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Arts as mediating processes in peacebuilding

on Thu, 04/25/2013 - 17:58

'Mediating processes' is a term that has cropped up for me quite a few times recently. Rather like a lopsided picture, once you notice it, your eyes keep getting drawn to it.  I find myself linking it with another term that has attached itself to me over the years, that of 'other ways of knowing'. 

By 'other ways of knowing', I refer to knowing and awareness that comes in ways other than from the conscious, thinking processes of the mind.  My mind will ask 'how do you know this?' and the response comes 'I have no idea, I just do'.  No explanation, just a sense of calmness and surety. It is important for me as I have made many a life-changing decision based on this knowingness.  I refer to it as the wisdom of life, owned by no-one, accessible to all. It is a part- wisdom of the spirit, part-wisdom of the body, and one that often scares the intellect. It is given many names and its existence is often denied. No matter.

However, what does matter to me in this context is my passion for peacebuilding and my search to find ways in which I can contribute effectively and usefully to its processes. Frequently, I am struck by the disconnect between intellectual approaches to conflict management, with its emphasis on acquiring knowledge and understanding, and organic,experiential processes where emotions, feelings and intuition predominate.  Neither is enough on its own yet processes of reason tend to predominate and are given greater weight and validity by professionals when working with the problematic situations engendered by violent conflict. 

Now this begins to explain another bee-in-my-bonnet - even though an non-artist, I have a yen to bring the arts into my work on peacebuilding. I see arts, music and dance as providing mediating processes, creating connections between the known and the inexplicable, and providing processes, media and frameworks whereby we can work holistically with mind, body and spirit. Digging deeper, I ask 'What processes do I see operating here? What works, or not?'  My striving here is not for full understanding or to label and box, but to find means of nurturing opportunity and creating spaces from which positive outcomes can emerge. 

Here is where Argentine Tango makes its entrance in that it provides me with a small clue to further exploration. I will admit to addiction to dancing Argentine Tango, and am happy in that addiction. I am also somewhat obsessed with learning processes, and of course this includes my own learning.  So I am fascinated by the process by which the body learns new movement. It goes thus - prompted by such excellent teachers such as Ruth Zimmermann and Steve Morall, my mind becomes aware of a possible improvement to my dance and strives to direct the body to execute the movement; the body struggles to oblige and somewhere along the way succeeds. It is now considered to be in my 'muscle memory', directed in the process by my mind.  But my mind hasn't a clue how my body got there! It communicates, not a word or description,but a sense of something that the body 'gets'.  I see my mind as acting as facilitator and prompter, and the learning as a collaboration between mind and body. The body is not an empty vessel but a living entity with memory and capacity for new learning.  Now what if that interaction is also going the other way -from body to influence and direct the mind? 

Time to experience and ponder some more....

"We are talking about the spirit of a writer or a poet. When he sits down to write, he feels no restraints whatsoever. At that moment I do not feel as a Rom or a Macedonian, I feel only as a man who wants to write, to express, to discharge the energy that is within me. I think that these are common feelings for every brother and sister that writes."

Words of Muzafer Bizlim in 'Overcoming Stereotypes through Romani music in Macedonia'


Further reading 

Strategic arts-based peacebuilding  Role of the arts in peacebuilding 

Babies understand music (Video: 30mins; interviews in English): Innate musical ability and communication in very young babies

Los bebés comprenden la música  (as previous, in Spanish)

The power of puppetry