Art for Liberation of the Mind

When I think of art as an embodiment of emotions, creativity, and liberation of the soul in order to transcend the knowledge one has to society, I think about Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Freire emphasizes the need to understand the historical context that we live in as oppressed by a dominating power that controls our lives. After understanding the context, the oppressed should realize that he/she is oppressed. Consequently, the state of self-realization will help mobilize the oppressed to liberate themselves through the oppressor. Therefore, they are inducing a change that grows from grassroots stakeholders which impacts and influences their oppressor. Freire calls this change “praxis”; that is the need for action and reflection on the action taken.

Ai Weiwei and his artwork in Munich, Germany, in 2009. (Joerg Koch/AFP/Getty Images)

Ai Wei Wei’s works in China is one of the most spectacular examples that portrays the power of art as practice of embodiment. Ai Wei Wei defies the system through his art because he believes that the worst of all is when his people don’t know the truth. Many call him the fearless Wei Wei but he himself states that he is more fearful that is why he acts braver because he knows the dangers. Ai Wei Wei embodies the practice of art to mobilize civic engagement with volunteers to start “a citizens’ investigation”. The goal of this project is to gather the names of hundreds of children who have passed away as a result of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Through his art, he is alerting the international community and drawing attention to his work from local government which I believe sheds light on humanity as well as what he calls “freedom of speech and liberation of the mind.” The government, fearful of Weiwei’s potential to change status quo, bulldozed Weiwei’s studio. According to Weiwei, this is “One of his most powerful Arts work ever.”

Peacebuilding is a journey towards transformation. Its utmost end is the liberation of the mind so that human beings may co-exists and accepts each other. The works of Lisa Schirch, peacebuilding professor at Eastern Mennonite University, illustrate the journey of peacebuilding through the painting of trees. Hence this highlights the concept behind the book “The Re-enchantment of Art” which according to its author Suzi Gablik, “promotes social responsibility and transcends the disconnection of aesthetics from the social that existed in modernism.” Schirch’s work strengthens the need of art in a peacebuilding environment.

photo by Cynthia Nassif

Finally, I believe that art stimulates the breaking down of the “banking model” of education depicted by Freire in order to embody its practice into the transformational journey of peacebuilding. It is a journey that liberates the mind and frees the soul in order to transcend the power and knowledge to the society. Hence, it strengthens and highlights civic engagement and social responsibility towards ourselves and future generations.

by Cynthia Nassif

(Cynthia Nassif is a graduate student studying peacebuilding at EMU‘s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.  She was kind enough to write as a guest blogger for our blog.)

-edited by Emma