Creating peace with art

In order to create an image of peace, we must first be able to imagine it, according to Joanna Bottenberg.

Last Thursday at a presentation on the Role of Arts in Imaging and Promoting Peace, the Concordia professor presented many ideas about how to imagine peace and whether it is possible to create a collective idea of peace through art.

“Many war situations remain war situations because of memories that are preserved very carefully among the groups that fight with each other,” said Bottenberg. “Can artists construct an alternative visual and verbal collective memory that questions and destabilizes the myths that keep wars going?”

Showing literary and visual art examples, Bottenberg suggested that to imagine peace for ourselves, we should latch on to an image of peace we find significant.

“When the individual does the work and understands (the image) internally, it transcends that and becomes external,” said Angela Read, a Concordia fine arts alumni who was watching the presentation. She suggested we imagine past our immediate surroundings.

Imaging and Imagining Peace is part of the Concordia Peace and Conflict Resolution Academic Series, a series that resulted as a reaction to the September 2002 protests at Concordia.

The series administrator Laurie Lamoreux Scholes said the purpose of this series is to hold open forums for discussion between students, faculty, and the public.

This presentation was the first of six events on Imaging and Imagining Peace, a project created by Bottenberg and professor Rosemarie Schede. The original idea for the presentation came to Bottenberg from the poetry of Denise Levertov.

She cited this poet as a strong influence for the concepts she presented.

“Peace as a positive condition of society, not merely as an interim between wars, is something so unknown that it casts no images on the mind’s screen,” wrote Denise Levertov.

Bottenberg said it is difficult to find clear images of peace. She said it was easier to find images of war, and questioned why we don’t have more powerful peace poetry.

There is a long history of war poetry that speaks of heroism in war, and in comparison there are very few powerful poems about peace.

“All a poet can do is warn,” wrote Wilfred Owen, a British WWI poet she cited as one of the exceptions to the heroic war poetry written at this time.

Bottenberg said Owen tried to make people aware of what war is really like, and to debunk the myth of heroism that was perpetuated by the military. “In earlier times a poet who would warn against war was an exception,” said Bottenberg.

One person in the audience said that war images are more common because of the shock value used. He said wars are how humans mark history, and peace is seen as almost transitional time. He said that war is a really easy thing to sell.

Bottenberg agreed we see peace now as a background against war, and it is the only way we know how to define peace.

But she thinks we need to start thinking about these things. She thinks the way we see peace can change “if we can just get the right images.”

The Imagining and Imaging Art event will continue until April 5.

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