Proposed Future Events
the guestbook project
THE GUESTBOOK PROJECT: FACING THE STRANGER IN DIVIDED CITIES
The Guestbook Project is an ongoing artistic and multi-media experiment in hospitality. Directed by philosopher Richard Kearney and sponsored by Boston College, the project's core themes are the relationship between host and stranger; violence and reconciliation; the citizen and the alien.
In 2010-2011 the Guestbook Project proposes to visit and document four deeply divided communities—Mitrovica (Kosovo), Derry/Londonderry (Northern Ireland), Jerusalem (Israel/Palestine) and Bangalore (India). Its aim is to bring together community leaders, students, artists and refugees in a series of events which enable them to encounter each other across political, religious and cultural divides. These events will be recorded via the most modern technology and archived interactively online. Subsequently, the conversations and encounters will be transmitted through internationally linked blog sites and web forums.
Guestbook invites young people across war-torn cultures and borders to witness and work through their ongoing histories of hospitality and hostility in conferences, documentaries and music/art performances. Its ultimate goal is to create a ‘global classroom without walls’ where adversaries are invited to become hosts and guests to each other.
The Guestbook project will work in co-operation with the Divided Cities in Transition program directed by Padraig O’Malley.
1) Exchanging Narratives (Northern Ireland)
The Guestbook Project will organize an educational experiment in the divided city of Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. This is a place where 90 percent of schools are still organized along denominational lines, each denomination being aligned with an opposing political tradition. Two schools (Protestant/Unionist and Catholic/Nationalist) will be invited to engage in a process of 'Exchanging Narratives.' A group of students from each side of the divide will retell a set of stories from both their own and the other's perspective. This will take the form of three kinds of narrative: a) The reworking of a Celtic myth from the ancient Ulster Cycle which precedes all community divisions. The two classrooms will retell this old Irish saga according to their different cultural imaginations and then 'exchange' their versions with the other community. (b) Students will study a major historical narrative (often a more modern myth) which has traditionally been interpreted in opposing ways by the polarised communities: the Rising of 1916, the Battle of the Boyne, the Walls of Derry. c) Third, students will be asked to imagine a fictional situation in the future where their cultural and religious divisions may be overcome. This would comprise a utopian, aspirational story in which strangers become guests and enemies friends. Asking Catholic children to try and tell these narratives - myths, histories, stories - from a Protestant point of view and Protestant children to do the same from a Catholic point of view will, hopefully, encourage reciprocity, comprehension and healing. It will especially emphasize the crucial importance of 'empathic imagination' as a way of 'hosting' the Other - the adversary across the street. This process of narrative exchange across urban divisions will be recorded and documented by Nerve Centre, an organization directed by Martin Melarkey drawing from both Protestant and Catholic youth groups. These groups will work with the school students to produce a documentary which will be posted on the Guestbook Website. This posting of their creative collaboration across boundaries will enable the polarised communities 1) to engage interactively with each other on a continuing basis, and 2) to engage with similar communities from divided cities in other parts of the world (Mitrovica, Jerusalem etc). In this way, the local and national exchange of narratives can be enlarged to embrace an international process of multilateral understanding.
As with the Mitrovica and Jerusalem projects (below), it is hoped that the exchange of narratives experiment will be part of a major music/arts festival to be held in Derry to commemorate the founding of the city walls.
2) Divided Cities Conference & Documentaries (Mitrovica, Kosovo)
Guestbook also proposes to produce a short film documenting the Beyond Divided Cities conference that took place in Mitrovica, Kosovo, in 2010. The video is directed by James and Petra Taylor and co-produced by Richard Kearney and Padraig O’Malley, the organizer and director of Beyond the Divided Cities Conference.
The peace summit took place on May 22 and 23 in the city of Mitrovica, the most contentious territory in Kosovo. The river Ibar splits the city into northern and southern regions, with the north inhabited by Serbs and the south by ethnic Albanians. Each of the ethnic minorities has held its own municipal elections, which have resulted in Mitrovica having two mayors and city councils, neither of which recognizes the authority of the other. This ethic division and ensuing tension is involved at the state level, as well, with Serbia refusing to recognize the independence of Kosovo. The representatives from the two sides of the city established some important agreements during last year’s Beyond Divided Cities Conference in Boston, but the violence in the city continues even as the two municipalities are collaborating to organize this second conference.
Guestbook representatives James and Petra Taylor directed the filming of the peace summit proceedings, documenting the actual dialogue process and the political agreements established. Then they conduected interviews with each of the participants individually. These interviews will focus primarily on the question of hospitality, of what hospitality means to these politically engaged participants and on how it is possible in places strained by ethnic conflict. The interviews are posted on the Guestbook website and made available to the international Guestbook community as a tool to furthering discussion and gaining a better understanding of what it means to be hospitable to the stranger and “enemy.”
James Taylor has worked for the last year as the Senior Assistant to the Guestbook project, assisting in the organization and facilitation of the many Guestbook seminars and events that took place at Boston College over the Spring semester. Petra Taylor is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at Harvard University. She participated in the Guestbook seminar and conferences, and as a native speaker of Serbo-Croatian was a volunteer and a translator at the last Divided Cities conference.
The production of this film is the first stage in a larger project that will bring divided Balkan cities and communities together to share and celebrate different perspectives and narratives, and to facilitate reconciliation through interreligious and intercultural dialogue. Guestbook will follow up the Mitrovica conference with a cross-cultural arts festival that will feature musicians and visual artists from Balkan countries suffering from religious and political conflicts. This festival will bring these countries together not by fusing them into one homogenous group, as did the former Yugoslavia, but by providing a creative and hospitable space for the exchange and celebration of the differences that make each culture unique. Guestbook will work with TMS Music Shop—a reputable Croatian music store and cultural hub around which influential local artists and musicians gather from all over the Southern Slavic lands—to bring together those local musicians who are interested in promoting peace and reconciliation through their music. These bands and musicians will include established popular bands like Parni Valjak and up and coming young bands like TBF, as well as artists already working across borders such as Bosnian/Croatian rapper Edo Majka. The visual art exchange will be facilitated by Zlatko Kopljar, a prominent local performance artist with ties to the larger artistic community in the Balkans.
This culture and arts festival would be one among a number of similar Guestbook festivals that would take place in conflicted or divided cities or countries throughout the world, i.e. Derry/Londonderry, Jerusalem, and others. While each individual festival will focus on local artists and audiences it will also include artists and participants from the other host locations.
3) Beyond Divided Cities (Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine)
A Guestbook event is also proposed in Jerusalem in Spring 2012. This will involve two aspects. 1) An artistic festival bringing together young artists from the two cultural communities of the city to present and participate in dialogue workshops. 2) A Narrative Exchange academic conference under the auspices of the collaborative efforts of Jewish and Arab Universities and centers in Jerusalem. The two events, directed by Boston College teacher Sarit Larry,will bring together Israeli, Palestinian, and international artists and scholars to shed light on the different religious narratives of each of the three communities of faith which call the city their own. It will also look into the way in which these narratives relate to national themes, songs, hopes and aspirations of the two nations that claim it. The conference will explore the conflicting claims to the city in the secular light of the moral and juridical arguments of each side, the aim being to create a space in which the full historical, emotive and imaginative cultures of Jerusalem’s three Abrahamic faiths may be given a sympathetic hearing by the others. The conference and the festival will be made into a documentary film with the aid of a group of 6-10 Israeli and Palestinian Artsbridge students. The students will record the events, interview some of the participants and contribute their own impressions, hopes and experiences as young residents of the conflicted city.
Artsbridge, Inc. is a multi-faceted program that teaches Israeli and Palestinian youth skills in communication and conflict resolution through art, creative vision, dialogue and leadership training. Following a unique, three-week intensive, Artsbridge students return to their region and take on the responsibility of mentoring younger students in community based programs. These remarkable students are infused with a dialogical sense of the “other”, and are empowered to play their part in shaping a more peaceful future. www.artsbridgeinstitute.org.
4) Facing the Other in Divided Cities in South Asia (Bangalore, India)
South Asia is witnessing some of the most traumatic experiences of conflict between people from different communities, whether they are based on religion, language or ethnicity.
Hindus versus Muslims and Hindus vs Christians in India, Muslims vs Muslims and Muslims vs Christians in Pakistan, Tamils vs Singhalese in Sri Lanka and so on... Hundreds of people die each year from these conflicts. The cultural and psychological divide between communities increases each time a violent incident occurs.
This project, held in Bangalore, will bring together people from different cities in South Asia: Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi, Lahore, Colombo, Jaffna, Dhaka and Kathmandu.
The goal will be to set in motion dialogues and discussions that heal and reconcile.
This will include presentation of peace initiatives and conflict resolution and transformation strategies; papers by theologians from Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh and Buddhist backgrounds; building a South Asian peace network that can dialogue with governments and civil society organisations to prevent conflicts, resolve them quickly when they happen, and promote reconciliation strategies that heal.
A central goal of the Bangalore project is to include youth communities and students from both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide to engage in an exchange of narratives in different arts and media. This, as with the other Divided Cities projects, will involve the making of a documentary on these cross-community interactions and the posting of these documentaries on the international Guestbook website for on-going dialogue.
The Bangalore Guestbook event will conclude with an all-night South Asian music festival for peace in these divided cities.
These events will be co-directed by Siddartha and Richard Kearney and will take place at Fireflies inter-religious ashram, Bangalore, India.