Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

In search of social justice and good education

When the Kids’ Guernica exhibition took place in the Museum of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA January 2010, there was organised as well around the same time an art symposium on January 18, 2010. The aim of the symposium was to examine the linkage between art education and social justice. Takuya Kaneda, international coordinator of Kids’ Guernica and Hatto Fischer, Coordinator of Poiein kai Prattein, made a joint contribution in which they reflected how Kids’ Guernica does contribute to social justice. [1]

Certainly children have a strong sense of justice. Unfortunately many are forced to grow up in societies which are anything but just and often the people living in these societies stay either silent or else leave the country. In both cases they do not see any political solution being possible. Many are also afraid of changes and hesitate to speak up especially against injustices even though apparent to everyone. They fear this would justify changes brought about by violent means and, therefore, take place outside all institutions which have been created over time to ensure that a legal and political process can regulate decisions, conflicts and consequences of actions.

This conservative viewpoint is based on the world view that radical political actions would but evoke new spirals of violence and further suppression leading to more injustices but now of a very different kind. When Khomeini took over in Iran, the much feared Savak secret police of the Shah was replaced by a religious police force now feared as much as the one they replaced. Such historical failures to bring about a more just regime underlines the fact that justice poses not only a challenge in the present, but must be realized over time and even in sequence of many generations working towards a just society.

All regimes and their order have their own stories of brutalities and injustices. Mostly injustices are inflicted when the ones in power get too powerful to be challenged by any normal democratic process. The latter includes fair election and reasonable arguments to point out mistakes made when applying the law not within a creative process of interpretation to take things forward, but merely fundamental as if everything is clear and requires no valid proof. Alone the term ‘damage’ can be interpreted in numerous ways but crucial are some of the outdated definitions from which still today modern states derive their meaning of justice.

For instance, Hegel stated in his ‘Philosophy of Law’ that any person not contributing to the increase of the wealth of the state would create damage and therefore would be guilty a priori. This necessitated the person to work in exchange for some money by which it was possible to survive in the system. More crucial when it came to apply this criterion as to who would create a damage was the added qualification by Hegel, namely that a person without property had no identity. It would mean someone who has to rely on work to gain money had no identity. Indeed, Sigmund Freud showed how the negation of identity works in a system forcing people to externalize their energies and efforts to bring about products ‘Made in Germany’. It means not the persons working, but only the products have identity and those who have property as part of the wealth system over which the state would watch in order to prevent that any property would take damage by actions of others.

Children and youth, but as well anyone growing up and living in such a system are deeply frustrated by continual injustices they experience. This is especially due to the entire system being prejudiced in favour of those who have property and, therefore, have the means to survive without having to go to the labour market to sell their work for exchange of money. That frustration becomes wild, equally blind anger the moment a system becomes ‘untouchable’. Yet they fear any dynamic protest can evoke such violence which they cannot control. That fear is based on experience that violence can be incited as counter measure by the regimes which live off these systematic prejudices in favour of the rich at the expense of the poor. Always this enhances the fear that the outcomes shall be, generally speaking, nasty and bloody. In their resignation deep down they believe no one can be really just and hence justice is an ideal not to be realized at least in this system governed by a corrupt regime.

Yet people will eventually revolt and attempt again the impossible. That is because children grow up with this belief in justice. That idea cannot be buried by whatever force.

It should be noted that it was the keen interest of people in Ancient Greece that whenever a stranger entered their Polis, they looked at him with great curiosity. It was a critical openness for they had in mind a kind of appraisal as to whether or not the stranger would be able to bring about a more just society than what they have right now.

A poet of Ancient Greece concluded correctly that the creation of a just society is never an easy task. Hence such measures must be laid out so as to appraise properly the tasks ahead in need of being realized in order to achieve a just society. Out of that the poet deduced a sense for ‘just measures’ in order to know how to judge every action. Indeed, we need just measures for the tasks ahead so as to know how to mediate between our aspirations and what can be achieved in today's reality. Once such just measures exist, then even when at first a failure, it shall be possible to learn out of failures and hence out of disappointments.

Children can learn 'just measures' through the arts as this entails finding the right proportions. Vincent Van Gogh said the highest art is the art of proportion. To know your own pain being but quite small in relation to children living in poverty and under conditions of war, can make that child appreciate what it means to grow up oneself in a safe environment. This has prompted the children of Dubai to paint a mural called 'Life is a delicate balance'.

"Life is a delicate balance" Dubai 2007

The following children, pupils at the school where Sara Lowndes teaches in Dubai,

Adam Kerr

Elliot Byrne

Verity McSheaffrey

Claudia Rostek

Ashley Blandford-Newson

Patrick Sawirus

Zara Kana'an

Darina Shabana

Sandra Rico

Oliver Edelmann

wrote this remarkable message:


We have learnt that reconciliation is harder to achieve than sitting down at a table to talk about what the differences are before we enter a conflict.

That it is easier to resolve conflict this way than by using war as a tool to reach the desired outcome, which always involves the loss of life.

Communication, cooperation, listening and negotiation are the tools that are required to contribute to achieving a common goal.

Learning to work alongside each other and accepting that we are all different and have different ideas and views on most things.

That through these initiated ideas we can try and understand our differences and find a common ground that we can all live with.

We, as the students that have worked on the Guernica for the last 5 months here in Dubai, wish the Foundation continuing success and  hope that we have made a difference, even if it is only in a small way to achieving peace.


Children learn in the process how to share and therefore how to achieve justice by also staying just to each other. This they learn by adapting their own design to what others wish to paint on the mural. Collectively they work towards an expression of the whole without predetermining how that whole should look like. That is the great surprise about which the philosophy behind Kids’ Guernica speaks from the very outset when starting such a painting action. It is above all a prerequisite for a ‘just society’ that not one person arrives first, but that all reach together the final destination at the same time. That moment comes when the mural has been completed even though this is not an end itself, but an opening for an ongoing learning process and therefore remains incomplete, therefore open to be completed if not by means of the paint brush but by interpretations and stories told as a result of the experiences made.

Justice has to do with a freedom from arbitrary decisions so that not one law is applied for the poor guy and another law for the rich. Arbitrary use of the law was eventually the reason for the French Revolution with its call for a treatment of all human beings as being equal. Equality means freedom to be a citizen of the world. There is no national orientation within which own people are more equal than others. That was the tragic component of Ancient Greece with the ones claiming to be civilized delineating themselves from all others as being Barbarians.

If law is derived out of a vision of mankind as to what is possible to correct mistakes in the process and still maintain a dynamic process allowing that all express themselves, then the way murals are brought about is a most crucial insight into justice. The child psychologist Jean Piaget illustrated on hand of how children play marbles that they invent rules and therefore moral judgments according to which they play e.g. if you do not play properly then you miss your turn, loose your marble, or even have to leave the game altogether - is already an indication of a justice system.

Interestingly enough, when it comes to apply justice, Neils observed when holding school assembly at Summerhill, that the younger the children, the more extreme they were in what forms of punishment they propsoed, the worst being as Socrates of Ancient Times would say, being expelled from the school i.e. from the community of man.

Now Kids' Guernica has here a strong weakness insofar as it has no mechanism to resolve disputes between various members except for a general appeal that peace means to talk with each other in an effort to settle differences. But justice has to do with consequences of either an individual, a group or the entire movement suffering damage due to a certain action undertaken by someone using the name of Kids' Guernica, but not really following through in its basic philosophy, namely to facilitate as an adult that children and youth create murals, but not to intervene to such a point that this mural is more an expression of an adult version of what would be childlike expressions rather than being an authentic line only children can draw.

There is a need to image some other amendments to the philosophy behind Kids' Guernica to do justice to its world reputation, and that means to be consistent with what people expect Kids' Guernica to do when interacting with children and youth.

Mediation does not, I repeat, does not preclude compromise for the demand to live in a just society stems itself from an uncompromising nature expressed especially by children who take their imagination of a peaceful and just society to be real. They go a long way to find solutions, but they know it exists.


[1] http://socialjusticesymposium.fsu.edu/

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