Creativity in Conflict: Performing Arts for Sustained Dialogue, Justice & Reconciliation
The performing arts are uniquely equipped to create order out of the chaos of conflicted societies. The arts are comfortable in that otherwise tumultuous space between justice and reconciliation, and have the potential to stimulate changes in attitudes and behaviours in the service of more balanced and inclusive societies. As the justice and peacebuilding fields continue to search for answers about how best to address widespread trauma in the midst of violent conflict, the arts, whether drawn from indigenous practice or external art forms modified for the cultural context, offer a few possible solutions. As one perspective of many on this topic, this paper seeks to, first, display some of the current approaches of how the performing arts are used to address the causes and consequences of conflict; second, present the findings of a pilot project carried out under the auspices of the IJR that tested the use of dance as a means of promoting dialogue in Cape Town, Western Cape; and third, compare how these same approaches were then modified and applied in Warrenton, Northern Cape.
Lessons for practitioners are also culled from these experiences to support continued practice.
Building on the IJR’s programmes – Memory, Arts, and Culture, Gender Justice and Reconciliation, and the Ashley Kriel Youth Leadership Development – this pilot project explored how the performing arts can be utilised to support efforts toward dialogue, understanding, and community-level reconciliation. This project developed out of a unique partnership between the IJR and the University of Cape Town (UCT) School of Dance. Taking place over a six-month period from July to December 2016, the pilot project entailed preliminary research, consultation with South African artists, dance companies, historians, and international dance practitioners, project design, and eight improvisational dance workshops. These activities culminated in public performances at the 2016 Baxter Dance Festival Fringe Programme in Cape Town and a performance at the 2016 IJR Reconciliation Award event. Preliminary findings suggest that dance movement and performance, if designed to reflect stories from the audience’s lived experiences, have the potential to catalyze key moments of increased understanding between historically disparate groups.
Given the success of the initial pilot, movement-based approaches were then applied in a two-day IJR intervention in Warrenton, Northern Cape that worked with a group of 20 cisgender and transgender women. Although not formally evaluated, this experience anecdotally revealed lessons about the utility of the arts in transforming attitudes and behaviours. In general, the application of a variety of artistic mediums allowed the women to increase their own self-esteem, improve their communication with family and neighbours, and feel motivated to work for change in their own communities. Additional findings and lessons for practitioners are discussed within.