When I took on the role of curating films4peace - art films by some of today's most innovative contemporary artists, visually interpreting the subject of peace - I had to ask myself many questions. How does one visually represent peace? Can it be represented at all? And if not, how do we begin to imagine peace? If possibility first begins as an imagined ideal before it is ever realised - a belief, shared by enough people, unifying us by convincing us of the possibility of an idealistic state coming into being - does not creativity play a vital role in the initiation of peace? Can culture offer us the space to imagine what might seem not only impossible but also completely unknown? Can those imaginations be made real through the inspiration of art?
As a curator, I am always enriched by how artists show us the world. The visual metaphors they create confront us with the challenges that face us at this time. films4peace, which are released each year at cultural and educational venues globally and online on World Peace Day, 21 September, are both disturbing and inspiring, responsive to the reality of our time, but they also ask us to be responsible for our actions.
Considering our limited understandings of peace - often simply the opposite of war or conflict - I began to wonder if it was not time to ask artists to once again pose the questions: What is peace? Where does it begin? Is it possible?
PUMA.Peace took the challenge to set up the fims4peace initiative and provide the financial resources and staff time to create a platform where some of today's most engaging artists could share their work with the broadest audience possible. PUMA.Peace's support also created the opportunity for these works to be created within the public domain and gifted to the world, allowing cultural and educational institutions to use them as tools for peace for free.
Something extraordinary happened when we put the word out that we were looking for partners to help us show the films globally. Expecting three or four museums that might come on board, I was completely blown away by the generosity of so many cultural and educational institutions. Messages came in from film festivals, museums, universities, schools, retail stores, advertising and design agencies, tourism bureaus and so many more wanting to show the films.
Quickly I realized that the art world is no longer satisfied to sit on the sidelines while policy is made. Artists and their supporters wanted to be engaged. They wanted to have a voice, and influence, in the wellbeing of our society and our planet.
For me what was most moving, was how each of the institutions that planned screenings on or around World Peace Day, were doing so much more. Emails started to arrive of ambitious plans inspired by films4peace. The overall message was clear. If a corporate could do this and stretch itself this far, the cultural world would respond with a resounding, catalytic "yes".
The stories are too numerous to mention, but my curatorial heart beat fast as I learnt about Residency Unlimited bussing in the Brooklyn Schools, one every hour, to show the films and do workshops around them; how in Philadelphia a curator has worked with the Crane Arts to get films4peace in countless schools in the city; the schools response - arranging a parade for peace to celebrate the films; how in conflict-ridden Kashmir the organization Kashmir Art Quest has fundraised to allow their local artists to make their own films4peace, the winning creation to be shown publicly with PUMA's films4peace; how the downtown Johannesburg precinct Maboneng, abandoned during apartheid, was so inspired by films4peace that they organized an entire weekend of peace from exhibition openings, theatre shows and parties to meditations, poetry readings, street art and, of course, screenings of films4peace; how the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, Missouri set up a symposium with homeless empowerment groups to debate homelessness in a world without peace following the premier of films4peace among their sculpture collection.
The overwhelming response to this initiative has meant many nights of little sleep over the last weeks. But tonight, on Peace Day, I can sleep much deeper. No, I can even dream, knowing that our global cultural organizations believe that peace does have a place, that the voice of the artist as a cultural force is to be reckoned with. And that humanity at large will continue to imagine the possibility of peace - no matter what that means.