Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Theory and Practice of Kids' Guernica by Hatto Fischer

Of interest is how Spyros Mercouris responded to the documentary film showing how the 'Blind Boys' made the mural under the guidance and inspiration of Asit Poddar, a long standing member of Kids' Guernica. He was deeply moved and recommended if not the Kids' Guernica exhibition, then at least the film should be shown in every European Capital of Culture.

To date this has not happened, neither in Patras 2006 or in Luxemburg 2007 despite having made an application. It was even discussed for 2010 to have children from Essen, Pecs and Istanbul create together one mural. It could be based on the model of the Izmir-Chios mural. Already in September 2007, that is before the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture', Thomas Economacos went on behalf of Poiein kai Prattein and immediately after the painting of the Izmir-Chios mural to Istanbul to discuss with responsible persons there a possible exhibition. Unfortunately nothing happened despite these praises and recognitions of Kids' Guernica at the ECCM Symposium.

Equally V. Hassemer praised Kids' Guernica for not moving within the usual circus of cultural workers but by staying outside. He added that it shows how to use the potential of culture to go directly to the children.

Interestingly enough Dusan Sidjanski reflected upon the mural from Nepal. That was brought about by a dialogue between children from Katmandu and those from a village located at the foothill of the Himalayan mountains. He thinks this rural dimension or what happens outside of big cities is very important.

The enormous productivity of Picasso is culturally recognized, and he stayed creative by becoming again either a child or he learned from children to trust the spontaneous stroke of the paint brush. In seeing how the work of Picasso is constantly reinforced, it is important to note what Kids' Guernica makes out of this. For Kids' Guernica reinforces the belief of Picasso in the creativity of children. They are much freer than adults to express their own imagination. That becomes apparent in how free they are to express simple wishes and give again peace a chance to exist not merely in a dream world, but one they can create out of friendship. The latter is symbolized by kids holding hands and looking together into a peaceful landscape as the case with the mural from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Freedom and culture not only go together, but they can contribute to a new kind of 'Productivity of Diplomacy'. As explained by Guy Feaux de la Croix, that should be included in all peace keeping and conflict resolvement mechanisms. For that to happen, it must include in future those children who through the Kids' Guernica experiences grow up with different solutions in mind. Working together after having entered a collaborative learning process does not depend upon hierarchy but on the extent to which the adults trust the children to go ahead in their lives and to do the right things. Often it is more the fear of adults that children could do something wrong that impedes freedom of expression and thereby the development of the child.

Dusan Sidjanski referred as well to Piaget's studies of how abstract thinking develops. An immediate understanding of what is meant by this, it can be gained by looking at the mural painted by the children of the 108th Municipal School of Athens under the coordination of Thomas Economacos. As a first act he told them to go abstract, in order to clear their minds. Too many children are not only stuffed by all sorts of objects, plastic toys, but by all kinds of imagines as to what the child should do to please the onlookers. A child as entertainer to take away the pain and the worries of the adults, that does not fit with the need of children for spaces of resonances and for chances by which they can experience inner recognition as corresponding with their outer world. It is crucial that they learn how to play and to work together with others. Naturally this does not mean an outright rejection of the approach Piaget took but if taken exclusively as model on how cognitive development should bring about the rational thinking indeed universal human being, then some modification is needed of Piaget's thesis prior to being applicable in the 21st century. Otherwise he can be brought into correspondence with Hegel (Thomas Kesselring) as if just another totalitarian theory. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that Piaget entered an important dialogue about language with Noam Chomsky in their famous meeting in Paris.

If solutions evolve out of direct dialogues which free most importantly the minds from the fear to speak up in public, then Kids' Guernica can be understood in precisely that way. Since Kids' Guernica actions require that the participating children explain something to the adults or during an exhibition opening to a wider audience what experiences they just went through, then they acquire that important skill of public speaking. Shyness needs to be overcome, if a child is to take the stage and speaks into the microphone, and this without being distracted by others. That is crucial for any peace making effort. Since public speaking takes place in the domain of the public realm, it will show how far the imagination can reach and beyond, in order to call for a continuity of the actions  which have just began e.g. a dialogue with other children as did the youth from Chios and the students and pupils from Izmir. In so doing, they will know from now on what is possible, but also who is willing to support their efforts, who not.

For instance, Kids' Guernica was attacked in Chios by the Communist Newspaper which took the cue of 'war and peace' as exemplified by Picasso's Guernica to remind of the great suffrage of the Soviet Union when faced by first the onslaught of bad Capitalism in the thirties and then in the Great War by Hitler's forces. The paper claimed Kids' Guernica does not honor that and therefore desorientates children. It is, therefore, crucial not to be desorientated by such ideological remarks as it is also an important lesson that moral positions cannot be easily ascertained and be understood by everyone. It takes time and patience but also a certain persistence to validate another approach to peace in a world marked by permanent war.

A real dialogue can strenghten convictions of those favoring non violent actions. It can also prompt everyone to act in time when it comes to disarm those willing to resort to violent means rather than to dialogue. As Brendan Kennelly would put it, 'most difficult is to unlearn learned hatred'. As Irish poet he knows what he is talking about. His Cromwell poems attest to that.

As said already this idea of strengthening peace keeping and conflict prevention through a 'productivity of culture' was discussed at the Symposium by Guy Feaux de la Croix. He did so in the session devoted to dialogue between cultures. Naturally such thoughts can end up in many queries e.g. whether or not culture can contribute to peace or else may be as well a source of conflict and war. Yet that would have to include religion and a much further going analysis as to the causes of war. Here Karl Erik Norrman, General Secretary of the European Parliament of Culture, made some sober reflections in view of what he considers the war with Iraq to be, namely the worst mistake made by Europeans since Second World War.

Michael D. Higgins made the comment how little the European discourse names real issues as if there is a defect amongst the intellectuals and therefore language is devoid of substantial meaning when upholding the sovereignty of a national border but at the prize of staying silent about all the Human Rights abuses e.g. how the European Union is treating Israel, the Hamas and the Palestinian question. Michael D. Higgins' outrage and equally despair as to the state of affairs within the European Union could be felt throughout this Symposium.

Since 2007 Kids' Guernica has developed further world wide. Since 2010 means the 15th anniversary of the existence of Kids' Guernica, this special year has been marked by holding workshops, symposiums and exhibitions in Nagasaki (Japan), Tallahassee (Florida, USA), Martinique, Rumania, Ohio (USA), Bali, Berlin, Paris, Gezoncourt by Nancy (France) and in Ghent (Belgium).

In the meantime, the entry of universities and museums help to fulfill the infrastructural requirements for further going reflections by adding new capacities to do both evaluation and research. This includes research undertaken in the field of art education but also in political studies.

Most significant is here the work by Prof. Pia Kleber and Prof. Stephan Clarkson at the University of Toronto. They give a course on the question, whether or not culture can alter the security agenda. That can entail asking the question whether or not Kids' Guernica can and does contribute to diffusing reasons for war and strengthening at the same time efforts to make peace possible.

Insofar as the wars both in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unresolved with civilian casualties rising steadily, and this despite the pledge by President Barack Obama to withdraw troops according to a set schedule, the conditions for a culture free from the burden of war need to be understand and created. Without such critical self understanding in cultural terms is impossible to know and to realize as Brendan Kennelly would put it the betrayal of the dreams one still had as a child, namely a world without war.

Kids' Guernica needs to take up what Guy Feaux de la Croix outlined as his concept of a 'productivity of diplomacy' at the ECCM Symposium and reinforce in a much more vigorous sense its concept of a bottom-up kind of diplomacy to further international understanding based on openness, trust and friendship.

The deeper implication of Kids' Guernica in cultural terms is that the art expression is no longer that of a single artist, but a result of a collaborative learning process with many working together to give shape to what expresses best at the time the dilemma faced by all people in a world marked by a schizophrenia of war and peace with bombs going off in a Palestinian refuge campe while just around the corner young people listen to music at their favorite disco after having been just surfing. That is an avid description of Iman Mourad whose work with Kids' Guernica in Lebanon has been truly outstanding.

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