After war, pain and hurt comes hope for better days and hopefully peace. The consequences of war, don't just belong to peace, they may include migration, displacement, destruction, lack of infrastructure, economic breakdown, suffering and heartbreaking loss.
Peace for all is the hope, the hope to survive, the hope to rebuild, to reconnect with others, to be heard, respected and for all humanity to be treated in fairness and with Human Rights. These words may be easier to write or to say then to come into effect.
How peace and rebuilding comes about, takes strength and determination, agreements and dialogue. Art may accompany people throughout hard times, though under warfare that may be more difficult. Art though, often finds a way to speak and to breath out creative's wishes and hopes. Artists may showcase peace through their art or highlight the plight of humanity with art which could help lead us towards peace or a shared sense of humanity.
Art on its own, may not necessarily bring about peace, but it can be a catalyst towards it. It may create empathy amongst people, propel a dialogue, start a conversation and activate the path to reconciliation, towards love and peace. With art can come understanding, and there are many art initiatives across the world being done to bring different communities together. Art regarding peace may also be placed in public spaces or within institutions to remind us to reflect on better times and what humanity can achieve when we place that very love for humanity before greed, money or power. Below are artworks that deal with peace, have engaged in that dialogue and have ignited the sentiment towards achieving peace.
Bob and Roberta Smith's artworks connect art to peace and to Human Rights. He sees art as an important element in life and society and works towards that. Central to Bob and Roberta Smith’s thinking is the idea that campaigns are extended art works which include a variety of consciousness raising artefacts. "Make Art Not War" by Bob and Roberta Smith is one of the most important artworks of our time and its sentiments since painted, have been held by many, creating a ripple effect towards achieving peace and a shared sense of humanity.
© Bob and Roberta Smith "Make Art Not War" 1997
"Make Art Not War" - Bob and Roberta Smith
el Seed's artwork "The Bridge" looks at peace-building between North and South Korea.
'Bridge" by eL Seed
"Bridges are never built from one side; their very nature needs a step forward from both sides, so by extending the sculpture to the mid-point, eL Seed was intending to make a gesture of solidarity. However, due to security reasons, permission for this initial idea was not allowed, so instead, eL Seed proposed a horizontal laser-cut aluminium art piece installed on the fence of the DMZ. The art piece spells out the words of Kim Sowol, a poet from North Korea who died before the country became divided."
"You may remember, unable to forget:
yet live a lifetime, remember or forget,
For you will have a day when you will come to forget.
You may remember, unable to forget:
Let your years flow by, remember or forget,
For once in a while, you will forget.
On the other hand it may be:
'How could you forget
What you can never forget?"⠀
Here is an extract from our interview with el Seed regarding the artwork " The Bridge":
Can you tell us about your experience with your installation work "The Bridge" at the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, an artwork that is political, cultural and about peace-building
It was an amazing experience. It was a project initiated by the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art. When they asked me to produce a work that would reflect unity and mutual respect, I was honoured that the Korean people were asking me, an Arab-French artist to create an art piece in Arabic calligraphy for a celebration and for the call of reunification between North and South Korea.
This project was initiated before the two presidents met. It was just about the South Koreans wanting to showcase that at some point they wanted to be reunited with North Korea. It was really interesting meeting people and hearing the voice of the people from South Korea, how they see the separation. A 90 year old woman told me that she was married to a man who came from a town in what is now known as North Korea and that he couldn’t go back there to see his family. He had two daughters there with his previous wife that he has never seen. Not being able to go back, he redid his life with a new family in South Korea. She then relayed to me that from either side of the fence, people are from the same culture, they are the same people, they speak the same language but they have this fence that was placed for political reasons in 1953.
The experience and conversations we had were sad but at the same time it was eye opening because going there, made me realise how dehumanising we have been towards the North Koreans. I think it’s because when we think of North Korea, in our minds North Korea feels unknown to us. But when I did this project and when we actually reached North Korea, although we were not allowed to install the sister piece there which would have shaped into the other side of the art piece that’s in South Korea, bridging both art pieces into one to showcase unification, I realised that actually people are people, our perception of the country may be one thing, but the people should be another, they have dreams, they have a life, they have hope and they cry, smile and laugh, but we only have this one image fed to us of people stuck in a house and never smiling, as if they are almost robots. But that is our interpretation and though yes there are issues, I think it was eye opening to recognise that feelings of people are the same all over the world, in any part of it, so the experience of art can make us switch perceptions.
Operation SALAM (Peace) by ASHEKMAN is an art project that brought ex-fighters and different communities to work together and paint with Ashekman, the word Salam, meaning peace, on the rooftops of houses in Tripoli in Lebanon.
Operation SALAM by ASHEKMAN
Here is an extract from our interview with ASHEKMAN regarding Operation SALAM:
How did Operation SALAM come about?
It started almost three years ago when we first thought of the idea. We opened google maps and started to search for areas with good visibility for us to create the project. But we were thinking of doing it next to Ouzai as there are possibilities to paint on the buildings. And as they are very old there is a stronger likelihood that we can be granted permits from the people living in those buildings. That’s the most difficult thing, to be given a permit for each building, because most of the time each one has about 5 owners, so you can imagine if you need permits for about 80 buildings for the project, it means you need something like 400 permits.
We started in Ouzai but they didn’t let us continue with the project for security reasons. We had to stop and search again on google maps. Once we saw Tripoli online, we knew it was the right place.
This project needed to have an authenticity surrounding it and an area that could reflect that. It is a project completely separated from the ego that usually comes with graffiti art. In street art there is the aspect of the ego, you put your name everywhere to tell others that you are here and that’s not what we wanted with this.
What we wanted to do, was something that serves people.
The project was to write the word SALAM meaning Peace, on the rooftop of buildings. The part of Tripoli we chose to do that in, has until recently seen many troubles in the Jabal Mehsin area of Tripoli. So we saw it as the perfect place for the word peace to be written in arabic. Then as we started to look at the rooftops of the buildings, we saw that the word SALAM was already configurated by the architecture of the building shapes. The shape of each roof is like one of the letters, one building looks like an L, and another is an M. It was already there, it was written, it just wasn’t coloured.
As if it was destined for you to go to these buildings and write peace in an area that has seen so much war
This area has seen a lot. The roads that cross each other, the Syria road, Jabal Mehsin and Debené, the people living on these streets across from each other were basically killing each other. This is a whole area that is under threat, a run down area, somewhere we felt our work could serve people.
We asked the NGO March, who we had previously worked with, to help introduce us to the people of the area. We met about 50 people, half from each neighbourhood that were at war and had been shooting at each other. A lot of them were saying things like look at this bullet scar on me, look at that spot I used to shoot there, there I used to go down to the tunnel to shoot and fight, this person killed my brother and so forth. So you start to think to yourself, were are we living? How are people still living like this? And Tripoli, is a city not too far to where our studio is based in Hamra Street in Beirut. But when you hear people talk, you feel so far away from what they are living with, to what we are living or seeing in Beirut. It’s really sad, it’s a poor area and there’s a lot of politics involved.
Regardless of the politics, all of them were super happy with the idea of working with us on Operation SALAM. They love it when someone outside their city comes and gives them time, because more often than not, they are left aside, left to their own devices, you see so much poverty, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that they have such good hearts, you feel people are really genuine.
They want other’s to approach them and feel part of the country
This is one of the powers of art and the dedication and heart of when human beings put humanity above politics and religion
Yes they want to be approached. Once we agreed to do the buildings in Tripoli, we showed the locals the google maps and we explained to them the concept. In order to really pin point the area, we sent up a drone. But also, when we would say something like we need this house for the project, someone working with us always had a connection behind a building, their response was often, this is my aunt’s house or my family knows them, and in a way this helped us with the logistics.
There were also always war stories behind each building, with the locals telling us that they would put sand bags and shoot here and there, there were these crazy war stories, that were thrilling to hear and at the same time make you feel so sad. It makes you cry to think where were they? And where were we? And were are we now?
But they dropped their guns. They started to help us to achieve our art concept. And so the idea of writing SALAM, is not just about the writing of a word. It’s SALAM as in peace for the area. It’s SALAM for Lebanon and SALAM to show the Western world, our world and our perspectives. Because most people outside the Middle East, when they think of the region, they think of terrorism and we are trying to show that there is a youth in the Middle East that have independent initiatives that can become big initiatives, showcasing to the whole wide world, that we want peace, we are creative, we love life, we want to show everything positive from and about the Middle East, we want to put this forward. The stigma in the Middle East is what? Terrorism, extremism, everything "ism". People outside the region, assume everything bad about it.
You are showcasing that art can be a tool of soft power or diplomatic power.
In Operation Salam, not only are you promoting peace, but the people helping you were ex-fighters. So it’s a double victory for peace.
Yes that’s true. Furthermore the green colour we used to paint with, is not a regular green, it’s the anti-leakage paint. It stops the leakage for each of those buildings we painted on.
From the start, we had thought of doing that. People were asking us why we used that colour green, was it a colour that most differentiates from the building colour, which is true, you can see that colour the most from the drone, but it was mainly because it helps the people that live there with any leakages and it also helps stop the sun heating the buildings severely, which it does so in the summer.
The whole project, shined a light on an area that was left aside and we were able to provide work for 50 to 60 people from there for three weeks, paying their wages for that amount of time.
There were many who appreciated that and sent us some lovely comments on social media, and then there are some people who don’t understand what we were doing, and wrote comments about the fact that instead of us spending money on paints, we should have just given people the money. I’m not arrogant but I won’t engage with that, because that’s not a solution, that is not how communities or a country progresses, what we try to do is help communities to realise that through work and through engaging in art they can find a way out of a rut.
Peace is Power is a project by Yoko Ono commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art to:
"create a full-page insert, in place of a traditional advertisement, for publication in the New York Times. The resulting artwork, Peace Is Power, invites the newspaper’s readers to add color to those areas of the world that they believe “need peace.” The participants were asked to send their contributions to the artist’s attention at MoMA. A rotating selection of the submissions, on view at the MoMA, were updated periodically as new contributions were received." extract from www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3887
Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art for publication in the New York Times on September 10, 2017
Wish Tree is an art project set outside the Guggenheim Museum : "From January 20 to 22, 2017, visitors to the Guggenheim Museum and passersby on Fifth Avenue were invited to write wishes for the future and hang them on the branches of Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree, which was placed outside the building. [...] Every wish will be sent back to the artist’s studio, and Ono will incorporate them into her work Imagine Peace Tower (2007–ongoing) in Reykjavik, Iceland. “I hope Imagine Peace Tower will give light to the strong wishes of world peace from all corners of the planet,” she has said, “and give encouragement, inspiration, and a sense of solidarity in a world now filled with fear and confusion.” " extract from https://www.guggenheim.org/news/yoko-ono-wish-tree
The United Nations aims are to develop good relations among nations and to maintain international peace and security across the world. Art can be part of the conversation. Across the United Nations, many artworks reflecting peace can be found. Here are some:
-From 1964, a stained-glass window entitled Peace by Marc Chagall. It was donated to the United Nations by its own staff members and by Chagall to commemorate Dag Hammarskjöld, United Nations Secretary-General 1953 until his death in 1961.
-Installed in 1957, War and Peace, murals by Brazilian artist Candido Portinari, features the suffering of victims from war, as well as depicting his vision for a better world.
- "Non-Violence" by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, is the sculpture in the shape of a knotted gun, placed outside, the United Nations headquarters in New York. Struck by the shooting of his friend John Lennon, the artist started to work on non-violence themed art, creating a model for the finished piece. In 1988, the finished sculpture was gifted to the United Nations by the Government of Luxembourg. Since the placement of the sculpture, replicas have stood in 30 different locations.
-During WW2, Chiyoji Nakagawa lost consciousness upon being shot in the leg. Once he regained consciousness, he woke up in a pagoda bell tower. From then on, he had committed himself to peace. In 1951, as Japan's observer to the United Nations, Chiyoji Nakagawa, proposed to build a hallmark of hope against wars. Thus came to be the Japanese Peace Bell. It was cast from donated medals and coins collected by people from 60 different countries. The Japanese Peace Bell was presented to the United Nations in June 1954 by the United Nations Association of Japan. The bell rings on the 21 September, the International Day of Peace.
The Silent University is an autonomous knowledge exchange platform initiated by artist Ahmet Ögüt during his art residency at Delfina Foundation, in collaboration with Tate.
Initiatives like the Silent University and the process it propels, not only removes barriers, but draws humanity closer.
The Silent University-Picture from Delfina Foundation website.
"The Silent University is a solidarity based knowledge exchange platform by displaced people and forced migrants. It is led by a group of lecturers, consultants and research fellows. It is an education platform outside of the restrictions of migration laws, language limitations and the other bureaucratic obstacles. Since 2012 the Silent University has involved those that have had a professional life and academic training in their home countries, but are unable to use their skills or professional training due to a variety of reasons related to their status. Working together, the participants have developed lectures, discussions, events, resource archives and publications." http://thesilentuniversity.org/
Fighters for Peace are an organisation that aim to bring, build or maintain peace amongst the different communities in Lebanon. Through narratives, storytelling, theatre and improvisation, they bring people together.
They engage civil society and ex-fighters, narrating their history and life stories through theatre and performance in order to move forward, bring long lasting peace, and ensure former fighters can find a way out of violence and into inner peace. They unite former fighters from different political, religious and social backgrounds, as well as journalists, filmmakers and psychologists.
They also hope to reach beyond the Lebanon and support other war torn countries such as Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Photographer JR exhibits his work all over the world, pasting his images on walls for all to see and be part of. Much of his work engages humanity and aims to bring communities together or attract attention to causes or certain neglected areas of the world.
"JR and his team captured the portraits and stories of former and currently incarcerated citizens that are keenly focused on rehabilitation, as well as some of the prison staff, and pasted them with their help, as a large team, on the recreation space within CCI." extract from www.jr-art.net/projects/tehachapi
"In 2007, during the Face 2 Face project, JR and Marco organize the largest illegal photography exhibition ever. For this project, portraits of Israelis and Palestinians are pasted face to face, in monumental formats on both sides of the wall and in several Palestinian and Israeli cities. When we met in 2005, we decided to go together to the Middle‐East to figure out why Palestinians and Israelis couldn't find a way to get along together. We then travelled through the Israeli and Palestinian cities without speaking much. Just looking to this world with amazement. This holy place for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This tiny area where you can see mountains, sea, deserts and lakes, love and hate, hope and despair embedded together. After a week, we had the exact same conclusion: these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him. It's obvious, but they don't see that. We must put them face to face. They will realize." extract from www.jr-art.net/projects/israel-palestine
This image by JR was exhibited at The Photographers' Gallery in London. In 2017, JR hosted a 'picnic' across the border between the USA and Mexico. The meal was meant to showcase shared humanity.
Peace may come from understanding, dialogue, empathy, it may ensure days ahead are brighter for all. Peace-keeping and peace-building takes time, and sometimes to shorten that time, time is taken advantage of. Surveillance is a double edge sword, it protects us from harm, but it may infringe on our Human Rights. Art and artists have responded to that duality within the notion of surveillance...