By Jamie Ryder
No matter how much we might want to avoid it, conflict happens all over the world and appears to have become an everyday part of modern life. When people take a stand against violence, however, conflict can be resisted, whether through hosting debates on the subject or using art as a form of expression. At Manchester Metropolitan University this week, an event entitled ‘Creativity: In Place Of War’, part of the Humanities In Public festival’s ‘WAR’ strand, focussed on alternatives to conflict and the stand against violence.
The event was presented by founders of the In Place Of War initiative, an award-winning University of Manchester project that supports artists and creative communities living in war zones. The project’s aim is to build links with artists and bring about social change by demonstrating the values of the arts and creative thinking in public space, public life and public debate.
Co-Director of the initiative, Ruth Daniel, began with a presentation on how anyone can “make something out of nothing.” As part of the In Place Of War project, Ruth travelled to war torn communities to showcase the power of art and demonstrate how something spectacular could be created in even the most marginalised communities. The presentation highlighted her equation of “technology + art + humans = change.”
Ruth pointed towards communities in Medellin, Columbia, as examples of how art can help young people express themselves. For example, the influence of hip-hop music has “changed opportunities” for them because “they’re talking about every day reality.” The music has become so important that even hip-hop schools can now be found in many neighbourhoods in Medellin, demonstrating how art has changed lives.
The presentation showcased that when “humans start to work together that anything is possible.” As an example of this, Ruth talked about Tiuna el Fuerte, a creative community in Venezuela who worked together to build homes and public spaces out of shipping containers. According to Ruth, space “brings people together” and allows young people to develop their creativity even in the face of destruction.
Following Ruth, Professor of Applied and Social Theatre at the University of Manchester, James Thompson, explained how the In Place Of War project started. He said it began as “a practice based project” that changed into a “research based project” but that it has now started to become “a practice based project again.”
James explained that he was invited to Sri Lanka in the year 2000 as a practitioner to teach art and theatre to young people affected by the Sri Lankan Civil War. While he was there he became interested by the “vibrant dynamic” of art that continued to be created in war time. The question of whether other communities were producing art during conflict was brought up and In Place Of War was created. The main aim of the project, he said, was to “learn from artists who live in contemporary war zones” and “challenge assumptions” of what people believe happens in times of conflict.
During his research, James found that communities put on events that made people laugh and, therefore, forget about war. One example was Laughter Under The Bombs, held in Lebanon when a group took shelter inside a theatre to host a play while bombs were being dropped outside. James then spoke about the purpose of the In Place Of War moniker. He said that it had a “double meaning” of finding an alternative to conflict and that it doesn’t make assumptions about where war takes place.
Next, Dr Zoe Marriage of SOAS gave a presentation on the theory of total resistance and how capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that incorporates elements of dance, can be used as an expression of rebellion. Zoe spoke about the oppression faced in Brazil and how capoeira was banned by the state because it was “associated with violence.”
Then she played a video of a group of people engaged in capoeira, demonstrating that there was no violence involved. Zoe then discussed how the practice of capoeira is a victory for freedom of expression. She also insisted that the art defines “Afro-Brazilian identity” and that “despite political suppression” it embodies the definition of total resistance through denying state power.
The event concluded with a question and answer session, one man asking if there were any contemporary war cartoonists as there had been during World War 2. Answering, James Thompson stated that there are a group of Syrian cartoonists called Comic4Syria who create comic strips to show the brutality of war in their country.
Through the efforts of projects like In Place Of War the audience at this event caught a glimpse of what it meant to live in a war zone. They were able to see the joy that exists in the darkest situation as well as the resilience of the human spirit. As long as people work together then the flame of hope will never be extinguished.