Peace: A Figment of the Imagination?

Figment-300x225Can we give peace a chance?  Or is peace just a figment of the imagination.  This question was raised by our twentieth century troubadour, John Lennon in his songs, Imagine and Give Peace a Chance.  Philosophers, religious and world leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King and Father Jerzy Popieluszko struggled with the concept of peaceful change. They sought to change the political structures in which they found themselves through non-violent protest, often giving the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.  Artists around the world struggle with peaceful protest often times challenging their own governments at great personal sacrifice.  China’s Ai Wei Wei is one of those artists.  Because of his art projects which have challenged the Chinese government’s response to free expression he has been arrested, jailed and within the last year his passport has been revoked.  He cannot attend exhibitions such as the present exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum entitled “Ai Wei Wei:  According to What?

Today, with fighting in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, it is difficult to see how a peaceful path to the resolution of these conflicts can be forged.  We are often at a loss as to what we as individuals can do.  We can and should raise a voice for peaceful change by our actions.  Pasos Peace Museum, an institution founded by Nitza Milagros Escalera six years ago, seeks to provide a forum within which it is possible to explore peace.  Individuals are encouraged to achieve the state of mind and being wherein the idea of peace can be explored and put into practice.  With this in mind, Pasos participated in Figment, an art festival which was held this year on the first weekend of June in New York City on Governor’s Island.

Figment is a “forum for the creation and display of participatory and interactive art by emerging artists across [different] disciplines.” Based on the Burning Man Festival held each year in Nevada, Figment’s mission “is to build community through the participatory arts, inspiring personal and social transformation by creating cultural events and experiences in a spirit of participation and inclusion.”  It seeks to create an immersive environment in which each individual is encouraged to achieve personal artistic transformation through creative cooperation and collaboration.  The two-day event is completely free; there are no commercial sponsorships and the art on the island is not for sale. In addition, some art will remain on the island for the remainder of the summer.

Transforming a former Army base/Coast Guard Facility into an island for the exploration of art and nature is a truly phenomenal achievement for this seven-year old organization.  Governor’s Island is a five-minute ferry ride from either Brooklyn or Manhattan.  The island, much like Fire Island, is closed to cars and is a bucolic setting for enjoying nature and art.  The backdrop of Manhattan’s sky-line gives one the sense of being in the woods or fields just before entering the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.

And much like the dream-like world of the Wizard of Oz there is magic on the island.  The artists who participate used that magic to create wonderful works of art spanning many genres from a hand-made whimsical tree house to musical events, including belly dancing.   There were 300 or so participant-artists in this year’s event.

Pasos was proud to be a participant in this two-day art-filled event.  It hosted a project in which children of all ages were invited to make a panel for a peace quilt which when joined together will be displayed sometime later in 2014.  The panelists were invited to express what peace feels like to them.  Materials consisted of recycled fabric, buttons, finger puppets, lace and fabric markers. The expressions of peace are as varied as the backgrounds of the panelists — one participant from Pakistan stated that peace is justice.  Another participant expressed herself through the traditional icon of peace, the universal peace symbol [the circle with the inverted Y]; another found peace in the satisfaction and comfort that food brings.  Other reflections on peace were as disparate as one panelist’s expression of the joy of giving with images of Santa Claus and another panelist’s cryptic greeting to a fellow on-line gaming community participant.

Pasos’ intention is to promote an immersive experience wherein the individual is encouraged to explore what peace feels like and how this simple expression can be carried into their daily lives; and, from the individual, to the greater community and the world.

Please visit our online virtual museum for a full array of exhibits that express peacebuilding through art. Also, you can visit the Pasos website to download the “Pasos Children’s Rights Quilt Project Curriculum” and a History of Quilting. These are under the Resources: Educational Material tab:

By Siegrid Raible

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