“We will tell the world our new story”: ICAN conference

“We will tell the world our new story”: ICAN conference
by Andrea VALEIRAS
21 October 2010

Building a new story and sharing it with the world is the main challenge in Derry/Londonderry’s bid to be the first-ever UK City of Culture in 2013. And these words could also be the perfect leitmotif for those that decide to express themselves through art.

The conference “Exchange | Connect: Collaborative Arts | Conflict Transformation”, organised by International Culture Arts Network (ICAN) and hosted at The Playhouse, highlights a number of initiatives that make this particular form of vindication.

In the introduction, Michael Doherty, Director of Peace & Reconciliation Group, explained how well-worn words can provoke emotions that are dangerous and lead to wars and conflicts. Art represents the word in its maximum expression, doubly — to attract attention to personal issues (because at the end of a conflict, the worst damages are those that affect people) and to help the population to recover after having suffered that difficult situation.

An example is the District Six, in Cape Town. It is known for the forced removal of its inhabitants by the apartheid regime. In 1966, it was declared a white area under the Group areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over — 60,000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas, with their houses by bulldozers.

The District Six Museum was established in December 1994, with the African National Congress recognising the claims of the former residents to the area and pledged to support rebuilding.

Bonita Bennet, director of the museum, explained that the main idea of the project is “to rebuild District Six, but work with the memory”. For this, they use memory mapping, pedagogical processes and commemoration on the land, to help people move onto a better future. And through their performances, they can tell their own story to the rest of the world.

Art is one of the most emotional forms of communication. And only with communication is it possible to achieve reconciliation. Anger is the absence of hope. People must share repressed feelings in order to give forgiveness a chance. If you live with others in a community in conflict, then the key is to take advantage of it to group up as a community.

This change — this progress — is the main idea that Peter Jenkinson and Caoimhin Corrigan want to transmit in the work leading up to Derry~Londonderry’s year of being UK City of Culture in 2013.

They said that one of the most important aims is “to move from the ‘me’ to ‘we’”, making people aware that the story of Derry is one of self-improvement.

Through various actions, for example a promotional video, they show a different Derry~Londonderry, a city that is building a connected community, a city that is driving an economic renaissance, a city making a sustainable cultural environment.

They want to tell the new story of the new Derry~Londonderry — a place of reconciliation — and demonstrate the way to peace through engaging with cultural insight and respect.

Because, as Michael Doherty said, reconciliation means considering the other point of view and recognising one’s own shortcomings. If we can do this, maybe will never fight again.

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