An Artful Reflection of Art-based Dialogues

Image: Autypical.in 

Author: Shradha Khadka

In recent times, dialogue as a concept and as a tool is popularly used within (but not limited to) the disciplines of governance, public policy, development, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The implication of these dialogues in such contexts is not a mere discussion, conversation or debate, rather it refers to creating safe spaces for individuals or groups to reveal their perceptions, experiences and expectations on deep-rooted issues. Experts relate this growing interest in application of dialogue to existing and perhaps deepening polarization within communities and structures across the globe that is further aggravated by personal, political or societal norms and ideologies (Gruener, Smith , & Hald , 2019).

In Nepal, which is a relatively young federal nation, a milestone shift in its political landscape came with promulgation of new Constitution in 2015 and adoption of a federal governance framework.  The change came as a beacon of hope for diligent leaders in the country aspiring to achieve political, economic and social changes. In a heterogenous country like Nepal, that is diverse in terms of caste, ethnicity, region, adoption of a federal structure also paved potential grounds for multicultural cohesion and a peaceful nation.

However, against the background of the already existing caste, ethnicity, language, class and region based social barriers and inequalities, post-conflict recovery and long-lasting peace in the country has been difficult to attain. The process itself has proven to be complex which is often provoked by the unstable and political grounds of Nepal and a federal framework that is yet in an “experimental” stage. Many studies and experts forewarn that as long as deep-rooted distrust among societal groups created by such complexities exist, peacebuilding efforts and interventions will be ineffective in the country and underlying roots of conflicts will sooner or later surface under much threatening circumstances (King, 2014).

Nevertheless, there is hope but also, an urgent need for spaces to engage communities and multi parties in genuine dialogues that widen their perspectives across religions, cultures, languages, regions and help to build trust and cohesion among them.

In response to his need of the hour, Centre for Social Change (CSC),  through its recent endeavors has heavily focused on strengthening societal cohesion and trust among groups, especially youth groups belonging to diverse socio-cultural backgrounds. One of the most successful interventions under this aspiration has been, the use of art-based dialogues as tools to create safe and congruent spaces among such youth groups to address some of the most prominent social issues existent in the communities that hinder trust and peacebuilding processes.

Art, dialogue and capacity building

Art by Vaishali Chhetri on normalization of homosexual marriages

A plethora of literature as well as practices across globe imply that art is an invitation to have conversation. It often acts as an instrument to make sense of complex matters existent in the individual, political, societal  levels, and fosters creativity as well as opportunities for learning and establishing connections. This understanding was incorporated into CSC’s interventions to encourage accomplished artists to produce engaging works of art. These art works depicted deeply embedded societal issues like gender violence, religious disputes, conflicts created by political polarization, etc. that have the potential to disrupt social harmony. The of meaning these art works portrayed were subjective to the artists however, it was open to interpretation among the viewers. This was the main component that was successful in encouraging viewers who were largely youths, to address complex social issues and relate them to their personal experiences and observations.

However, these were not simply experience-sharing sessions, rather these were dialogue workshops facilitated by trained and capable people who knew to decode ambiguity,  draw common social understandings, understand emotions, etc. They were able to resonate with viewers’ expressions to find avenues towards building empathy, trust and cohesion within the communities. CSC, in the past nine months had the immense delight of working with 16 facilitators, more than 1700 youths in 32 high schools in Bara, Rupandehi, Sunsari and Dhangadi districts of Nepal.  

Ruminating the simpler achievements

Using art-based dialogues as tools in peacebuilding processes was the bigger goal that CSC continues to advocate for, however, along the way, other achievements have also emphasized its necessity and application. The art works and educational materials produced have been successful in upholding democratic values of expression of voices and were able to reiterate the value of “humanness” in the center of conflicts and also of the resolutions but most importantly, of dialogues. Discovering shared meanings, collective intelligence and collaborative strengths of the communities were also able to surface through these interventions.

Although use of art-based dialogues started as a fresh learning opportunity for CSC, it ended up being one of the organization’s most successful and endearing interventions. Enhancing measures to improve connections and collective achievement of peacebuilding, art-based dialogues have proven to be amply effective.    

The graphics, views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

Shradha Khadka
Sr. Researcher
Centre for Social Change

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