Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

East-West: two sources of meaning for Kids' Guernica

From where Kids' Guernica derives its meaning – towards a first painting action

There are two key sources from which Kids’ Guernica derives its original meaning. Therefore, it is proper to speak about Kids' Guernica deriving its meaning from both Japanese and European roots. While Kids’ Guernica was started in Japan fifty years after the end of Second World War, there is naturally that key reference in the term ‘Guernica’ and the fact that all the canvases on which children paint are of the same size as Picasso’s Guernica (7,8 x 3,5m). That raises then the interesting question whether a cultural synthesis in the making of both a Western and an Eastern approach to the art of making peace can be seen as the philosophy behind Kids’ Guernica?

Entrance to Picasso's atelier in Paris on St. Augustin

View from the window of the atelier

What strikes one at first glance is that Kids’ Guernica reminds one immediately of Picasso’s Guernica which he painted in Paris Mai – June 1937. He did so in response to the bombardment of Guernica. Since then Guernica as a mural has become one of the most acknowledged paintings. It is both an artistic and political statement about human pain and war. Today this mural by Picasso is definitely ingrained not only in the minds of common people, but also in that of politicians, including Franco. Picasso refused to give permission for the painting to go to Spain as long as Franco was in power.

The similarities between Picasso and the children are striking because both use a language of painting which does not incite hatred by painting enemy pictures. Children know too well how fanaticism can easily lead to blind hatred. Intuitively they realize before anything else what Brendan Kennelly attests, namely that "learned hatred is the most difficult to unlearn." Rather than following that path to make the world look only meek and horrible, children show how butterflies dare to brighten up a sky otherwise known to be merely grey.

In terms of undertaking such a collaborative learning process with children and youth in order to paint such a mural, the process is very simple. On the international website www.kids-guernica.org, there is clearly written the simple instruction as follows:


Information on international website when someone wishes to undertake a kids’ guernica action




"Participation is very simple. No formal application is necessary.

1. Prepare a Guernica size canvas (3.5 m x 7.8 m).*

2. Discuss what “peace” is.

3. Create a peace painting on the Guernica size canvas.

4. Send digital images of your workshop and completed painting to this website.

* Not only a Guernica size painting but also a huge wood cut print on peace was already made in a workshop. You may create a new type of Guernica size art such as peace embroidery, peace patchwork, peace silk screen print, and so on.

If you want to participate in Kids’ Guernica exhibitions, you may send your peace art to the exhibition organizer at your own expense. The information of upcoming exhibitions is available in this website.

Contact kguernica@aol.com for more information."

Crucial in this process is that once the children have entered such a 'collaborative learning process' entailed in painting together on such a huge canvas, that the adults involved should let the children decide by themselves what they wish to paint. Adults should merely act as facilitators. That is all the more important insofar as two things can be said about the role of adults in the painting process.

For one, Picasso himself attempted to paint like a child in order to regain this freedom of the imagination. Hence it would be counterproductive if adults would force upon children their forms even though they may want children to understand what pains they have after having gone through wars. Yet such understanding should not be pressed upon children. They know enough by themselves as to what their parents and brothers and sisters go through if threatened by war and violent conflicts or even have gone through such traumatic experiences.

Secondly, children are much more sophisticated and complex in their understanding of things than what adults ever acknowledge. Of course, that difference does not come out necessarily when children attempt to converse with adults but then too often adults set only the terms.

Children are more complex than adults for two simple reasons. They are not as of yet compromised or beaten down to take on a normal size as demanded by society. In general, no should be made, never mind be beaten up to fit into a given order. Also children do not presuppose in their perception of the world as of yet some kind of unity by which concepts could surpass what the senses take in. They are not ready to sacrifice reality for the sake of upholding a dogmatic definition of the concept. They do not accept what Hegel once said, namely "if reality does not fit the concept, too bad for reality". A human being is still a human being even if caught without a passport; while formal recognition is needed, that is not the entire identity of the human being.

Moreover, in terms of putting unity before diversity, children are not so naïve to think only if there is one leader and an unified kind of government, then conflicts can be resolved. Too often they experience at home that the unity of the parents means nothing compared to the reality they experience. They see that even the adults do not tolerate disagreements or opposing opinions and that they are even ready to undermine each other e.g. when the mother says to the child in private "not to be like your father", but once at the dinner table would side only with the father when there is a difference of opinion with the child.

Alone how children experience daily the reality around them, that makes children wish to understand the nature of the conflicts. And most importantly while doing that, they also see that many other things can exist side by side and that they are not at all affected by the conflicts within the own family. Hence they do not generalize but distinguish quite well between their own lived reality and what else exists outside their own and immediate domain of lived through experiences.

Consequently if they would adopt the symbolic language of adults and seek unity where there is none, their language of art would be reduced to mere symbolic designs and even worse turn into cartoon like drawings. As a matter of fact the latter can easily suggest unity of perception, but it is a fake reflection of reality. It was Kolakowski, the Polish philosopher, who remarked this is always the case when people seek paradise after having realized it has been lost and the outcome of such a search is at best a cartoon like figure.

In other words, Kids’ Guernica is not made to be a canvas for projections by adults upon children as to what might be a language of innocence. Children have no such guilt feelings as of yet but they are enhanced in their knowledge of justice and what is truthful. They are as mature as anyone of us and are ready to take on any responsibility even if they cannot handle the burden of these problems all by themselves. We see this best in how children confront the problem of war and seek to protect others before themselves. They see the reality of war because they are not as of yet disillusioned about themselves and human nature as are adults. It is the latter who have become cynical and resigned. Many no longer know how to deal with the phenomenon of war or even worse are involved in its perpetuation by producing and selling arms or falsifying facts about the other. One of the worst cases was when Secretary of State Powell attested to the Security Council of the United Nations with the entire world watching that he had ample proof to be convinced that Saddam Hussein had in his possession 'weapons of mass destruction'. It turned out to be a lie but was used then as justification to go to war and to invade Iraq in March 2003. The love of the lie or the not telling the full but only half of the truth is what bothers the public domain and therefore politics which has become divorced from the truthful way of making art possible.

What makes Kids’ Guernica so unique is really that a part of its origin includes a Japanese approach to things. This second, non European or non Western approach means to some extent the philosophy behind Kids' Guernica is based on seeking calmness inside oneself rather than entering unnecessarily conflicts. There is some kind of Zen Mastery behind this ability to calm the waves and then continue not just as before but like a soft wind which brushes the leaves or like the tune coming from a flute. To become a force which can move things quietly and calmly is of great importance.


Takuya Kaneda and Asit Podda with children of Athens 108 school

Photo: Kostas Kartelias

In that way Takuya Kaneda, the international coordinator of Kids’ Guernica, and others like Asit Poddar who adopts a similar position like Maria Capari in Athens, they all convey a belief what is of importance are the experiences children and youth make while painting together these murals. These experiences they will have for life. That is the seed of peace.

As a matter of fact the Japanese approach to war is crucial especially after having gone through the horrific experiences of two atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively in 1945 – one survivor who had experienced by fate both atomic blasts just died in January 2010. Thus it is most appropriate for Kids’ Guernica to take up that cause, namely how to find a way out of conflicts so that this does not lead to total destruction and ongoing, if not permanent war?

The first mural from Nagasaki has this appropriate title: “Rebuilding the city after the bomb”. The more recent one painted in January 2010 reminds that long before New York in 2003 Nagasaki had already experienced its ‘ground zero’ – something about which Tom Anderson’s story has reminded us of. That story of an American going to the memorial place of Nagasaki is as moving today as it was back then to him. It reminds that the conscience of scientists remains a broken one in view of the fact that for the first time such massive destructive power was used by mankind, it was in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Since 1945 many people of all walks of life and together with their children have made heroic efforts to avoid war. However, as the series of wars since then indicate, these attempts have not been very successful. Still today, people in both Europe and Japan can count them lucky not to have experienced directly war since then. However, globally all this changed once two planes struck the Twin Towers in New York on the 11th of September, hence 911.

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