commission for The Peace Center through a Belgian NGO Relief and Reconciliation for Syria
Parameters of the commission- to create a kinetic sculpture that would be installed in
the lobby of the peace center in collaboration with children from local village and
collaborators: the combined efforts of local Lebanese children
village and Syrian children from the neighboring refugee camps.
location: Bkarzla Lebanon in the district of northern Governate,
4km from the Syrian border. The area is very poor and local
relations between groups are strained and have erupted in
violence in the recent past year. The region is a militarized
red zone, where tensions run high and resources are scarce
including power, food, and clean drinking water
Parameters of the commission- to create a kinetic sculpture that would be installed in the lobby of the peace center in collaboration with children from local village and refugee camps
The Background Story:
After passing through the final check point in Tripoli, there is a palpable difference in energy. It quickly became evident that we were entering a no fly militarized zone where only humanitarian workers, military and locals were permitted. The Peace Center is located in a region where the tensions are high between the refugees in the camps and the locals. The center serves as a hub for educational resources, and provides much needed support and mediation for the region as well as liaison between Unicef, UNHCR and the refugees.
I was invited to create a site specific piece for the lobby of this center.
Taking into consideration that the ceiling is 4 stories high, I had access
to an 8 foot aluminum ladder, and an old electric drill and a handful
After a couple of weeks of working in the region, I could feel the tension and divide between the locals and the refugees and wanted to create a situation that would encourage collaboration among the two groups. Extrapolating on the imagery of the lebanese flag and the tree, I decided to create a tree using a variety of natural tree parts from the very agricultural fields where many of the refugee children work for $4 a day; I upended the tree form so that the roots were at the apex and the tree would 'grow' down 49' to greet visitors. The children helped me to cast plaster fruit cast in plastic espresso cups and the bottoms of plastic bottles. These forms were then painted by the children and then added to the tree in a symbolic gesture.
The children from the refugee camps come from war torn areas and have experienced loss and trauma beyond comprehension . The politics are far more complex than what is shared by the press. Due to the fact that the refugees were granted entrance on lebanese tourist visas their documentation has expired and are all now considered illegal without proper identification. They are vulnerable to being arrested anytime and the adults are unable to safely leave the camp, and are unable to work due to lack of documentation; at the same time they are paying rent for the four corners of dirt that their tent rests on. They are going into debt living in substandard conditions. At the same time, when visiting the families in the camps, I was welcomed like family, sharing coffee, or sweet tea. The women were amazing, strong and fiercely protective of their families. Their dignity and quiet heroism is remarkable- sharing stories of their experiences of families pulled apart by war, often traveling for weeks with children on their own. This winter alone countless children have frozen to death in the harsh winter conditions at this border region while attempting to flee from the horrendous nightmare of the war.
The children in the local villages are not unfamiliar to struggle either, They live in the poorest region of Lebanon and know what it is like to live in a conflict zone. By the end of the installation of the piece, they all were working side by side. Even the Mayor of the neighboring village has invited me back to create a piece in their village.. The interesting fact is that children are much more facile in challenging preconceived notions and become the leaders in peace building within their homes.
As in the words of Michelangelo Pistoletto, "artistic production can be a catalyst responsible for social transformation, a collaborative process that fosters identity building, reclamation and pride. It is not only the final installation of the pieces that I consider paramount to the work; instead it is the social interaction, building of hope, bridging boundaries of economics, educational access, language and culture."