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ArtFostering peace through art, culture

Fostering peace through art, culture

Ethiopia has experienced horrific war and internal conflicts for the previous two years that may have resulted in the deaths of over 600,000 people, if not more. Even though it is the ideal weapon to mend the wounds and bring peace, art is rarely utilized in Ethiopia due to its accessibility and adaptability.

Selam Ethiopia, a global non-governmental organization created in Stockholm in 2005 and whose name translates to “peace in Sweden,” intends to buck the trend. It hosted a conference dubbed Selam Talks last week where experts from diverse areas discussed the role that art and culture play in promoting peace.

In its first round, held on November 22, the first of four panels, titled “Building peace through art and culture,” focused on Tilahun Bejitual’s (PhD) research on the role of arts and culture in peacebuilding in Ethiopia.

The main findings of the study emphasized how art and culture feed the culture of war, how ethnic policies stifle them, how artistic freedom is sacrificed for financial gain, how artistic activities are distributed unevenly, and how art and culture are not especially evident in healing and reconciliation.

“As a foundation for this study, I attempted to include the kind of connection that art and peace have. One of these connections is that the brain is the source of both peace and conflict,” Tilahun stated at the start of his presentation.

Both war and peace are created in a person’s brain, according to Tilahun. “So, that is where we must focus our efforts. If we were to ask where the root and imagination are, we would all know the answer.”

He concluded that the brain is an overlapping sphere for both art and peace. Tilahun also stated that he used studies that show that art can be used as a tool for identifying and healing the problems and obstacles a community faces.

His study, which is purely qualitative and not based on any specific art or artwork, is more of about the direction of the art sector. It focuses on the perspectives of people in the sector, such as artists, cultural experts, and peacebuilding agents, on art and its role in fostering peace.

The panelists, comprising Asma Redi, Director General for Nation Building Ministry of Peace, Agegnehu Adane, Director of the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design at AAU, and Mahlet Solomon, theatre and film director, scriptwriter, actress, and producer, discussed their reactions to Tilahun’s research and their perspectives on the role of art in peace and peacebuilding in Ethiopia.

While they were all in agreement with Tilahun’s ideas and conclusions, they all had their own perspectives on the role of art in maintaining national peace. They also discussed what they believe is lacking in the use of art for peacebuilding.

“Art to me is a knife with blades on both sides,” Agegnehu said. “It has the ability to romanticize war, death, and conflict while also uniting people in the face of an existential threat.”

Agegnehu believes that art has a tendency to spread and monumentalize or, on the other hand, to glamorize and idealize selected parts of history, which has a significant impact on peace.

Art and art forms, according to Asma, do not work to create peace in our country and instead focus on entertainment.

“Its use is only remembered when the country is suffering from war, drought, or another calamity,” Asma explained. “As government officials, our ears are only open for the current agenda, and we only give sponsorships in that regard, so art has not been used for peacebuilding and is only used when there are problems.”

Asma reacted to inquiries regarding the Ministry of Peace’s use of art as a means to promote peace.

“The ministry has not worked directly on directing art toward the creation of peace. We hope to do more in the future in this regard,” Asma said.

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