War: Art and Creativity in Conflict Zones

IPOW borderLeah Davison reports on an evening workshop that examined the role of art and creativity in conflict zone.  Leah organised this with support from the Global Justice Academy’s and Global Development Academy’s Innovative Initiative Funds.

On 18 March the Edinburgh University International Development Society (EUID), in collaboration with University of Manchester based organisation In Place of War (IPOW), hosted an evening of talk and performance on the subject of art and creativity in conflict zones. The question at hand: what role can creativity play in the realm of social, political and economic development in areas of conflict, war and revolution?

The audience heard from four contrasting voices. Firstly, we heard from Dr. Zoe Marriage of SOAS whose research focuses on the relationship between development and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Notably, Zoe highlighted the revolutionary relationship between ‘African Jazz’ and independence in the Congo with the song “IndepenDANCE Cha Cha” which became influential for similar movements across Africa.

Next, we heard from Ghazi Hussein – a Palestinian poet born in exile in Syria. A former teacher who studied philosophy, Ghazi was found guilty of ‘carrying thoughts’, and repeatedly imprisoned and tortured over 20 years in Syria. With medical evidence of the torture he endured Ghazi was granted political asylum in Britain and now calls Edinburgh home. Referring to his words as his weapons, Ghazi shared his experiences with us by reciting some powerful poetry that touched on refugee issues, moving some to tears.

Thirdly, we heard from the co-director of IPOW Ruth Daniel. IPOW has been working with the international creative community for ten years supporting “artists and creative communities living in sites of war, revolution and conflict to build powerful networks, create social change through creativity and demonstrate the value of the arts to public space, public life and public debate.” Ruth provided an overview of the organizations work, highlighting the fact that development aid projects and interventions often fail to hear the voices of their intended beneficiaries. Quoting an artist IPOW works with in Jerusalem: “If I didn’t make art, I would be dead”, Ruth demonstrated the life changing value that alternative creative outputs and projects can have on the lives of people that more traditional development projects intend to benefit.

Finally, we heard from Jun Tzu, a Belfast born hip-hop artist and spoken word poet whose father was imprisoned as a ‘terrorist’ during the conflict in Northern Ireland. Jun uses his lyrics to fight bigotry that has been passed down through generations, with hopes of uniting people and bridging political gaps that still exist following the conflict in Northern Ireland. Jun spoke about his personal experiences with the conflict and performed two songs off his album “The Troubles”.

The overall message that evening was that creativity can yield economic, social and cultural benefits. Moreover, it can be utilized as a powerful tool of empowerment, revolution and reconciliation. It was an innovative message and participants left feeling inspired about the concept of employing creative methods to aid in both development and reconciliation efforts.