I’ve always loved to draw. The margins of my chemistry notebooks are dotted with doodles, my dorm room walls are plastered with sketches of landscapes and flowers. Until I became a member of the Ethics Center Leadership Council, art had always been about the aesthetic.
Art took on new meaning when outreach for Peacebuilding and the Arts became my semester project for the ECLC. The Peacebuilding and the Arts program views art as a medium for conveying stories about conflict and reconciliation. Past work includes the Dor Guez exhibit at the Rose Art Museum, the documentary, Acting Together on the World Stage, and a performance by the Thai theatre artist and social activist, Kop. Throughout the fall semester, I learned just how important art can be for people living in areas of conflict and their search for peace.
Last October, I visited Dr. Cindy Cohen’s class, PAX250, “The Arts of Building Peace.” The students had been assigned to interview people who had struggled with conflict and use any type of media to create pieces that demonstrated the interviewees’ resilience. Video footage of a Holocaust survivor, a poem about a student who travelled the world and was imprisoned in a foreign country, a song written about an Israeli soldier…I found it incredible that experiences of people I had never met could move me so much. The stories were certainly noteworthy, but I think it was the artful depictions that played to my emotions. Indeed, the art evoked feelings that are beyond words.
Last November I visited PAX250 again. This time, a special presentation was made by Jane Wilburn Sapp, a renowned musician and cultural worker who grew up during the Civil Rights Era in the American South. By the end of the session, everyone in the overfilled classroom joined Jane to sing, “There’s a River Flowing in my Soul.” Music is infectious, and Jane’s messages were unanimously received.
This Spring Dr. Cindy Cohen is offering students interested in music, peacebuilding, and the Civil Rights Movement a unique internship/ independent study opportunity documenting the life and work of Jane Sapp. Students will act as videographers, transcribers, and researchers and have the chance to work with Jane in a workshop setting. Jane’s work has the ability to bring people back to the civil rights era, a time that Brandeis students rarely think about. Understanding the struggles of others, I believe, makes us feel whole, and there is no greater unifying force than art.
While words come in different languages, art is universally understood. In a few days I’ll be leaving to study abroad in South Africa, a land recovering from Apartheid. I wonder what kinds of art forms I will encounter that will help me understand the struggles faced by the people who live there and their ability to gain peace.
-Erica Granor ’15