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The Art of Building Peace

Bi-communal art Cyprus

In his meditative essay on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936), Walter Benjamin spoke of the decay or withering of the aura of art that comes with mass reproduction through photography and printing. As the importance of art pour l’art or ‘art for art’s sake’ decreases with the advent of modernity, mechanical reproduction of art is used for propaganda, and political messaging. Thus, in reaction to the gradual aestheticization of politics, Benjamin called for politicization of the arts. Since then, art is often perceived as being greater than merely a reflection of society. It goes one step ahead; not only does it make a comment on society, but it chooses to take a stand. The personal becomes political.

In Cyprus, art has been a little more than just a creative or aesthetic product; it has frequently been used to communicate a message to the public. According to Daniella Gold, ‘artists have used their work to bring together two communities through sharing common cultural experiences, rehumanizing the other community, and engaging individuals in atypical ways. Bi-communal art activities have helped to foster interaction between the two communities and facilitate reconciliation. Though the visual arts are by no means the only creative method that should be used to aid peacebuilding, the arts have played a significant role in increasing understanding between warring groups and facilitating interaction’ (The Art of Building Peace: How the Visual Arts Aid Peace-building Initiatives in Cyprus, 2006).

Buffer Fringe held its first bi-communal performance art initiative in Cyprus on October 18-19 of this year, on the Buffer Zone. Fifteen fringe performances from across the island were presented outdoors during this two-day event. The UN buffer zone at Lefkoşa was transformed into an open air stage, where the performances were held to celebrate art, fresh ideas, and free thinking. From 6 PM each evening, the audience enjoyed live performances that encompassed theater, art, and dance. The performances were presented in English, Turkish, and Greek. Highlights of the festival included English stage adaptations of The Princess and the Pea and Miss Margarida’s Way, and also a Turkish and Greek play called Çanta / Τσάντα / Bag.

The idea of adopting “atypical” or unconventional ways of building peace resonates closely with HasNa’s mission. Our programs have often been guided by the urge to identify a problem, come up with a creative way to solve that problem, and then pull in our skills and resources to implement that solution; or at least empower others to implement solutions of their own. Our bi-communal activities in Cyprus span across a number of topics including the environment, journalism, radio shows, and exchange programs. So far, we have been able to use various forms of art – film, literature, mass media – to promote cross-cultural understanding in the island. But we’re still looking for more creative ways of building peace. How many can you think of?

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