Category Archives: Readings

Only the ‘Readings’ from 2021 onwards are accessible here. For older ‘Readings in Nonviolence’, please click on the “Go to our pre-2021 Archive website’ on the right, and select ‘Readings’ there.

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 288

“Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World”

Pax Christi International, 322 pages, 2020.www.paxchristi.net

Edited by: Rose Marie Berger, Ken Butigan, Judy Coode and Marie Dennis

A review by Sylvia Thompson

This is a timely and comprehensive text or guide book on nonviolence that should fall into the hands of many, from practitioner to academic. I read it alone and straight through…not the best idea even with various breaks.

The title itself ‘advancing’ tells us that this is not a primer text though a student of nonviolence could start here and follow it through.

The text has a Preface, Acknowledgements and four Parts I) Returning to Nonviolence, II) Foundations of Nonviolence, III) The Practice and Power of Nonviolence, IV) Embracing Nonviolence, the list of Contributors and 3 Appendices, but regrettably no Bibliography or Index.

Reading the contents alone gives the sense of its amazingly broad scope and depth and if you peep to the list of the contributors you will understand how this came about. I counted 120 and it states that they came from nearly all corners of our troubled world (but possibly not Northern Ireland…see later).

The title sub heading is “Biblical, Theological, Ethical, Pastoral and Strategic Dimensions of Nonviolence”, which means it will be of equal interest to theologians and those on the ground working in conflict resolution in their local communities and everyone in between.

It is the work Pax Christi International and more specifically a particular project, ‘The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative’ which was initiated in 2016 to affirm the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church.

There are frequent references to Pope Francis’ World Peace Day message of 2017 http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20161208_messaggio-l-giornata-mondiale-pace-2017.html entitled “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace” but the call is to go further for the Catholic Church to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. Appendix 1 (and elsewhere, see ‘Integrating Nonviolence Throughout the Catholic Church’, p.284).

With regard to the appendices, the impatient reader could go straight to them #1 (above) #2 Nonviolence nurtures hope, can renew the Church and #3 Ten elements of nonviolence.

How to describe this book in a simple way is perhaps to say that it answers these questions about nonviolence: What is it? Where has it come from? Why and Why not? Where? and How? There are clear signposts to further reading and excellent footnotes. It takes the reader to El Salvador, Central African Republic, Mexico, Sudan, to name just some countries.

What is it? It offers many wonderful and inspirational quotes and definitions, e.g.

Nonviolence denotes a paradigm of the fullness of life at the heart of reality”. p.152

but read this comprehensive one on p.59

Nonviolence is a force that resists injustice and violence, a spiritual discipline and a powerful strategy that challenges violence without using violence, transforms conflict, fosters just, peaceful, effective and sustainable resolutions to conflict and seeks the well-being of creation and community.”

and it continues

It promotes human dignity; teaches self-respect and healthy communication; initiates processes of restorative justice to address interpersonal, communal and systematic injustices; and facilitates trauma healing. Its byproducts are creativity, joy, virtue, deeply held relationships and a shared hope for the future.”

It addresses of course, and I am just mentioning some topics, the Spirituality of nonviolence, violence against women and climate and ecological violence (read ‘Hearing the Song of the Earth’ p.245 and other references to Laudato Si’) and pastoral implications p.287 families and parishes p.292 but also addresses, what it terms ‘Sensitive concerns’ towards the end of the book on p.303 looking at the Internal Life of the Universal Church).

This section ‘Glimpsing the Church’s history of nonviolence’ pages 203-218 provides snippets from various corners of the world, so I was curious to read the following about Northern Ireland: “Followers of Jesus in Northern Ireland, including Nobel Peace Prize laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams, finally brought the troubles to an end.’ p.213. It certainly was a glimpse, but for me a disappointing one with regard to its brevity and, possibly, its accuracy.

Advancing Nonviolence’ can act as a guide, lead you to further study and most importantly to action or to evaluate your existing action. You may want more and I can see it becoming the perfect text for a study/reading group. Some recent good news is that study/reading notes to go with the book may become available.

Though a serious academic text as outlined in Part (II), Foundations of Nonviolence, I found it to be a very spiritually nourishing and indeed challenging one too. (Ref. ‘Seeing with New Eyes’, Joanna Macy).

Pax Christi International is to be congratulated on this publication, ‘the fruit of a global, participatory process facilitated by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to deepen Catholic understanding of and commitment to Gospel nonviolence.’ (from the Preface).

And I close with the closing words:” Faced with the challenges of this age, let us be transformed…. dedicated to faithfully healing our planet, and honouring the infinite worth of every being”.

To order individual or bulk copies, visit www.paxchristi.net

I bought it from https://www.fast-print.net/bookshop/2299/advancing-nonviolence-and-just-peace Paperback £25.45stg (€30.84 incl P&P). Now also available as an E-book EPUB (575KB) for €16 excl VAT from www.paxchrist.net https://paxchristi.net/2021/03/25/e-book-now-available-advancing-nonviolence-and-just-peace/

See also: https://paxchristi.org.uk/resources/nonviolence-in-action/educational-resources-for-nonviolence/

– Sylvia Thompson now lives in Co Kerry, but lived and worked in Belfast where she was actively involved in Pax Christi Ireland & International. Still a member of Pax Christi, she is now a member of the Diocese of Kerry JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation) Committee, the Laudato Si’ Working Group (Irish Bishops). and local ecological & sustainable initiatives.

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 287

Art and Peace Series

In praise of gentle disorientation:

An interview with Paul Hutchinson

Interviewer: Stefania Gualberti

Paul Hutchinson is the founder/director of Imagined Spaces, (specialising in creative community relations) and a former Centre Director of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organisation.

He is a mediator and educator (including Visiting Professor at Dalhousie University and the Atlantic School of Theology), and an award–winning documentary filmmaker and writer. 

Between the Bells”, his book from 2019, recounts the varied experiences of many whose lives have been changed by their visit to Corrymeela.

Waiting and Silence” https://proost.co.uk/downloads/waiting-and-silence-by-paul-hutchinson  his film from 2015 explored a particular Quaker Meeting to ask some universal questions about the role and function of silence and contemplation in our society.

Stefania – How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and peacebuilding?

Paul – That is such a great question because when do you start believing that you are creative and that imagination shapes the world? When you are a child you don’t say this is my future career. You say I don’t understand this, I do understand this.

Both my parents left school at age 14. My mom hated to read, she is dyslexic and left-handed and they frowned on you if you were left handled, so she was shouted at twice (for being left-handed and dyslexic) and she thought she was stupid, which she isn’t. From her, I think, I got the power of movement because she was a dancer. She had a physical intelligence, and so in our house she would be preparing for a class and she would be putting on music and trying to count it out 1234 2234 while we sat watching her in the living room. So that helped me to think to about the mechanisms behind music, behind dance – she was unpicking it before my eyes.

My dad loves books and loves telling stories and he features in lots of my stories. Libraries were a big deal and a love for me. It was a bonding between this macho man of action who liked to read, and me as a child. For me books, libraries and reading, are about connections and windows to other worlds.

I suppose, growing up then music was what really showed me that you needed very little skill to be creative (and skill also helps creativity.) I’m old enough to have been around when punk music came to Northern Ireland and so I formed a band, and we were noisy and awful, and it just gave me confidence to go: “I need to find my voice”. And you start off by sounding like other people and sounding distorted and eventually you might find your own voice, but you certainly develop a voice through pretending to be other people.

I always loved going to the cinema. At first with my Dad – Kung Fu movies, war movies, westerns, blockbusters. And then I fell in love with French cinema (Godard, Louis Malle) and then lots of other countries opened up to me via their films. For example, Iran was a country I knew so little about – it was a cardboard villain kind of knowledge. And then I saw a film from Iran and it was extraordinary – A Moment of Innocence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. And then that took me to all sorts of places.

So, music, dance, books, films. Poetry was always there. English was probably my best subject. Then going to University doing undergrad, postgrad on Psychology, I became a therapist.

I worked at a mental health centre, when I was 26 (and what did I know at that age?) It was a day centre for people with a range of mental health issues and I suppose I brought my therapeutic practice, my creative practice, into the space to say how do we do things that are holistic? To try and let people know that they were more than their illness, more than their label. So, storytelling classes, art classes, massage classes, dance classes, film clubs. I formed the first youth group for people with mental health problems in Northern Ireland many years ago, like 1992. It was based around creativity, based around mostly not talking about their illness and it was about trying to say: “you are more than your illness, you are more than your pain” and creativity was really helpful.

I then did more post grad stuff in drama therapy and I thought how can I do creative stuff? I realised that: “We get stuck when we can’t imagine alternatives and pain sometimes keeps us stuck, routines, habits, culture… what I saw was imagination could expand our horizons, imagination could show us that we could be contradictory, complex, that we could have five feelings at once.”

I retrained in the early 90s to be a mediator, I had been doing lots of volunteer peace activism in different places and locations and I needed some theory. I did my foundation training with Mediation Northern Ireland and the two main trainers were John and Naomi Lederach (parents of the world-renowned John Paul Lederach). I didn’t realise until later how profound that first training was for me, and as soon as I finished it, I designed something to address mental health and conflict. I was just so excited by having a theory which could help me understand my intuitions.

The therapeutic, peacebuilding, mediation and the artistic are all a part of me so I wanted to use it all. I don’t have a hierarchy on talking is bad, dancing is good, stories are good, and theory is bad. To me it was: “How can I help people find their voice? How can we find our voice to give people lots of possibilities?”

Stefania – What do you feel is special about art to facilitate conflict transformation?

Paul – Symbol will allow two or three things alive in the same space (without competing), so ruling out a binary right and wrong, it allows the possibility of multiple ideas and perspectives not at war in the same space; or in dissonance and yet still part of it, and I just adore that – that there is all that possibility. Empathy is built when we use the arts. You get to jump into another person’s head or feet or smell or language and that seemed to be foundational for conflict transformation. It’s about the nature and quality of relationships; Who are we to each other? What is the multitudes of who we are? I think creativity can give so many languages, so many ways that are not hierarchical. I think creativity allows for the possibility of there being lots of truths.

It is not one or the other. I can do the straight therapeutic “tell me about your childhood” and I can say “let’s create a metaphor” or I can say “let’s watch this movie, what do you see?” or I can tell a story and see if it touches your story. Stories breed other stories – we see and hear and understand through stories so I think art at its best can offer the possibility of a polyphonic inclusive space.

I think art at its worst can be propaganda so it can say: there is only one way (obviously examples of certain propaganda films during the Second World War on both sides were saying there’s only one way). They can be beautiful AND manipulative. Every film is trying to shape us.

Stefania – You are an artist. You create poetry, photography, movies, stories, images and metaphors, movement and drama. Is there an art form closest to your heart? What, or what combination, is most effective with groups and with what groups?

Paul – I don’t know if there is an art form that’s closest to my heart. I think I’m better at some than others, technically. Technically I know that I have more range in words that I do in music or I’m probably more technically gifted in film making than dancing these days, and so that’s about technique and ability to use the medium.

If I take films, movies, they have got movement, they have got words, they have got sound, they have got dance, if you wanted. Everything is in there, however it’s also the most expensive medium so I can’t say I love it more than others. I adore movies, I am a real geek. I think movies have shown me different worlds. In all the mediums, I think there’s a distinction between what I love and what I’m technically good at.

It also depends on the group and what you are there to do with them. Is it just for fun or to learn something?

I remember working with Jonny McEwan, Derick Wilson, Libby Keys, Karen Eyben (what a group of people!) and they had got this amazing piece of research money to look at creativity and growing a learning society. There was a Shared Future document, this is many years ago, where they got to asking people what sort of future do you want? We were invited to eavesdrop, to sit in on all these conversations and then to make art. I mean, it was lovely because people were giving you permission.

There was a group of artists called “Think bucket” which Johnny McEwan founded, which was really looking at how can art help reframe, re-lens, re-language, peace and reconciliation. I do remember though we went to Stormont and we had been given two rooms and then all the civil servants came in to see all this art and there was a complete mismatch. I had created T-shirts with slogans that people had said they wanted the future police to wear (Muslim, Gay, I bleed etc); I remember a civil servant saying “you couldn’t fit that into a filing cabinet”. We hadn’t done enough work between one language and the other, (civil servant and artistic) so I think people thought we were freakish. Sometimes you need to have a form that people can get, other times you need to disorient them out of their language into that new learning space. Now, if it’s too weird people just give up or feel defeated.

So, I guess I’m always looking at: “What’s the point of the session? How much time do I have? What relationship is there?” and then I build something from that.

One example that comes to mind is where I was asked to do ‘something creative’ with a group of youth workers. They were looking at resilience and these were brilliant youth workers doing a lot of amazing innovative frontline stuff. I brought a big bucket of dirt, fresh dirt into the room. I could just see in their faces that I was losing them almost immediately by this big bucket of dirt. I said: “I want you to stick your hands in the dirt and take a fist full of dirt for a walk”. They were like: “What’s wrong with you, mate? Why? And what will be doing next? Why? Why? Why?”, there was lots of resistance and the resistance is the material as I say all the time. You don’t go: “You are stupid, you should get this”, the resistance is telling me they’re uncomfortable, they fear: “Who’s got the power? Is this a test? Will they be valued? Are they going to get it right or wrong?”.

I said: “Go and do it, and come back”. I would say half of them probably just ignored it and came back and pretended to do it. I said: “Now, here is some lovely warm water and some soaps. Wash your hands”. They were really happy to do that, to get all that dirt off their hands. I said: “You folk are amazing, you work really hard and you pride yourselves about getting your hands dirty”. “Yep, that’s us”, they got that. I said: “How do you get your hands washed?”. They went “Ohhhh, now we get it!” They could still feel the dirt in their hands and the warm water when we got into the conversation.

Then the next day we were using that language to say, “how do you look after yourself?” because if you’ve got dirty hands all the time that goes into your partners’, your children’s hair, your food, what you read, everywhere you’ve got these dirty hands. I was trying to say in a metaphor, which had a very physical sense to it, how do you take care of yourself? Could I have just used the metaphor and said how do you get your hands dirty? I don’t think so. because they wouldn’t have felt it.

Stefania – Do you find people resisting creative and artistic approaches in group work?

Paul – Resistances is part of the process and obviously if there’s too much resistance, people can get hurt, nothing can get done, or there is distress or acting out or withdrawal. If there is too much storming, it can disrupt any learning for anybody. Sometimes that happens, people want to disrupt the whole thing in order to escape. The safety of the group, the stretch of the group, the comfort. I mean, we are built to push the genes further ahead into the next generation. We are genetically built to seek comfort and avoid discomfort and yet we have a sophisticated brain, within this very primitive body. Trying to build resilience with discomfort is part of the work, to monitor that and to measure that. Co-working can help a lot because you can’t always see it yourself. Yes, people resist and when they ask questions, that’s very helpful because I can’t mind read. Planning is hugely important for me, you plan very well in order to have the possibility and flexibility of all these options. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But risk is part of the practice.

I’m not there to force people, it is a fundamental principle for me. I’m not going to force people therefore I don’t know what’s good for people all the time. I think that when people resist, that’s telling you something (which I don’t know right away) rather than me going “Stop resisting!”

Stefania – Do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels? How?

Paul – Yes, yes and yes. I begin by saying some of my best work has happened because people thought I was only doing a bit of ‘fun art’ . I would get into community to do a ‘silly piece of art’ because they thought I wouldn’t do any damage therefore I was safe. So, some of my best work has happened when people have underestimated art and creativity and it’s allowed me in. If I had said can I come and do some peacebuilding they would have went, ‘no way’ because it would have been viewed as a threat. So, I sometimes downplay what art can do. I would say I will tell a few stories and see what happens and I’ll tell a story and you see what happens, or we watch a film from Iran and we see what happens.

There’s this gorgeous set of films called September the 11th, where eleven film makers were asked to write a response to 9/11. There is tragedy, comedy, metaphor, transformation and they are films from all different parts of the world. I use it in training sessions. The first film is from an Iranian film maker. It’s beautiful, I showed it to people in the American military, and they connected to that. They said, “All we knew was what we were told by Fox News, that the whole Muslim world was cheering when 9/11 happened, which is not what happened” and I remember this woman just going “This can’t be true” and I said, “Why can’t it be true?”, “I just thought Iranians were fundamentalist religious people who hated the West, and here they seem to be sympathetic to the West. It can’t be true, or….. I’d have to change my opinions about the enemy”.

I think creativity has a way in that straight talking hasn’t, art has a gentleness, it has a strangeness, it can be looked at entertainingly. If you watch a movie about something for example you think: “It is a movie therefore I can understand it”. There’s not a stealth, there’s a disguise, sometimes, that art can bring in. When it is otherwise just too hot or too cold for people to get to that place.

Sometimes you distance to get close, sometimes it is too painful to go near, you need to look at something from really far away, another country or a fairytale. That helps you to get a sense of it. Art has the possibility of allowing us to take a glimpse at the pain we have, sometimes from a distance, or masked, or transformed.

For example, I did a piece of work with Susan McEwan, I love working with her. It was coming up to the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, she said “I think we can get some money to do something, let’s dream big!” And I dreamt big and I said: “why don’t we get 3600 volunteers (to represent the 3600 deaths in the Troubles) and we will give them all a birth date and a death date of one of these dead, nothing more, and we will get them to surround the City Hall on one specific day”. She said: “that sounds good, let’s do it and we’ll see what happens!” I went: “okay, let’s do it!”. So, we began to think this up and it became too big for us and we didn’t have enough money. The scale of it was just too big but the idea of it… so this is back to art- the idea of it changed us! When we met, we would go “3600 people! How would that look like?” and so even not doing the project was changing us. Susan said, “let’s do something else”.

So we created “Just for one day”. On the 20th anniversary we invited 10 artists in 10 different locations around Belfast to produce a response to the Good Friday Agreement and the 3600 dead. One of my favourite pieces showed me what art could do. Leonie McDonagh is a dancer and comedian, not from the North. She put this idea to us which was how many times can I fall down and get up in 3600 seconds, which is an hour, and that’s what she did. We invited people who could go on a special bus that visited all the sites or people could go to one site. She performed in An Culturlann, she was downstairs and all you could hear was a bang. It was her falling down and getting up, again and again for an hour. She was bruised all over. People there would say “I need to look away, but I hope she’s okay”, “Every politician should see this, because look at what we’ve done to ourselves”. There was no manifesto, it was a slim woman falling down and getting up. And no one talked about her getting up, they only talked about her falling. This is profound, I am so pleased that we commissioned this. We had ideas about touring it and didn’t get to any of that.

That’s the example: those people were changed, should everybody have seen it? Should we have done the 3600 volunteers? Who knows? Another example was an Esther O’Kelly piece. She does these beautiful abstract paintings we said we’re going to put your really abstract work at a hairdresser in north Belfast. So, the hairdresser, all her clients and her mates, came and the hairdressing salon changed. Something quite abstract was beside a pair of scissors, and a pair of scissors sat beside something bright and beautiful and she had this new conversation, this juxtaposition, which delights me and very few things can do that, you know, talking therapy can’t always do that and art can do that.

My piece was a film. I was trying to find a sports stadium that had 3600 seats to show the scale of the deaths. Crusaders has 3200 seats and so I made a film with me doing a voice over, showing rows and rows of seats. At one point in the dialogue I say something like “Crusaders can only have 3200 people in it, what will we do with the 400, not let them in?” and this notion of heaven, hell, in and out.. I just wanted to weep, thinking “We got to get them in, we have to have them in, we’ll bring them in”. I got a gorgeous cameraman just to do these amazing images, it is 7 minutes long and I’ve shown it all over the world. People go: “What are you saying?” I say “No, what are you seeing?”. In the movie I list the jobs people had, shopkeeper, student, farmer, soldier and I just kept listing, in the end I think I did 50 occupations. It is different every time I see it, because how can your brain, really grasp, that amount of dead. In global terms, when you look at Rwanda, Cambodia, it’s a very small group, but it’s still a large number of people for the size of Northern Ireland.

So, I suppose what art can do is create a language for grief, create a language of remembering, create a language for lament and create language for recovery.

An artist recently said, “Every piece of work I do means nothing and everything. It means nothing in that it’s only a painting, it means everything because that’s all I can do.”

Art making and mark making have to be about everything and nothing. It is only a page with words on it, it is only a movie and yet it can reach to the heart of things.

How do you have a light touch and be passionate about it? How do you be deeply invested in something that may never get seen? Yet, isn’t that what relationships are about? There’s no guarantee of any relationship’s future and so when you start off to do a big piece of work, like write a book or make a film, my big fear is will anybody see this? Would anybody get this? What else could I be doing? I could be playing with the kids, I could be making dinner, I could be cleaning the bathroom.

To me art is about everything and nothing. I am not making it higher than doing the dishes and what I’m saying is I think it has capacity to let us see the world in all these different ways.

I used to think if I do a strong enough poem, everybody who sees it would be changed forever. You want to make a difference, but what does that mean? I think it changes me. I get the most out of it, I am sure.

I made a film about cheerleaders in Sandy Row, I didn’t know I was making a film about superheroes but that’s what they are. They went across boundaries by dancing. Because they were female and from Sandy Row they were disregarded. When I showed the film to them at the Queen’s Film Theatre, they wanted to have the red carpet. They got their own red carpet and the limousine. I said to myself “This is tacky” and then this woman said, “Nobody is ever going to make a film about me again”.

Stefania – In your years of experience is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

Paul – I was really proud of a piece called “Patrick, Prods and Prams” with a group of women which began talking about celebrations and became an exploration of Saint Patrick’s Day, because they had never been to the Belfast parade on St Patrick’s Day as they felt it would have been dangerous. It became them participating in St Patrick’s Day parade as one of the first Protestant groups in Belfast. I have to say they took far more risk than I did. They said “We’ll do it, we don’t want to wear green and you have to lead us in the parade”. I did.

Stefania: Do you consciously try to use humour and light-heartedness in your work?

Paul – It’s about lightness and appropriateness of touch. I think with a heavy subject I try to hold all that’s in the room and sometimes I can hold it too heavily or too lightly. Other times a light touch can open it up, other times you’re holding it and it’s a real strain and other times you tell a joke, and the room opens up to possibilities. I’m doing a piece of research in West Belfast and we’re looking at cemeteries along Falls Rd and I’m going to start the session (which we do in a couple of weeks time) by saying that “I once went on a date, a first date, in a graveyard”. Now people are just going to be curious because as soon as I say that I know I’ve got the audience because you want to know, they want to know and… “it didn’t end well”, the date…

Stefania: What have been your biggest learnings during the years in your experience with art, creativity and peacebuilding?

Paul – That light touch, how do you develop your touch to hold what’s in the room?

A lot of this work is about practice, you have to practice, you have to prepare and then you have to reflect on what you have done. I have not done enough of that, in terms of reflecting. It is a benefit, part of that is economics and part of that is an odd thing which is a part of me doesn’t want to know how it works (as I might ruin it!). The researcher in me is saying “it is actually good to know that, so you can do it again and again and again.”

The intuitive, how do you develop the intuitive as a skill? Rather than going: “I’m just making it up”. I need to prepare for hours, in order to make something up on the spot. It’s a bit like musicians, you practice for hours so you can improvise with what’s in the room, who you’re playing with.

I remember a language translator saying: “don’t try and understand too soon”. To me that has become a mantra. It has massive implications. I think that creativity is not trying to understand too soon, (and also it stops people becoming problems to solve). When working with mystery and metaphors isn’t to explain things, it is to guide you through something you don’t understand with reason at first. Some people want me, every time I tell a story, to analyse it (that just sounds like a drag). I would like the story to be the story and that’s it. The learnings are practice, intuition, reflection, preparation, create models. Don’t not try to understand too soon. That art is about everything and nothing.

Victor Hugo said “There is nothing like a dream to create the future”; what he is saying to me is Imagination can create new worlds.

I suppose art has been saving and transformative for me, because it has allowed me to be a whole bundle of contradictions and if it helped me, I think it might help other people. It allowed me to be multiple things, to work in tough areas and believe in gentleness, to be good at talking and practice listening a lot, to be good with words and to do movement instead.

For a photo of Paul Hutchinson, see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/19644887644/in/dateposted/

Readings in Nonviolence, NN 286

Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)

Art and peace series

From fragments to beauty:

An interview with Carole Kane

Interviewer: Stefania Gualberti

Carole Kane is a freelance artist, facilitator, expressive arts facilitator (conflict transformation and peacebuilding) and project co-ordinator. Originally trained as a weaver, Carole’s work covers different approaches which intertwine around the expressive arts, creativity, community development, education and leadership. 

Carole initiated and organised workshops during the immediate aftermath of the bomb in Omagh in 1998. This cross-community work involved 150+ people from Primary, Secondary and Grammar Schools together with volunteers from the public and was carried out for Omagh District Council. The result was a series of pictures created from hand-made paper including the flowers which were left in the town in the days after the bomb. Work formed an exhibition and a book called “Petals of Hope”. Pictures were given to each of the families and large pieces made for each town affected.

In June 2017, she graduated with a Masters in Expressive Arts in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding (cited with Honours for Practice) from the European Graduate School, Switzerland. Her thesis title is “In Relation to Traumatised Communities, does the Art Making Process and Accompaniment Lead to Transformation – If so, how?” and her wider work currently explores this context.

With 25+ years experience of delivering courses, initiating and facilitating projects mainly for adults in both community art and education settings across Northern Ireland, Carole has devised arts projects for those in trauma, used creative approaches to community development, delivered leadership training, access to the arts programmes and taught business and professional development skills to those in the creative industries.

http://www.carolekane.com/

Stefania – How did your background and experiences lead to your involvement in art and peacebuilding?

Carole – I got into this work one step at a time. From a very young age: drawing pictures, playing with plasticine and wool. That continued throughout school and I went on to study further at Art College- In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and then Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee where I did Constructed Textiles. I had no idea at that point that I would not have ending up working within arts and peacebuilding.

I made a conscious decision to study away from home following the Enniskillen bomb. I was a young teenager when that happened and I was impacted by what occurred at that time- the nuances of it- the hurt that was caused, such loss and subsequent messages of forgiveness from Gordon Wilson. That was a powerful and very moving time.

Studying away from Northern Ireland allowed me to see things differently. The Troubles were happening. I was aware that my study peers were not listening for the hourly news and were quite unaware of what was going on where I came from. Then I returned home after graduation and started tutoring in Flowerfield Arts Centre in Portstewart. This got me into making paper… and doing some very experimental work using different flowers, fruit, leaves and all sorts of things.

So, further tutoring developed, and I built up a lot of skills delivering courses in a range of community settings for Further & Higher Education, including a few peace and reconciliation workshops.

Following the bomb in Omagh in 1998, I saw the flowers left in the town by the compassionate and empathetic community. It seemed that the natural thing to do would be to bring people together to make paper using these floral tributes. So, I approached Omagh District Council, one step led to another and that was literally how the facilitation of this creative response and this long relationship was initiated and developed.

It felt like a pathway of faith, as one thing lead to another- the response went from workshop, to exhibition and book. There was a sense of calling. Well for me, given the experimental work that I had done, what else could be done with these flowers? What else would I do but lead people through the process? It continues to be like that in some ways.

Stefania – What do you feel is special about art to facilitate conflict transformation?

Carole – Essentially, it is a creative act. There is a great potential, especially in a group setting, to be constructive in opposed to destructive. I’m particularly interested in what happens within the group context of people coming together to be led through a lived experience of co-creating a piece of artwork that is aesthetically pleasing and hopefully beautiful. The dynamics of starting, feeling a bit awkward, “not knowing”, working through challenges, struggles to find something that works. The created piece can then be celebrated by those who made it, and they invite their friends to come and see it- it’s just a great process to initiate, facilitate and witness.

Creating the piece allows people to see that they can achieve something that was originally beyond their original expectation and this is one way that this process links to conflict transformation and peacebuilding. So, in its simplest form, I say to groups that if they can work though a creative process in this way, that they can do what seems impossible in peacebuilding.

Participants don’t have to be artists to take part. What helps them is to surrender to the process, relax their guard, be “present”, so that they can play and just have some fun.

A lot that happens within the actual making- how the material responds as it is being worked and shaped. It’s not just the final piece, but the combination between the art-making, material and the group of people doing the work- like a “call and response” really between the art-making and the art. As the facilitator, I don’t have all the answers, but I recognise this relationship between the art-making, participant(s) and the art-work, and can nurture this to take on its own momentum.

Stefania – If ‘art’ is thought of as ‘high art’ is that ever a barrier for your work with groups, especially people who would not consider themselves as ‘artists’?

Carole – People can feel quite intimidated about entering an arts space, whether that is an art gallery, theatre, or a workshop space and sometimes they don’t know what to do in that place- which is natural. They sometimes have negative memories from school where they have tried to do something creative and their efforts have been diminished or they have been humiliated by someone in authority. This is a great shame as it can put people off even trying or appreciating others who practice in the arts. There will always be people who are highly skilled and better than most of us, but this is something quite different to what I’m describing in my workshop spaces and shouldn’t stop us from utilising our creativity as a resource. Our imaginations are powerhouses and muscles that we need to keep exercising. We can apply this as a resource to help us find new languages and frames for all aspects in our lives.

Stefania – How do you think the creative process can help healing trauma at both individual and collective levels?

Carole – When I have worked with specific communities who have experienced trauma, they have told me as they entered the workshop that they felt “frozen”. They have needed a place like this to come away from the realities of the circumstances that have caused them to feel overwhelmed. I often use a phrase, “when people come to the workshop space, they hang up their coats with their question marks in the way into the space” and this is a good description of what happens. Focusing on making something with their hands leads them to a sense of “otherness” and away from worries of the “real world”. They leave the workshop looking more relaxed and tell me that they are “starting to feel again”- this is quite something. When this practice is repeated, participants start looking forward to this slot in their week and that expectancy can create hope. Also, if this happens to the individual, it becomes a shared experience when it happens in a collective.

This links to what I was saying about finding “presence” in making art. The focus on doing something with your hands, your hand eye coordination is very important, as are the logistics of experiment and exploring. I am currently making a series of bowls and I absolutely love this process. I am very conscious in this space: finding out what to do when it goes wrong… What to do when the glaze surprises me or is better than expected? Etc. And so it is that sense of working on something, pounding, kneading the clay, putting my thumbprints into it, shaping it, knowing when to stop, knowing the dexterity of the material, process and limitations- these are all important skills that can be transferred to peacebuilding. For me, the increase of this sense of presence in the creative space, transfers to my role in peacebuilding. This is how we work in the Expressive Arts theory.

I think as well, there’s something about the fragments that is significant to me particularly when I use papermaking within programs or projects. I’m always finding wee pieces of paper, imagining putting them in collages with a few sequins or something. This idea of finding something and letting it develop transfers to other parts of peacebuilding. I was teaching mediation recently and explaining the importance of listening. When there is a hint of possibility of solution of what is presented in that context, we hold on to that. It could be a very important gold thread in the process helping people find solutions. All you need is that tiny little glimmer of hope and the facilitator/artist or mediator can lead people to find so much beyond themselves. That’s what we really need in the world right now.

Stefania – You trained as a weaver and when working with groups you use visual art, photography, creative writing like haikus and poetry as well as movement, music and drama. Is there an art form most close to you heart? What, or what combination, is most effective with groups and with what groups?

Carole – Textiles in some form remains the “original” for me… fabric, textiles and strings and threads and stuff like that. Since my Masters, I’ve been working a lot more with mixed media, whether that’s been drawing, writing haikus or making films. So, my work has changed quite a bit.

Within Expressive Arts, we use an intermodal methodology, which means moving from one modality (technique) to another so I combine techniques as you say. I am better at some of those techniques than others, but don’t forget, experimenting is important in this process. I’m always exploring and being curious.

Stefania – In your years of experience is there a particular project or engagement that you want to talk about in relation to this conversation on art and peacebuilding?

My work in Omagh still underlies a lot of my practice. It was unique in lots of ways- certainly in my life as an artist- such a privilege to be able to come alongside a community at such a difficult time. Although I facilitated Petals of Hope, the creative response was made by the local community impacted by the atrocity. This has not happened in any other situation during the Troubles. It was a longitudinal intergenerational process of 20 years, yes, very much of a privilege.

There are other situations, other pieces of work where I have met amazing and resilient people. Usually there are people as we start the creative process who say: “I don’t know if I can do this” but before they know, they’re in the middle of it and having a great time. They will be the ones at the unveiling or the showing, standing beside the art saying, “this is my work. I did this”. I watch for the change and to see that growth of pride.

When I worked for the Workers’ Education Association, I did many projects that I was proud of- MOMA Belfast, and Whispering Belfast, these projects are on my website. The participants made beautiful pieces of work that were displayed and projected in the Ulster Museum- that was a big deal.

I’ve worked with people who, within a few hours, said that they would like to see the peace walls in their area come down and then the projects coming to an end far too soon. That can be frustrating.

I’ve made a lot of friends, a lot of people who have built trust – with me and in a process and now, it’s lovely when we meet as we remember happy times.

Stefania – Can you talk about DARE to Connect Safely you developed during the Covid pandemic, what was special about it?

Carole – Well, it was a lovely part of the DARE to Lead Change, a PEACE IV programme that I am currently working on. The emphasis is looking at race and ethnicity. https://www.brysonintercultural.org/dare

I developed DARE to Connect Safely in reaction to the first lockdown of Covid. My crisis management training clicked in as soon as we stopped having face-to-face contact with groups – when those early days felt like a crisis. The immediate change in routines meant that we had to “reset”, and I knew this would create problems. So, using social media to host a group and platform for creativity and ways to be present at that time, all within the legal restrictions. It worked. Feedback showed that people found it to be helpful and constructive.

Stefania – What have been your biggest learnings during the years?

Carole – Every day is a school day! There is much to discover within the process. I’m still learning and want to keep being curious. It’s the only way.

The older I get, the less I seem to know. When we come to this work with an attitude of discovery- there is great reward. I am less interested in competition. By being resourceful and complementary- then, we find collective ways and go further. Loosening tension is important. Following the steps, one after the other and let the path find the way. Trusting the Spirit that is outside of me and any resources that I have gathered within me… that’s what I have learned as an arts practitioner: the arts process enables that to happen.

This is highly sensitive, emotionally intelligent work, so therefore needs to be measured in different ways. It is soft, while very strong and courageous, and in my experience- the impact is incredibly powerful. I really liked what you said at the beginning as well Stefania, about how you had engaged in the process. I suppose that really touches me. A lot of practitioners, speak of the arts in this context from the outside and looking in. When invited to participate, they are reluctant to do that. There is a threshold right there and unless they experience it, they won’t get it.

Also, for me as a facilitator, I need to be well prepared, “present” and nourished for the work. It can be demanding, so if my resources are low, if I am “running on empty”, this will transfer to the groups. Self-care was a new concept for me when I learnt about on my Masters and relates to creating safe places for good practice. There are clear ethics around this and I’m not sure we are good at that in Northern Ireland, if I’m honest.

This is a slow and very rewarding process. I am proud of my work so far, and trust that these resources will help find a path through what lies ahead in these very challenging times.