Intercultural Dialogues: ‘Recording my Reality’
Identity and Philosophy of the Programme
It is a rare opportunity for groups of the population that are different from the majority, whether in terms of their behaviour and culture, or in terms of other, even physical, characteristics, to be able to talk about themselves and about the way they live and perceive their own lives. It is usually from other sources that we draw information on these groups; sources that tend to form our image of these groups, but at the same time influence that image with their own inherent biases, stereotypes, and perceptions.
The programme entitled ‘Intercultural Dialogues: Recording my Reality’ seeks to provide an opportunity for individuals belonging to such groups to put their own perspectives on record, and to provide information on their lives, as well as their way of life. The programme thus attempts to forge and promote understanding of such different perceptions of life and of conduct, in order to ultimately facilitate and promote intercultural communication.
At the first – experimental – stage of the programme, four projects were designed with the aim of helping to shape the methodological tools that will be used for achieving the programme’s purposes. Two of these projects are still underway,1 while two others have now been completed. 2
The individuals participating in these first-stage projects belong to groups that (a) are discerned from the general population on the basis of certain characteristics – whether physical, cultural, or behavioural; (b) have the potential of being subjected to racism, discrimination, or other forms of exclusion on the basis of these divergent characteristics; (c) are present in more than one State.
In future stages, the programme will seek to engage in projects concerning further special groups which diverge from the general population on the basis of etnic or racial origin, religious beliefs, behaviour or interests, and so on.
The projects seek to provide groups participating in the programme with an opportunity to present themselves to the general public. This method is groundbreaking, in the sense that it allows the public to access minority groups on the basis of the minority groups’ own references, and not through information sourced and presented by third parties, as is usually the case.
* A play on words with multiple meanings – metamorphosis being the biological process of transformation, but also a synthesis of the words meta and morphosis, education: meta-education.
metamorphoses is a civil law partnership and a non-profit organisation, with its statutory seat in Heraclion, Crete, Greece. It has been operating since 2004 and seeks to promote intercultural dialogue through art.
-1- ‘Recording my Reality: In the Dark’ (legally blind); ‘Recording my Reality: End of Delusion’ (controlled substance abuse).
-2-‘Recording my Reality: Life with the Roma’ (Roma settlement in Nea Alikarnassos); ‘Recording my Reality: Sound Off’ (deaf and hard-of-hearing)
The aim is for the recipient of information to understand, primarily through his senses, the way in which these ‘alien’ groups perceive,-3- understand, and experience reality.
- Tertiary Education Involvement
Teachers can act as ‘multipliers’: because of their profession they have access and influence over significant numbers of young people. They constitute thus almost ideal ‘conductors’ for forging tolerance and understanding of what is perceived as ‘different’. The second stage of the programme is based on cooperation with University Faculties, whose graduates will go on to become professionally involved in education, usually as primary or secondary education teachers.
- Beyond Borders
The possibility of extending the ‘Intercultural Dialogues’ programme in other – European in the first instance – States, is currently under investigation. Projects like the ones designed and implemented in Greece could also be implemented with respect to similar groups in other States, thus allowing for a determination of how member of such groups experience reality in different States.
The realisation of such parallel projects will broaden the potential for interstate networking and dialogue between participating groups and bodies.
Methodology and Tools
The fundamental theoretical assumption of the programme is that our perception of ourselves and of the world around us is a function of natural and cultural data, as well as of personal experiences. Thus our perception of reality cannot be objective, but is rather personal.-4- According to this view, there are many ways to perceive and understand reality.
The programme thus aims at developing the tools to help record and understand the variety of different perceptions of reality. This seems particularly useful in the context of modern multicultural societies. For multicultural societies need to develop and promote new means and methods of communication if they are to achieve social cohesion.
‘Intercultural Dialogues’ is a programme working towards the step-by-step development of such a method, allowing both the teams that participate in the different projects to express themselves, and the members of the general public to understand – through their senses – how those ‘who are different’ perceive and experience reality.
The basic tools are always the same: photography and documentary. The documentary is based on photographs taken by young members of the minority group participating in each experimental project, who are then asked to comment on them.
-3-.‘Alien’ is translated in Greek as xenos (also: foreigner) and is the first composite of xenophobia, a fear of that which is alien to someone.
-4-.This assumption is not meant to question the existence of objective reality or truth, but rather to point out inherent limitations in their perception.
Other forms of art are also employed in parallel, in order for each participating team to record more fully and effectively the special way in which it perceives the world and in which it experiences day-to-day life. An example of such other forms of art employed by minority groups is the use of multimedia by people who are hearing impaired. The programme’s motto is:
There are many ways to perceive reality:
Try to ‘see’ it through my eyes
Photography was chosen as a means of expression because it literally depicts what the photographer chooses to see. This choice of instances from the variety of events in the photographer’s life is telling. The subject thus partially reveals his or her system of guiding principles.
Further, non-verbal forms of art is possibly the most apt and effective means of expression and communication for any group, since they do not require either special knowledge or skills, or any specific level of education. As such, they can serve as mutual code of communication for groups that ‘do not speak the same language’ – both literally and metaphorically.
Groups are introduced through self-presentation. The subject of all photographic material, its presentation and the relevant commentary, as well as the use of any other forms of art, are always decided by the members of the group participating in the project.
The aim is for young people between 18 and 30 years old to be the primary participants in the projects. With respect to the Roma project, the participants were significantly younger, primarily because Roma people traditionally get married and become emancipated at a very young age.
Every team is composed of 8 to 10 individuals who are sourced from associations, communities, or other bodies that either represent or serve the relevant minorities.
After the series of the four experimental projects concerning groups of special physical or cultural characteristics is completed, the aim is to develop, in association with teachers and other professionals involved in education, an educational tool for fighting racism in schools and for promoting communication between students.
- Roma in the Nea Alikarnassos Settlement
This project commenced in 2004, and was implemented in the Roma settlement of Nea Alikarnassos, in Heraclion, Crete. The first stage involved a group of Roma youths who recorded their everyday lives through photographs, after having taken relevant courses for three months.
- Exhibition in the Heraclion Historical Museum and Parallel Events
A part of the photographs was then presented in an exhibition at the Heraclion Historical Museum (26 November 2005 – 14 January 2006). The exhibition was entitled ‘Recording my Reality: Roma in Nea Alikarnassos’ and was accompanied by a series of parallel events. -5-
The photographs then served as the raw material for a documentary of approximately 27 minutes, directed by Mr Manos Stavrakakis, which was broadcasted by the Greek National Television Network (ET1) in February 2006.-6-
The local community in Heraclion welcomed the project, and this led not only to the project being extended, but also to another project being designed, this time involving a group of hearing-impaired persons.
- Cooperation with Tertiary Education Institutions
The Roma project was extended, following the exhibition, to the implementation of a second stage, which involved supplying the primary material and the documentary to different University Faculties, whose students were then asked to use it as an inspiration to express their feelings and reactions to the Roma people through art.
The institutions that participated in this second stage of the project, which was implemented between February 2006 and February 2007, were (a) the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Faculty of Pre-school Education, under the supervision of Research Assistant Ms O. Kouvou; and (b) the School for the Fine Arts, Faculty of History and Theory of Art, under the supervision of Ass’t Professor T. Salla.
- The Hearing-Impaired
The second project of the programme, entitled ‘Recording my Reality: Sound Off’, involving young hearing-impaired individuals, was designed following the Roma project. The first stage of the second project was implemented between 1 May 2006 and 20 April 2007.
Eight young hearing-impaired artists, graphic designers and students of the School for the Fine Arts, participated in this project. They created their own stories, which they then tried to put into images, using some of the approximately 5,000 photographs that they took. The product of this work was then used as inspiration and as raw material for the production of short films and video art.
- ‘eyes+I’s’ – An Exhibition at ‘Technopolis’ in the City of Athens
The culmination of the peculiar ‘dialogue-through-art’ between the Roma and the students consisted in approximately 150 original works of art that were exhibited at ‘Technopolis’, a multi-purpose cultural center established and run by the Municipality of Athens. Alongside the original works, the photographs and documentary were also presented. The exhibition was entitled ‘eyes+I’s’, and
-5- See http://www.historical-museum.gr under ‘Exhibitions – Events’
-6- ET1, 17 February 2006 at 10.30 am
took place between 28 February and 8 March 2008. The work of the eight hearing-impaired artists, which included photographs, documentaries, and video art, was exhibited at the same event.
The implementation of both projects, as well as the organisation and production of the exhibition were made possible by the generous financial support of the General Secretariat for Youth of the Ministry of the Interior, and of the National Council for Youth. For further information on the programme and its different component projects see http://artdialognet.blogspot.com.
The Roma project is now entering its third stage (‘Beyond Borders’). A number of projects involving groups of Roma people living in settlements in various European countries are currently being designed.
The Hearing-Impaired project is now in its second stage (Tertiary Education Involvment), which promotes dialogue-through-art with students of different University institutions. Aside from the School for the Fine Arts, which is already participating at this stage of the project, the Faculty for Acoustics of the Rethymno Polytechnic has also agreed to participate. The latter aim to help the hearing-impaired to record, through the use of high technology, the actual way in which they perceive reality, in order to share the experience with the general public.
The first stage (Self-presentation) of the third experimental project is also being designed. The third project involves individuals who are sight-impaired (legally blind and blind).