Art Equals Peace

It is actually very sad, and at the same time funny to be presenting papers, or conducting workshops on Peacebuilding through the Arts because Arts is really about peace-it has one and the same meaning, only the spelling is different. Yet, time and again, we have to convince other people, especially funding bodies that what we do is essentially peacemaking.

An example of how Art equals Peace is this experience I had when I attended the Flying Circus Project 2000 in Singapore. The 21-day workshop-interaction organized by Theatreworks, Ltd. based in Singapore gathered 75 dance, theatre, music, traditional, visual, and film artists all over Asia, many of who did not speak English. Of course there were translators. All the time, we were sitting on the floor in circles or semi-circles. There were sessions where we would listen to an artist resource person who would share his/her work. We would watch live performances, video shows, and slideshow presentations of these artists’ works, after which, we would talk endlessly about the presentation, where we argued a lot. Some discussions became heated or boring enough for some of us to leave these sessions. The only time that we laughed together and felt our kinship and solidarity was when we performed together. These were the moments of pure peace and contentment. In the end, some of us who have become real friends agreed in one of our over-lunch teté-a-tetés that whenever we opened our mouths to talk about an idea and try to convince the others about this idea, an argument ensues. But all philosophical and pedagogical differences are wiped out when we break into song or dance.


Art is about reflecting your life, another person’s life, or another creature’s life on stage, on canvass, and in verses, the difference being an entire life is captured in a few moments of performance (theatre) and exposure (film), a few strokes (painting), or a few words (poetry).

But art as a mirror requires: 1) knowledge and understanding of the subject, and 2) communication. When you try to paint a stone, you are actually trying to understand what a stone feels like, where its curves lie, why it’s chipped on one side. When a performer portrays the role of a devil or a dictator, s/he tries to put him/herself on that creature’s shoes and tries to feel what that creature is feeling.

Art is about communication. When you paint a picture and hang it on the wall, people are bound to look at it and even try to analyze it. They may or may not get what you’re trying to say, but the fact that people actually stop and look and try, if desperately, to understand that piece of work, is the beginning of real communication.

A lot of conflicts are the result of the lack of communication.

Artists project onto the canvas, or paper, or onstage their feelings and thoughts and philosophies about certain subject matters. When a child draws on paper what seems to be senseless, vigorous strokes of scratches and lines and endless circles, the child may be trying to say I am disturbed, I am angry, I am hopeless. An ordinary person seeing this piece of confused work is actually seeing a piece of art drawn by a child trying to say that his/her life is, indeed, confused.


Art is about magnifying or detailing certain things about life. Artists notice lots of things around us that “non-artists” don’t. A blind person carries with him/her sensibilities and sensitivities akin to that of an artist. Because a blind person does not have visual references which to hang on to, all his/her other senses compensate for a visual disability by working double time, and twice over. So do artists. They are very keen at observing little things, mostly things that we take for granted, like cracks on walls, and a blade of grass bent in another direction.

As a non-blind person doing a blind person’s journey, you are actually afraid to take a step forward because you are thrown in a different perspective, presented with a different point of view. A lot of biases and conflicts arise from very set beliefs, opinions, cultural patterns, and political frameworks borne out of years of social conditioning in the homes, in schools, on TV, in movies, etc. So when another point of view is presented to you-one that you have not experienced, the immediate reaction is resistance, a refusal to take that crucial first step forward and embrace that new space, that new dimension, in order to understand more comprehensively the world and how it works.

It is common to think of artists as free spirits, good-only-for-entertainment human beings. I was once invited to sing in a women’s conference and I was introduced as an artist with no political stand or affiliations but they invited me because I was a woman and I knew a few women’s songs. We have common mis-perceptions of artists as having no political backbone, when in fact many of our artistic creations-whether they are paintings of a fish or stars or flowers-are political. The images that we show are our political statements. “Nature is beautiful” is as much political as the statement “stop the war.”

And with art, everything is beautiful. Even your anger, when expressed on a piece of paper, is a beautiful thing. In this sense, artists are, indeed, blind.


In the olden days in some indigenous communities, two people expressed their anger for each other by chanting or playing the flute or some other instrument. Imagine a world where arguments are settled through song.

When we’re really stressed out, angry, or depressed, we go out and watch a movie (film arts), we gormandize on food (culinary arts), we splurge on new clothes (fashion arts), we listen to classical or rock music (music arts).

Art is everywhere-it is as basic as food, without which we’d all be killing each other, which is what is happening now, because there isn’t enough art to serve 70 million Filipinos, for example. To calm ourselves and make this world a “peaceful” place to live in, we kill those who make us angry. We kill over parking space. We kill over an uncooked dinner.

Because art has become inaccessible. You need money to watch a movie. You need money to buy food. You need money to buy clothes. You need money to buy a cd playern or an ipod. You need money to buy costumes and make-up and paint and canvasses and stage props. Poverty and inequity has reduced art into an activity available only to a select few. And those who have so much produce entertainment shows and other pseudo-art that reinforces poverty and inequity. And the cycle goes on.


Herein lies the difference, the gap, and the greatest challenge for us all as peacemakers and peacebuilders. More often than not, we are consumers, rather than producers of art. But do you notice how children-especially poor children-are the best examples of art producers, yet little do we recognize their natural artistic talents? In the absence of money to buy toys, poor children create toys out of tin cans, stones, leaves, found objects-in adult terms, appropriate technology. This is their way of handling poverty. But this is not enough.

How we translate or elevate these natural talents into a conscious, institutionalized and programmatic art-making is the challenge for development workers and especially for government-so that art, which was once upon a time a language spoken by every member of the community, is reclaimed by every single human being as his/her own.

Imagine a world where every human being is an artist.