Four women and 16 men were shot and killed by Russians right before the eyes of exiled Georgian writer Irakli Kakabadze. Yet Kakabadze remains hopeful that nonviolent conflict resolution through the creative arts, which he's been exploring with his students this semester in the course Peace-Building and Creative Arts, can be a powerful tool to resolve political and social conflicts.
"[The incident] was probably one of the worst moments in my life," said Kakabadze, a visiting fellow in Cornell's Peace Studies Program. "But it is important not to be hopeless, even in those times, not to be cynical, because there is a chance always for peace."
At the event, "Acting Locally: Building Peace Through Creative Arts," April 7 in Goldwin Smith Hall, the students discussed their work this semester, which included using conflict resolution strategies they learned in class to rewrite a speech from Kakabadze's tragic play "Candidate Jokola," which addresses the political and ethnic issues facing Georgia.
"I asked my students to change it, to make it better, and they did," said Kakabadze, who is also a peace human rights activist completing a two-year term as a writer-in-residence with the Ithaca City of Asylum, a program that offers sanctuary for authors whose works are suppressed in their homelands. He is the recent recipient of the Oxfam/Novib Pen Freedom of Expression Prize, given annually to writers who are persecuted or who have been forced to flee their home countries because of their writings.
"Their ideas were great, they suggested some very practical solutions," said Kakabadze. "Even the Georgian minister of reintegration picked them up and said he was going to use them for his national strategy."
Yet "Candidate Jokola" has been censored; it describes the life of a wealthy Georgian politician and examines how power and success that affect the choices we make.
Kakabadze said he sought to broaden his students' understanding of conflict resolution, incorporating art into his class to encourage creative thinking. "People can change reality," said Kakabadze. "Art can change reality, and we can bring art to real life to overcome violence."
His students offered a variety of their own solutions in projects that included art, peace activism and education, and international student exchanges as ways to reduce conflict and promote international cooperation.
At the event, an excerpt from "Candidate Jokola" was performed by students and a video of the students' resolutions that highlighted their ideas for positive change in Georgia was presented.
"It was really interesting to work and learn in a nontraditional way by incorporating creativity into our projects," said government major Ashley Binetti '10.
"This class was great," said Rammy Salem '10, a government major, "because it introduced us to another track to diplomacy and made us understand that we need to accept one another and be more tolerant."
The event concluded with a screen of the documentary "Rethinking Tragedy" and was sponsored by Ithaca City of Asylum; Cornell's Departments of Government and of Theatre, Film and Dance; the Creative Writing Program; the Peace Studies Program; and Vista Periodista.
Erik Johnson '12 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.