This will be a brief/quick post because it’s really late and I need to get some sleep tonight. The final day of the World Culture Forum was wonderful. Really, the entire conference was one of the best I’ve ever attended. I’ve made friends with people all over the world from Australia to Bangladesh to Singapore to Rwanda and I met many amazing people locally.
The morning began with a panel on Arts and Education which Abed from Al Rowwad chaired so we got to see some more footage of his amazing children’s theater company. Some of the film footage shows children acting out Palestinian history, including the intifada so that the kids can throw stones on the stage instead of the street. Although they do often perform in the street. The next panelist was from the Queen Rania for Family and Child Centre in Amman. She works with a puppet show (see picture above) to get children to talk about various types of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual, verbal, and neglect. She and her team go into the schools and other spaces and address these issues through the puppets,meditation, drawing, etc. We got to see one of the puppet show performances as well as some video footage of the work they do with the kids. The second panelist was from the Ministry of Education in Jordan. He talked about a new program, which despite my research I was not aware of. It’s called ERfKE (Education Reform for a Knowledge Economy). He talked about the goals for the program and it blew my mind. It’s all about embedding critical thinking skills and self assessment (for teachers and students) into the curriculum. They are shifting to a student-centered pedagogy where the teacher is primarily the facilitator. All of this is connected to Jordanian development goals, which I think makes a lot of good sense. Their new motto for teachers is “less chalk & talk.”
The artistic pause of the day was a beautiful classical Indian music performance, but I came in late so I’m not sure about the details of the artists or where they are from. Nevertheless it was beautiful.
The final panel of the day was a closing session that everyone attended. There was an English woman on the panel who was really quite fantastic. She began with a statement that was so simple and yet so profound in the phrasing of it: “the transfer of knowledge is about the expert becoming the learner.” She moved into an exploration of thinking about art in a new way; consider: what if a good person = a good artist? She imagined this equation because artists seek truth and authenticity; they are comfortable with a shifting self–to both be a change maker and to change the self. Another thought provoking thing she talked about is the sense that witnessing the Other can be a cultural form when someone says what you don’t want to hear and as a result they become a more complex human being. Throughout her talk she sort of promoted hybridity as a model–thinking about how hybridity works in art and extending this to people in terms of moving outside of one’s comfort zone and into conflict areas; she argued that countries that have not experienced or are not in conflict often experience a sort of paralysis.
The Q&A in this last session was especially wonderful because the audience really pushed the panelists (there were two other speakers) to consider some crucial, if not difficult issues: the fact that 9/11 eclipsed the World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa. The fact that 9/11 killed only 3,000 and yet somehow the world moves as if this is the only tragedy that counts when millions of people are dying in Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, etc. In part he was responding to the first paper that was on the subject of “cultural security,” a phrase I have a hard time getting a grip on; he used these examples as a way to re-frame the agenda for this group of artists, intellectuals, and others to think about cultural democracy and justice instead. An Indian woman talked about the ways in which everyone around the world sees other people around the world filtered through a U.S. lens and how important it is to have these types of cultural gatherings to see and know more realistic ideas about people around the world.
Although I’m new to this UNESCO world, my main concerns have to do with the fact that there was so much focus on healing wounds in places like Rwanda that I felt like the eradication of culture through war in the present moment in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Palestine, is something that we should discuss now. We should not wait until the occupation or conflict is complete to begin doing things to help save cultural practices, spaces, movements, etc. We should use culture NOW to intervene in the conflict zones.
The night closed with an encore performance of Samputu Ingeli’s Rwandan music and dance, but this time it was a bit more poignant because it was performed on an outdoor stage overlooking the Dead Sea, and of course, Palestine behind them. Hearing Jean Paul sing about giving children hope and saving them made me think how ironic it was that we were so close to another group of children and adults who don’t want the world to wait until it reaches a Rwanda proportion before something is done.