 49
2. The term 'institutionalization of friendship' is taken from the book by Lily Gardner Feldman (2012). Germany's Foreign Policy of Reconciliation - from enmity to amity. Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield Publisher.