Performing in the Midst of Violence

A question that I wonder about a lot, and one that seems to concern other artists and activists as well, is what role does art have to play in the midst of conflict? While I think it’s probably pretty clear from the theme of most of the posts in this blog that I think that art definitely has an important role to play in confronting social justice issues, I am always interested to see how artists see their role and how they think about creating art in places filled with violence and conflict. Dijana Miloševic, a director and co-founder of DAH Theatre in Belgrade, also has some interesting reflections on this issue. In her chapter, “Theatre as a Way of Creating Sense: Performance and Peacebuilding in the Region of the Former Yogoslavia,” Miloševic discusses her process and reflects on performances she created in the midst of the violent civil war that plagued her country. In the beginning of the chapter, she asks some of the same questions that I do: “What is the role and meaning of theatre? What is the responsibility of artists in times of darkness, violence and suffering? Can art, specifically theatre, be a tool for peace?” (29). In examining a few of the performances she created during the war, she seems to find a few different answers to these questions. She describes a piece, titled Maps of Forbidden Remembrance, which was performed in different contexts and for different audiences, having significantly different meanings each time. When performed in Belgrade, the piece served to “create public space for mourning, and to give voice to the silenced history.” When performed in the United States, it “informed people about the tragedy and inspired a similar process of facing the past” (35). This piece is only one example of the many ways that Miloševic and her theatre company create performances that promote peacebuilidng and reconciliation in a region tormented with violence. One of the things that struck me most about all of the performances she describes is the way that performance has the ability to create space—space for truth-telling, space for mourning, space for questioning and challenging, space for community. Also, I was moved by the way that performance is connected to memory, and the way that this memory can be used not to further violence, but to create a future that does not forget the past. Ultimately, Miloševic concludes, “theatre can create a space that allows memory to live in its full dignity—memory that opens the way for the truth to be heard again, and gives voice to the ones who cannot be otherwise heard” (43). So perhaps this, at least partly, is an answer to the question that both Miloševic and I ask. One role of the theatre (and performance and perhaps art in general)  in the midst of violence is to create safe spaces, to remember, and to give voice to the voiceless.

Miloševic, Dijana. “Theatre as a Way of Creating Sense: Performance and Peacebuilding in the Region of the Former Yugoslavia.” Acting Together: Performance and The Creative Transformation of Conflict. Ed. Cynthia E. Cohen, Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, Polly O. Walker. Vol. 1. Oakland: New Village Press, 2011. 23-43. Print.

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