Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

A reflection of Kids' Guernica Actions by Hatto Fischer

- an introduction of the Kids' Guernica exhibition to participants of the ECCM Symposium ‘Productivity of Culture

Hatto Fischer           Photo: Kostas Kartelias

This ECCM Symposium about ‘Productivity of Culture’ is a special one because it includes an exhibition of Kids’ Guernica murals from all over the world as well a special session to reflect experiences made so far by coordinators of Kids’ Guernica actions.

A main focus of the Symposium is on how responsive are European Capitals of Culture to the global challenges to culture? In the various sessions were, therefore, discussed cultural policy, role of culture, dialogue between cultures, cultural planning and above all the relationship between culture and economy. Yet the term ‘global culture’ was not referred to as European thought tends to get stuck in efforts to mainstream culture and therefore risks to leave out cultural differences as much as the need to feed the common stream of humanity. All the more important is then to see through Kids’ Guernica actions how this can enable people and their societies to understand children who have to grow up in such a world challenged from all sides, including the global one.

We know all these challenges are intensified by a lack of education but not only. Limitations are put to the development of a child more often out of a lack of experience on how the arts can teach best the use of the imagination. It goes without saying learning by experience is more than just a formal educational process. As violent behavior by children and youth but also over-demanded teachers exemplifies, the very absence of informal learning processes leaves too many children without opportunities to learn to play and to work together by themselves, that is free of intervention by adults. Thus the value of Kids’ Guernica resides in the fact that it lets children and youth learn in time how to enter a collaborative learning process and by which they can experience that they are able to bring about something together.

Also special needs of children are hardly recognized by society. Here alone the Blind Boys’ Guernica mural tells a moving story. They take us into a world beyond visual images and remind us that the term ‘peace’ should also be one which can be felt, heard, tasted, touched and thus even if not directly to be seen, then at least to be sensed. The action by the blind boys does add an extra quality to our understanding of the word ‘peace’ and can be extended by taking up the epistemological implications when blind people speak about peace in the world. Already the blind boys are asking Asit Poddar why war is always so closely related with religion? This amazing achievement by Asit Poddar and the boys of the Blind Boys’ Academy in Kolkata, India should be recognized by all.

The development of a child can be related to what children learn from an early age on. The philosopher Bart Verschaffel considers it to be crucial that children can through own experience learn to appreciate the value and importance of public space and public truth. The two are interrelated. They can do so by doing things together in public as the case with Kids’ Guernica when they paint together these murals. Such experiences can be linked to the fact that upholding peace requires above all a freedom to articulate at the level of the imagination truths in public. If children do not learn to do that at an early age, they will grow ever more silent till they no longer participate in public life, itself a sign whether there prevails an active culture allowing all to participate or if people are silenced by their own fears of what power might do to them. Too often, fatal decisions were made in history because no one listened to the voice of reason. That is because many a times no one found the courage to speak out the truth in public and before it is too late.

Indeed, without carrying these messages into public spaces by means of such exhibitions as here at the Zappeion, Athens, the adults of the future would not learn to be open to each other and to base their future on friendship and trust. All human communities need to see and be touched by these Kids’ Guernica murals. They contain vital cultural truths. Vice versa, stories must be truthful, if these murals are to remind how peace looks like, namely bright and filled with colors like life itself. However, techniques of propaganda can only be avoided if these utopias of peace are painted without forgetting that there is this dark side of war. Human reality demands of children and all adults to come to terms with both aspects. That is best shown by the murals from Kabul, Afghanistan or from Tripoli, Lebanon with a real description of reality being according to Iman Nouri from Lebanon that we all live in a ‘schizophrenia of peace’. It is possible to have on the one side a youth returning from surfing to join others at a music bar while a few streets further down the street bombs go off since the refuge camp of the Palestinians in Lebanon has come under attack.

The purpose of linking the ECCM symposium ‘Productivity of Culture’ with experiences made within Kids’ Guernica is to bring about reflections, even new theories about networking, intercultural dialogue (e.g. the Izmir-Chios mural), cultural programs (to be proposed to future European Capitals of Culture) etc. and this from an angle as to what children in the world can say to all of this.

Kids’ Guernica started in Japan, in 1995, fifty years after the end of the war. Unforgettable is in this context the mural from Nagasaki whose title says it all: “Re-building the City after the Bomb!”  Since 1995 many Kids’ Guernica actions have taken place throughout the world. This exhibition at the Zappeion is the third one in Greece after Kastelli (Crete) in 2006 and in Chios in May 2007. They all lead to new experiences as demonstrated by the presentations of the coordinators responsible for the various actions. That it requires a special kind of networking, shall be outlined in the end by Takuya Kaneda, the international coordinator of Kids’ Guernica.

Kids’ Guernica Murals

The murals of Kids’ Guernica are collective works of art. Their commonality is that all have the same size as Picasso’s Guernica, namely they are all huge canvas of the size 7,8 by 3,5 m. The murals are brought about by children and youth entering a collaborative learning process. Not the individual genius dominates, but a group of children learn to share their experiences when painting a mural on the subject of peace. Every group has its own story to tell with regards to this main theme of ‘war and peace’. These murals can show how to find in this world a trustworthy path to peace.

One objective of these murals has been outlined by Takuya Kaneda, the international coordinator of Kids’ Guernica. He wishes that the murals help adults to become like children again. He means it in the sense that adults no longer block things off in their minds, but instead become free in the imagination. The imagination is considered to be crucial for any peace process as it facilitates intercultural dialogue based above all on empathy for others. This includes being open to understand the others in their fears and problems.

As this relates especially to the session of the symposium dealing with ‘dialogue between cultures’, it would be important for this ongoing work by Kids’ Guernica to heed what Prof. Kacem from Tunesia stresses. He fears that in this world of ever greater misunderstandings between cultures that there is at risk that all cultural tributes feeding the stream of humanity are drying out. If so, we face a world wide cultural crisis. We need to overcome that tremendous lack of mutual understanding within this global world. Linked to that is the stigmatization of immigrants and stereotypical thinking about others. To overcome that is admittedly a huge task, but if adults join the children in this imaginative search for peace, then it can start a process capable of resolving conflicts in regions like the Middle East. Already the Chios-Izmir mural which brought together Greek and Turkish children can show a way to promote intercultural dialogue by simply painting together. As Deniz Hasirci would emphasize to those children and youth which participated without knowing each other languages, they discovered that paints themselves can become their common language.

Moreover, as the presence of Bernard Conlon shows, we stand to learn at lot from the already started peace process in Belfast. He is convinced that a Kids’ Guernica action in Belfast could strengthen prospects for the two communities coming together. Hence by investing in the future through such Kids’ Guernica actions, it shows also where further actions should take place.

Always the peace process has to be realized through dialogue. This means not only painting these murals, but to involve everyone in this collaborative learning process. Crucial is what sets the tone right from the start. That can include many other things besides painting. For instance, Thomas Economacos loves to initiate such games which allow the children to discover how less aggressive questioning methods can be shaped by themselves. By learning how to integrate each other’s ideas, they make space for each other. It is a kind of accommodation but one taking place emotionally and mentally before anything of that can become visible on the canvas and in real life. In the action with children of the 108th Municipal School of Athens, Thomas Economacos introduced an even more innovative method by asking the children to abstract from their surroundings. It was a method by which he asked them ‘to clear up first of all their own minds’. They are usually clogged by all sorts of things if not by all kinds of images they see on television or in video games, then in their immediate surroundings over filled with all sorts of consumer items. Yet to reach a beautiful spot in life, children must learn to go through this ‘power of abstraction’ before they can become concrete i.e. let out their wishes for peace. By engaging adults this process can become fruitful indeed and when they do everything seems to tumble out but this time it is not chaos but a beautiful disarray with space for everyone and everything. That disarray is another ‘order of things’ not dependent upon harmony or some literal truth, but on what it means to be open for the future by giving also a positive chance to the unexpected.

The experiences of Kids’ Guernica include all what is to be learned whenever one works with the children. As these murals show, they never cease to surprise one with their rich imagination and sense for reality. Behind all these actions which brought about these murals, there are unique stories to tell. These stories provide insights into the lived realities of these children but also what took place as the mural changed shape, form, outlay and composition as they started to respond to each other or what the others did on the canvas. Always these murals surprise them as well because none of them could have imagined such an outcome. Their painted wishes often reflect numerous discussions which accompanied the painting process e.g. why on the first day of the Chios-Imir mural there were so many Greek and Turkish flags appearing and this lead on the second to their disappearance as they became aware of their commonalities and not so much in need to give emphasis to their national differences. As this common understanding adds to the meaning of peace, it may mean as well something the poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke loves to say, namely that life is always greater than what we human beings can imagine. A response to that is to show respect for life and this goes without saying that it can be best expressed by being free in the imagination to show what we wish and know of human reality.

Among the peace murals to be exhibited at the Zappion – Megaron, Athens in conjunction with the ECCM Symposium “Productivity of Culture”, there shall be shown murals containing peace messages from children living in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Dubai, Georgia, Australia, Chicago/USA, Martinique, India, New Zealand, Japan, Turkey and Greece.

Picasso’s Guernica and Kids’ Guernica

Picasso's Guernica was painted after the bombing of Guernica in 1937. Kids’ Guernica ensures that the link of that painting to the present is not missed out. Wars leading to bombing of innocent civilians have continued since Guernica. Consequently many more people and especially children are traumatized by war. This is because we have seen and experienced since 1945 how entire cities like Baghdad in 2003 have been silenced by bombs and rockets raining down upon innocent civilians.

Picasso set an important tone when he painted Guernica. As expression of human pain, it does not fit into one or the other political category. Human pain comes from within and cannot be expressed by simple political images or symbols. Only children seem able to enter seriously a peace process as they are still trust the others and do not need an enemy picture to justify their actions. They are free to go with their imagination into the future.

Kids' Guernica network

In turn, coordinators who have been behind these actions shall reflect what they have learned from these children. Crucial is that experiences made go a long way to make things possible in a peaceful way.

Most crucial is what Takuya Kaneda, international coordinator of Kids' Guernica in Japan, expresses about his linkage and commitment to Kids' Guernica:

"We, adults, are likely to lose our power of imagination when we see this world, which is full of violence and terror. Since I got involved in this Kids’ Guernica project, participant children’s imagination expressed in their peace paintings is always giving me a hope for the future. Imagination is the source of creative arts and has always enriched cultures. My ten-year experience of this project taught me that collaboration is very necessary to make their imaginative visions realities. The collaboration includes not only ‘among children’ but also ‘between children and adults’ and ‘among children and adults from different cultures.’"

Thus Kids' Guernica does emphasize the importance of imagination and collaboration in the process of this project.

Takuya Kaneda at ECCM Symposium and Kids' Guernica Exhibition 2007

Hatto Fischer
POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN („to create and to do“)

Lycabettusstr. 23
Athens 10672

Phone: ++30 210 36 17 792

Mobile: 003 0 697 45 39 333

e-mail: hattofischer(at)poieinkaiprattein.org


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