Transforming memories of war into memories of peace: Imagine Peace

The Mothers of Soacha. (c) Allan LEONARD @MrUlster

Transforming memories of war into memories of peace: Imagine Peace #GRWeek18
by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
18 September 2018

Imagine Peace is a photography exhibition launched at Belfast Exposed as part of Good Relations Week, featuring artists Ingrid Guyon and Antonio Amador with their Colombian peacebuilding subjects.

The exhibition is part of a creative peace project called “FUTyoURES”, which seeks to develop a shared creative model for conflict transformation in Colombia and Northern Ireland. The FUTyoURES project is a collaboration between Beyond Skin (Northern Ireland) and Escuelas de Paz (Colombia).

Darren Ferguson (Founder, Beyond Skin) told us how the exhibition came about: “My colleague Alejandro saw a documentary film that Ingrid made about peacebuilding work by the Colombian diaspora. He learned that Ingrid was in Bogota, where I was too, so Alejandro told me to meet her.”

There was a more complex background to the development of the relationship between Beyond Skin and Escuelas de Paz. In March 2017, Beyond Skin hosted a youth conference, where the Peter Gabriel Foundation sponsored participants to travel to Northern Ireland. Ferguson recalled Peter Gabriel saying, “Music doesn’t assist dialogue. Music is the dialogue.” An outcome of that conference was an objective to create space for music. This started as a simple WhatsApp messaging group, called “Arts Dialogue”. Escuelas de Paz is a member of Arts Dialogue, and it worked with Beyond Skin to form the FUTyoURES programme.

Ingrid Guyon and Antonio Amador met each other through Helga Flamtermesky, who returned to Barcelona to develop programmes for women of the Colombian diaspora. The two artists have been working together ever since.

Imagine Peace shows the artists’ individual and collaborative efforts, in several sections.

As described by Conciliation Resources, the Truth, Memory and Reconciliation Commission of Colombian Women in the Diaspora (TMRC) is a citizen initiative created in London in 2014, when the diaspora was considering its role in peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC. TMRC argues that the migration experience of the women of the diaspora — often a product of the violence in Colombia — has a crucial role in building a more peaceful, democratic, and inclusive Colombian society.

The Commission’s common thread is the gathering of testimonies. Importantly, this is done in a holistic or healing or feminist methodology determined by the participants, which meant the sessions have been usually held in kitchens and unscripted, using food, music, dance, and rituals.

The portraits and personal objects on display at the Imagine Peace exhibition are a small sample of the collected testimonies, written by the female subjects themselves.

Consuelo, for example, said how the joy of fellow participants encouraged her to express herself in a project photoshoot: “I think the photoshoots transform you because you feel more natural and able to show yourself to the world.”

Maribel, meanwhile, felt that the photoshoot enabled her to talk about her past, “not as something that happened and is still haunting me, but as something that happened and encouraged me to rise up and pursue better things”.

Guyon and Amador’s work with TRMC led them to projects with other organisations, such as La Colectiva and Cuerpos Gramaticales.

The Collective of Refugee, Migrant and Exiled Women in Spain (“La Colectiva”) is a project created in 2004, by women refugees and migrants from Colombia. La Colectiva aims to make visible the voices of women, especially victims abroad, presenting proposals to ensure the inclusion of a gender focus in the Colombian peace process.

On display is a sample from La Colectiva’s participatory art project, “Mujer Eres” (Woman You Are), which used theatre as a healing tool. Participants were asked to think about their past, present, and future, which was captured in multiple exposure images.

Cuerpos Gramaticales (Grammatical Bodies) was a performance act that took place in the Estació del Nord park in Barcelona, in collaboration of the group AgroArte and organised by the International Catalan Institute for Peace. The act was created in Medelín Commune 13 (Colombia), in a way to address the enforced disappearance of the commune during a military operation where dozens of people disappeared.

Participants in Cuerpos Gramaticales prepared themselves through dance, theatre, literature, and embroidery workshops. They planted themselves to go over their own memory and heal it. Some project postcards were available to take away, with testimonial quotations, such as: “I planted myself because we are the civil society and each and everyone of us, women, must assume our leading role as peacebuilders to change the history of our country.”

For some, the memory is a mother’s loss of a son.

Luz Marina Bernal describes the disappearance of her 25-year-old son, Fair Leonardo; months later, his corpse was found over 600 kilometres away from where his hometown of Soacha. She was told he was in an armed group and was found with a weapon in his right hand. Leonardo had a cognitive disability; this was illogical. Such falsely accused individuals are known in Colombia as “false positives”, and Bernal joined other mothers of Soacha to campaign for justice. Leonardo’s perpetrators received a sentence of over 50 years in prison.

Bernal’s and Leonardo’s images are shown on leaves, in a fascinating process that Guyon patiently explained to me — it involves making a “positive” negative image on acetate then exposing it for very long times (hours, days) on suitable plants. This is all a wonderful aspect of Guyon and Amador’s modus operandi — experimenting and discovering new ways of presenting images — and reflects her work at her organisation, Fotosynthesis.

The Colombian peace process itself is a learning exercise. The first plebiscite to ratify the peace agreement failed on 2 October 2016. In response, two days later a demonstration organised mainly by students took place (“La Marcha del Silencio”; The March of Silence). There was another demonstration on 12th October (“La Marcha de la Flores”; The March of the Flowers), which was led by indigenous, Afro-Colombians, farmers, victims, ex-combatants, women, artists, students, “claiming loudly but peacefully the collective desire that Colombian civil society has for peace”.

Or as Maribel says: “Peace in my Colombia is not a document signed by a few political leaders. It’s a set of actions and beliefs around the idea that my neighbour is not my rival just because it thinks different, it’s the acknowledgement of the other as my partner in life; it’s leaving behind that supposedly Colombian malice to take advantage of others; it’s overturning the political parties so they stop dividing and start promoting cooperation; it’s being respectful with my brothers and sisters even if they have religious beliefs different from mine.”

Guyon and Amador moot: “So is it happening? Yes it is happening and it has come already.”

Imagine Peace exhibition is at Belfast Exposed from 18-22 September 2018.


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