Event Recap:”Art as a Tool for Peace”

It was raining on and off all evening. The weather seemed to have caught up with our country’s current dismal predicament. “Art as a Tool for Peace.” It couldn’t have happened at a better moment. On September 1st, everyone who wished for a peaceful Ethiopia met at the Hilton at 6 p.m. Artists will have a fascinating dialogue about peace. Desset, AWiB’s President, welcomed the audience, presented AWiB, and highlighted upcoming activities.

Aron started the conversation by reading a remark, “the use of art can be strategic, particularly during negotiations and mediation process when verbal communication reaches its limit.”

Aron stated that as artists, we attempt to determine how we might contribute to peace. He noted that the greatest usefulness we have as storytellers and image producers is when discussion and other forms of discourse fail to produce results. Art is a reflection of society, and as such, it alerts society. For Aron, imagery plays securing role in how people see the world and t how their stories are told about them.

He introduced our guests, Sewmehon and Endeguena. Sewmehon Yismaw is a passionate filmmaker and storyteller. He was born and raised in Gonder, where he grew up with traditional storytelling. Sewmehon claims cinema to be the primary platform for him to express himself and tells stories. Endeguena Mulu, also known as Ethiopian Records, is a music producer & recording artist who has been in the industry for the past 18 years. He is a pioneering figure in introducing Ethiopiyawi-Electronic to the music scene, a new genre of experimental electronic music from Ethiopia.

What’s peace for you? On an individual level?

Film, according to Sewmehon, is a language, a powerful audiovisual medium through which one may convey his inner world. Even though he believes that defining anything is highly subjective, Sewmehon believes peace begins within. What influences and impacts others is the reflection inside. He stressed that his films are a reflection of himself. Time influences peace and decides what peace means. My intentions and mental state are a mirror of peace.

Aron further on Sewmehon’s reasoning by highlighting that our welcomes, “selam neh?” demonstrate that peace truly begins inside.

Endeguena regards art as a life experiment. For him, the studio is a laboratory. He referenced Jorga Mesfin, who said, “A jazz band is like society; everyone is improvising, everyone is doing what they want, but everyone is listening and respecting one other.” He expanded, saying that for him, peace looks like a jazz band where everyone in society performs what they want with respect and understanding, producing something harmonious and full of love.

What is the role of a filmmaker/artist for peace?

Sewmehon divides artist work into two categories. Some artists create art for the sake of creating art, some create art for societal purposes, and yet others make hybrid work like him. He has moments when he gets lost in his artistry and doesn’t care if people understand him or not. He also has instances when he wants to reach out to society and spread a message. However, he stressed that he never begins by focusing on the specific message of his films, such as forgiveness or peace, because he feels these themes are strongly tied to real inspiration. He believes that when we focus our work on guiding others, it ceases to be art and becomes something imposed. It lacks inspiration and motivation. What matters most to Sewmehon is where you’re coming from. When explaining his filmmaking technique, he says he doesn’t start by thinking, “I’m going to produce a movie about peace.” He may be motivated to produce a film on love, as love is peace. As a result, it will educate others about love and peace while avoiding animosity and negativity.

According to Sewmehon, Artists share their subconscious and should consider what others have gained from it. If a person hears about politics every morning, he cannot think of anything else. He plans to infuse politics into his work. For example, I grew up listening to and reading “fiker eske mekaber,” a well-known romance tale. That is why, despite their differing messages, the majority of my films are romantic. The intention is crucial, as is asking what inspires me. For example, I’d like to develop a movie about a woman in a conflict zone who cannot take her children outside of the conflict area. The intention must be sincere. Things will come apart when you start doing something for the sake of preaching peace. It will go obsolete.

Before posing the next question, Aron read the following “The storytelling capacity to catalyze the process of healing both within and between communities comes with a level of understanding and empathy that is a shared fabric of the societies.”

Aron stressed the importance of music in peace by describing how singers are sent to battlefields to inspire soldiers. “Can music accomplish the opposite?” he questioned Endeguena. Can we promote peace via music?

Endeguena argued that music can and has been utilized to promote peace nationally and worldwide. But it has to be genuine, was another point of view he expressed with Sewmehon.

People frequently characterize art as something distant. According to Endeguena, art is found in every society, and so is peace. People understand peace and can tell when it does not originate from inside. As musicians, we cannot transmit peace unless it is expressed from a place of deep understanding.

Aron focused on how effectively art creates lasting peace and promotes healing. He used the genocide in Rwanda as an example. He described how the radio station broadcasted “the new dawn,” a soap opera based on the authentic stories of victims. This soap opera was followed by more than 80% of radio listeners. They utilized it to promote long-term peace by telling the stories of the genocide and ensuring that it never happens again.

What’s the role of a filmmaker in sustaining peace?

Sewmehon feels that art has tremendous power. He claims that a ten-minute film may impact and modify people’s perceptions. Emotional connection is a prominent feature of influential films in contemporary society. Sewmehon feels that art has tremendous power. He claims that a ten-minute film may impact and modify people’s perceptions. He proceeded by sharing the question he asks young artists when they come up with a script: “Does it look like you?” People like looking at their reflections in mirrors. He noted that movies and other types of art are equally effective when people find themselves reflected in the artwork. One of the issues we confront when discussing a theme in art, such as peace, is the balance between being respectful and preserving the interests of society/the environment.

He mentioned a controversial question when doing an artwork: the project’s reason behind it or the why. He shared his story, which is summarized as the following. “For example, I’ve realized that most of my films are about relationships with strong female characters. When I thought about why this occurred, I realized it was because I had noticed a lot about my mother’s relationship when I was a youngster. She had five children, and we were born to three separate men. This influenced me; therefore, I expressed it through my art. As a result, my films usually have strong female characters. We cannot communicate what we have encountered in our films unless we have first experienced them.

How do you balance being respectful and keeping the interest of society as an artist?

Sewmehon feels that he has not yet reached this degree of maturity in his work. He describes attaining this equilibrium as a difficult road. He remarked that one becomes a great filmmaker when one can convey their message while still maintaining society’s interest.

How can we show the importance of peace in music?

Endeguena feels that art is a personal experience. He creates art not to please others but to express himself and provide meaning to his life. “Art should always originate from inside,” he continues. It must be personal, human, and genuine. For peace to be mirrored in art, the artist must feel it from inside; only then will it connect with others. Artists must first comprehend peace in their own lives; else, their work becomes propaganda. He compares it to performing on stage without having practiced your instrument. When it is thoroughly practiced, it shows.”

How about being the voice of society? How does an artist become a voice for voiceless? Because art has better reach, unlike other communication means, it reaches many different community members. How do we use that to our advantage?

Sewmehon says

“Art is delicate, and it requires calmness of mind. It would be best to have a clear mindset to experiment and explore. Art also requires time to perfect the craft, just like a doctor needs many years of medical school study to be a good physician. So artists need time and keen observation to be able to present an idea in a manner that will appeal to, inspire and intrigue society. “

Tell us some of your work that focused on peace. 

Sewmehon briefly discussed a music video of Esubalew Yetaye “Yichatna Lijit” which he created that explores peace. It was a success; he used symbols to represent democracy and many other ideals. The music appears to be about a woman at first glance, but upon closer inspection, it is about a nation and peace. He feels it affected many individuals and elicited a reaction.

How do you use your passion, skills, and fame? Also, give us an example of your work that has affected society positively.

Endeguena joked that he shouldn’t expect much because he’s just in his thirties, and the audience laughed heartily. He claimed that, in addition to music, he studied movies. Prof. Haile Gerima is his favorite director because his approach is delicate but raw, which is one way he contributes to art. Endeguena quoted James Bond’s statement, saying, “If I love you, I should be able to show you something you haven’t seen before.” So one of Endeguena’s favorite tasks of art is to show society something it has missed. This is the type of art I want to create, but I’m still learning how.

Aron ultimately completed the talk and opened the floor to audience questions. Some of the questions raised were; “What if war is inevitable to gain peace?”, “Were your creative tendencies cultivated as a child?” “How do you retain Ethiopia’s culture in your work?”

Sewmehon does not feel that war is a viable solution to any problem. Endeguena described how, as a kid, his abilities and interests were fostered. He explained how his family encouraged him to pursue his musical interests. Sewmehon responded to the final question by saying that we should be open-minded about what we share with other cultures. We don’t have to demonstrate our backwardness continuously in movies; instead, we might show the luxurious lifestyle among us so that others can comprehend us.

After a lengthy question and answer session, Desset concluded the evening by thanking the panelist and handed them presents, AWiB’s tradition.

by Nina Kassahun

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