The Art of Unity: Peacemaking Through Painting

The Art of Unity: Peacemaking Through Painting February 18, 2021

 

Four painted tiles placed together into a square
The “Unity” tiles, painted by two Iraqis and two of my art students.

Unity seems to be in short supply in 2021. I don’t know what the answer is, but I can share the little I do know about the “art” of unity. A while back my art students and I enjoyed a glorious afternoon of peacemaking through painting. This might not work for everyone, but my students loved it. Here’s how it went.

Peacemaking With the World Affairs Council

Because of my husband’s ties with the World Affairs Council, we heard about an opportunity for peacemakingOur State Department sponsors various cultural groups to visit the United States, and sometimes those groups come to our city, Louisville, Ky., through the local chapter of the World Affairs Council (WAC). The WAC needed a host for a group of high school students from Iraq, and I taught high school art at a Christian school. The group included 12 Iraqi high school students and their sponsors who had come to the states to explore “peacemaking through art and sports.” We invited them to my school for an afternoon of art classes and sports with our Kentucky students. 

Learning Unity From Our Youth

Our students were so friendly and well-behaved! I began to wonder if the angels had taken the souls of my eighth graders away and inhabited their bodies for that afternoon. We broke up into groups of four or five and answered questions about culture, family, political struggles, hobbies, school, etc. When the principal asked what they had learned, one of our boys shouted, “Iraqis are awesome!”

This exclamation, though it may not seem impressive on the surface, was a beautiful way of expressing a profound truth. We are all created in the image of God, no matter where we may have been born. We are all so loved by God, and indeed, we are all “awesome.”

After lunch it was time for P.E. with the ninth grade boys. Our guests graciously divided themselves between two teams, placing Iraqis on each team for a fantastic soccer game our boys will never forget.

The “Art” of Unity

The last class period of the day, the visiting students were divided between art class and yearbook class. Doing art together turned out to be a wonderful ending to our day of peace building. At one of the tables, two Iraqis and  two of my American students decided to work together in such a way that their tiles became individual paintings as well as parts of a whole, making a larger, more beautiful composition when placed together. Perhaps this illustrates God’s design for us. One of our students said it well in a tweet she sent out afterward:

“We may be culturally different and even messy, but there are some things, such as art, that unify us in a way that can’t be denied.”

The next day, my eighth grade writing class processed the experience through blogging, and they had some great comments: 

“By the end of our time with them they felt like friends, even one of us started crying.”

“They also came over here to let people know that not all Iraqi people are terrorists, and they don’t want war—they just want peace.  The experience of meeting our guests yesterday changed the way I think and react to stories on the news and to life in general. I think this time with the Iraqis was very inspiring.”

I think so too.

Lessons Learned

I learned a few simple lessons about unity, such as the following:

  1. Sitting down together, face to face, asking questions and truly listening for answers is a powerful peacemaking tool.
  2. Being on the same team with “the other” instead of dividing up into “us against them” is a better plan.
  3. By working together with those who are different, we can create a more complex, more complete masterpiece.

Have you learned anything about unity and peacemaking? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

I’m an artist who loves to write. If you’d like to get to know me better, please follow me on social media.

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