Peacemaking through Art

Two Iraqis and two U.S. students created this tile painting.
Two Iraqis and two U.S. students created this tile painting, the “unity” tile.

 

“We may be culturally different and even messy, but there are some things, such as art, that unify us in a way that can’t be denied.”

Peacemaking through Art

by Susan Brooks

It’s incredible how impactful a few hours of interaction with someone from another culture can be! Our State Department sponsors various cultural groups to visit the U.S., and sometimes those groups come to our city, Louisville, KY, through the local chapter of the World Affairs Council.  Because of my husband, Martin Brooks, and his work with Peace Catalyst International, one such group visited my school on August 26.  The group included 12 Iraqi high school students and their sponsors who had come to the states to explore “peacemaking through art and sports.”  Our students were so friendly and gracious to them!  I began to wonder if the angels had taken the souls of my eighth graders away and inhabited their bodies for that afternoon. We broke up into groups of 4 or 5 and discussed questions about culture, family, political struggles, hobbies, school, etc.  Then when the principal asked what my students had learned, one of our boys shouted, “Iraqis are awesome!”

The last class period of the day, half of the Iraqi students participated in my art class.  Doing art together turned out to be a fantastic, fun time that exceeded all my expectations and brought about the perfect ending to our great day of peace building.  At one of the tables,  two Iraqis and  two of my American students decided to work together in such a way that their tile paintings became more than just individual designs– each tile was an important part of a larger  whole, making a more beautiful and complex design when placed together.  I like to call it the “unity” tile.  One of our students said it well in a tweet she sent out that evening:

“We may be culturally different and even messy, but there are some things, such as art, that unify us in a way that can’t be denied.”

The next day, my eighth grade writing class processed the experience through blogging, and they had some great comments:
“By the end of our time with them they felt like friends, even one of us started crying.”

“They also came over here to let people know that not all Iraqi people are terrorists; and they don’t want war; they just want peace.  The experience of meeting our guests yesterday changed the way I think and react to stories on the news and to life in general.  I think this time with the Iraqis was very inspiring.”

I think so too.