Sending a message of peace through art festival

'International Alert' believes in a world where people resolve their differences without violence.

The mural drawn by Lebanese artist Ghaleb Hawila in a Beirut street as part of the peace event organised by International Alert.

2016/10/23 Issue: 78 Page: 20

The Arab Weekly
Jimmy Dabbagh

Beirut - An unassuming street near Beirut’s Hamra dis­trict was transformed as Lebanese artist Ghaleb Hawila crafted an intri­cate display of calligraphy along one of its walls. Painted in gold, the lettering appeared to wind around in a circular pattern as the artist lay­ered another figure on top. Ambigu­ous in form, it resembled an open hand and a dove all at once.

Initiated by International Alert, a leading peace-building organi­sation, the mural was part of “#ART4PEACE” of the Talking Peace Festival, celebrating the organisation’s 30th anniversary, which also marked the Interna­tional Day of Peace.

Hawila was one of many artists around the world who worked with local communities to produce large-scale peace-themed murals. Other cities that took part in the event in­cluded Berdyansk, Ukraine; Davao City, Philippines; Goma, Demo­cratic Republic of Congo; Kampala, Uganda; and London, England.

“Most of the countries taking part in the mural paintings have strug­gled with conflict in recent times. In Lebanon, the Syrian refugee cri­sis continues to put strains on the country’s infrastructure and peo­ple, therefore the need to support both refugees and host community relations is crucial,” said Chiara Butti, International Alert country director in Lebanon.

“International Alert believes in a world where people resolve their differences without violence and can build a more peaceful future for their families,” she said.

Stressing the interaction between art and peace, Butti said: “Art and peace building is an area of work that we started developing at Alert generally and we find the link quite interesting… We think it is a tool that can actually bring people together and can raise in­terest. It can be dynamic. It can be more participa­tory.”

This interactive ele­ment became an inte­gral part of the process when creating the mural as Butti said: “People were very much interested in see­ing someone that was busy painting a wall. We did ask some people that stopped by to suggest some words that came to their mind about peace.”

In London, International Alert had its third Talking Peace Festival September 21st-October 2nd with the theme Create Syria. The festi­val included community projects — interactive theatre, film-making, animation, puppetry and music — designed by artists and cultural fig­ures who have been displaced from Syria in the last five years.

“The project offers people space bringing them together with people beyond their family networks. It is a pilot to see what skill set artists bring and how they work together in communities that are hard to work with,” coordinator Charlotte Onslow said.

Participating artists used their skills and different means to deal with Syrian children’s trauma.

“We can’t fix the kids’ problems but we can provide them with a break to play music, singing or dancing as a way of healing,” said musician Hannibal Saad. “They need to see that someone cares to discover their talent.”

“There was one child who had a lot of energy and would sometimes fight other kids but he was very talented. I noticed that if you give him your time and respect, it all works out and everybody accepts him,” Saad said.

Actress Raghad Makhlouf, who has been involved in culture man­agement training, noted that all the children she worked with suffered some kind of trauma.

“I thought it would be diffi­cult to work with them but I was surprised to see they were very enthusiastic,” she said. “The main challenge was to make them feel confident. In order to do this, I en­couraged them to be confident in their choices. Nothing was forced on them. I also wanted them to trust me as a friend, rather than a teacher. I wanted to show them that they can dream again despite eve­rything that has happened to them.

“I would love to see them per­form in different parts of the world but there is a visa problem. Many of them do not have residency. One child told me he had to ask his bus driver to take another route to avoid a checkpoint because if they see he does not have the residency he will be arrested. He is 16 years old and this is not something a 16-year-old should be worried about.”

All the children participating in the project had either lost a parent or a relative or had seen a lot of vio­lence and killing in Syria.

“I asked them to each write a story. One kid wrote that his father was taken at a checkpoint in front of him and he hasn’t seen him since,” Makhlouf said.

Jimmy Dabbagh is a journalist based in Beirut and contributes cultural articles to The Arab Weekly.

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