Drawing to Know Peace Differently

by | Apr 21, 2023 | FluidBorders | 0 comments

Written by Astrid Jamar

How to articulate a critical inquiry of peace from arts-based decolonial feminist approches?

Responding to the urgent need to appreciate alternative ways of knowing violence, I am interested in pluriversal visions of peace. But how to account for pluriversal visions, i.e. the multitude of ways of living and understanding the world? Since 2020, my research activities have been inquiring what could be an entry point to know differently within academic settings. I have started to organise pilot workshops using drawing as a methodology to mobilise sensorial/sensuous knowledge, and thus confront the linear and binary visions too often deployed by the peacebuilding industry in Burundi and South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The approach is rooted in arts-based decolonial feminist debates. This blog introduces the methodology of drawing, the opportunities and ethical issues that emerge.

Drawing to Know Peace Otherwise

Why do we want to know peace differently? The knowledge produced on peace interventions has long been articulated around responses to the root causes and symptoms of violence. Peace and Conflict studies increasingly recognise the limits of these interventions due to their Euro-centric logic. Indeed, ‘Western,’ ‘scientific,’ and ‘masculinistic‘ modes of knowing tend to project linear and binary visions of conflict knowledge that do not correspond to the trajectories of violence or to the experiences of people living with violence. In other words, I seek to expose what it means to re-evaluate what we know, how we know it, and what we take seriously in our research encounters, and to document alternative worldviews that already exist but are not readily palpable in our colonial realities.

Arts-based research methods offer the possibility of including sensorial, visual dimensions to account for nuanced experiences beyond logocentric knowledge (words and words). These methodologies allow for a different way of knowing, exploring, and deeply analyzing one’s experiences and feelings. Among the wide variety of arts-based research approaches, the drawing methodology allows for exchanges around sensorial knowledge – acquired through the senses and the body – between adults, although it is often perceived as a children-oriented approach. This methodology is deployed in studies as varied as perceptions of education in South Africa, postnatal depression in Australia, the dreams of Chilean refugees in California, or everyday perceptions of conflict in Myanmar.

The way in which drawings are produced, collected and/or mobilised varies greatly from one project to another. For some, drawing sessions are the equivalent of a focus group where participants are invited to draw and discuss a given topic in order to collect data, which is then analysed by the researchers. For others, the interactions between participants and researchers shape the whole research process. For example, Nakashima drew in discussion with Chilean refugees, who commented on and influenced the final art product. The artistic material produced around these exchanges was then exhibited in museums and integrated into academic discussions. Exhibiting co-produced material in galleries consist of a new form of knowledge transmission, producing immersive and sensory forms of understanding in social settings that differ from the solitary intellectual reading of texts.
Inspired by these approaches, since January 2023, we are a whole team that continues to experiment with the drawing methodology within the Burundian-Congolese border. Our ambition is to include the research participants throughout the different stages of the project from the first workshops, in the analysis of each contribution, in the search for concrete solutions, as well as throughout the dissemination of the reflections of our research.

Ethical issues: Mitigating power asymmetries and extractivism

The participatory dimension of arts-based research is often promoted for its ability to mitigate power asymmetries between us researchers and participants. This methodology gives an important role to the participants in shaping and analysing their contributions to the research, as well as in formulating solutions. Our different experiences confirm that the moments of silence – during which everyone focuses on their own design – open many doors to the type of themes, and the types of knowledge brought to the table. These approaches do not absolve the tensions of competing visions and power asymmetries in project management, however. Furthermore, participatory and artistic methodologies are not inherently decolonial or feminist. Historically, scientific knowledge has been developed through racist practices, exploitation of indigenous peoples, extraction of information to consolidate a Eurocentric knowledge hierarchy. The need to deconstruct the processes of knowledge production and these racist biases remains an ongoing concern.

In my first drawing pilot workshop in the Congolese borderlands, the drawings and discussions about the drawings were particularly rich. Sensory and spiritual forms of knowledge arrived quickly arrived at the center of discussions, while elaborating in depth on the different visions of the world. That said, several participants were concerned to check whether their interventions were in line with what I expected of them. I found myself in a posture of extracting data through drawing. I took a year to re-articulate the project around these ethical issues before organising drawing workshops.
In the current phase of the project, all methodological aspects will be continually re-articulated, renegotiated and redefined with the 20 research participants with whom we will be collaborating for eighth months. One of the great challenges of the project is therefore for us researchers to unlearn what we have learned, to account for class, race and gender privilege and its impact on the production of knowledge, and thus to continue to struggle for epistemic freedom. So this is not to claim that art methodologies eliminate ethical concerns, but rather to reflect as others have already done on “What practical, political and community issues need to be taken into account when designing artistic processes and participatory activities from a decolonising perspective?” And to document these methodological experiences, including the advances and doubts along the way.