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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Choosing Peace in Bahrain: Using the Arts to Unite

Published: April 19, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

An annual celebration of community and creativity through the arts, “Bahrain/Brandeis: Ulafa’a Reconciliation Art Project Recasting Reconciliation through Culture and Arts” was performed in Pearlman Lounge last Tuesday as a part of the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts. Presented by the Ethics Center and sponsored by both the Brandeis Peacebuilding and the Arts program and the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain, the celebration welcomed 10 young Bahraini artists of the Ulafa’a Project to give insight into their journey of using the arts as a way of opening a dialogue of peace.

The Arabic term, “Ulafa’a” means a group of people who have familiarity and common feelings with one another. As such, the name of the group is inspired by their shared will to foster reconciliation through the arts, especially in the wake of the Bahraini Uprising in 2011. As the Ulafa’a artists described, the ancient Greeks once called Bahrain “paradise” and thought this island country off the coast of Saudi Arabia to be the fountain of youth. Since then, the once-called peaceful paradise has experienced numerous internal conflicts between its two religious groups, Sunni and Shia Muslims. Civil unrest stemming from Bahrain’s governing monarchy also often accumulates into violence and hate.

The artists of Ulafa’a Initiative believe that the violence and turmoil experienced by Bahrain today can be addressed in a peaceful way. For them, art is not a means of saying what is right or wrong; rather, they envision art as a way of getting people thinking and involving themselves in the greater conversation of peace. For one of the artists, Tamadher Ali, art is how she “asks questions about culture and identity without having to answer.”

The Ulafa’a Initiative utilizes photography, films, print, calligraphy and painting to make public and interactive street art to engage the community. By engaging the community, they hope to create a dialogue about what peace means to each individual to disrupt the cycle of violence. One project that they organized was “Our Freej.” They launched a nationwide campaign on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, asking people to take pictures of sights, neighborhoods, faces and communities of Bahrain. They then displayed the pictures for everyone to see, encouraging interaction with the photos by allowing them to write tags on the picture and captions.