April 11, 2010

Creating Peace, Creatively

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Growing up amidst the violence and civil unrest of the Caucasus, one might believe tragedy is a way of life. But to Georgian writer, activist and Cornell visiting professor Irakli Kakabadze, tragedy need not be inevitable. Last Wednesday, in a talk entitled “Acting Locally: Building Peace Through Creative Arts,” Kakabadze and his students showed how art can alter our perceptions of tragedy and play a role in the peace process.A native Georgian, Kakabadze was a leader of the student movement for Georgia’s liberation in 1988-1990. He also played a key role in the bloodless Rose Revolution of 2003, which displaced the president. As a member of the “Civic Disobedience Committee,” Kakabadze urged non-violent social change. However, his views and political action were not without dire consequences. In 2005, Kakabadze was severely beaten. The following year, he was detained by authorities four times. Finally, fearing for the safety of himself and his family, Kakabadze fled Georgia in 2007. Currently, Kakabadze is a visiting scholar in Cornell’s Peace Studies program and a writer-in-residence of Ithaca City of Asylum, an organization which provides sanctuary for threatened writers.At Cornell, Kakabadze has continued advocating nonviolence and the arts as viable peace building strategies. In his class Peace Building and Creative Arts, he challenges his students to rethink the notion of tragedy and to think about conflict resolution creatively. As a final project, Kakabadze challenged his students to rewrite the ending of his play Candidate Jokola, a tragedy about a Georgian oil executive who suddenly quits the presidential race and the chaos that follows.As part of Wednesday’s presentation, students and other volunteers performed two scenes from Kakabadze’s Candidate Jokola, including the final monologue where Jokola rejects the presidency. Following the performance, Kakabadze showed a video by one of his students, Christian Madera ’10. The film highlighted several of the re-written and featured interviews with Kakabadze and his students.In re-writing the final monologue of Candidate Jokola, Kakabadze’s students challenged both the inevitability of tragedy and tragedy as a dramatic form. On a more basic level, Kakabadze and his students are not just rethinking poetic form or diplomatic strategies. Rather, their work redefines the role of creativity, stripping it from the purely speculative realm and situating it in reality. Utopian vision coupled with pragmatic strategy, Kakabadze’s work is the perfect fusion of knowledge and action, theory and practice, art and advocacy. His work begs the following questions: in a world ripe with complexity and disorder, what is the role of the artist? Of the idealist? Of the creative problem solver? “[In Georgia] we did not accept realism and the reality that was given. It was a bad reality to take,” said Kakabadze. “I’ve always believed that people can change reality, that art can change reality … and help us overcome violence.”Essentially, Kabakadze’s work is a rejection of both aestheticism and materialism. Art does not describe reality; art creates reality. The students’ final project for Kabakadze’s class is a perfect example of art as a force for change, for altering reality. In fact, when videos of the taped monologues surfaced on YouTube, the Georgian Minister of Reintegration commented on the strategies suggested by the performances, giving them high praise.“Everyone was equipped with knowledge. It was not just creativity but knowledge,” said Kakabadze of the student performances. “[The students] suggested really practical solutions, and that’s why the minister got interested.”Many students commented that the class took them out of their comfort zone, and they learned to more forcefully voice their opinions. Others emphasized how the nontraditional style of the class taught them creative problem solving skills necessary for conflict resolution.[Kakabadze’s class] introduced us to another tract to diplomacy and showed how art, peace activism, and education are equally valid methods [of peace building],” Rammy Salem ’10 said.As Kakabadze implies, creativity can inform practicality. Most importantly, creativity can be used to approach traditional problems through non-traditional ways. If anything, age-old problems — like conflict resolutions — demand new solutions. According to Kakabadze, conflict resolution has typically been thought of in militaristic terms, eventually resulting in violence. The conflict between Russia and Georgia over the separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been no different. As Kakabadze explained, military force is not the answer.He said, “We always have a free choice to make decisions, and we need to be looking at more creative options to avoid violence realistically.”

Original Author: Emily Greenberg