The art of symbolism in peace building | Kya Kim | TEDxKyoto


Translator: Takahiro Shimpo
Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo When the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima disaster
struck on March 11th 2011, I was in Japan. Like so many people around the world, I was shocked at the devastating images that came streaming in from the area. That April I traveled to Northeastern
Japan with a fellow journalist. We witnessed kilometer after kilometer
of towns and villages flattened along the coastline, and spoke with people
waiting to be evacuated, struggling to survive
on dwindling resources. I had come hoping
to find some way to help, but in the face of the magnitude
of this disaster, I felt so small and so useless. On the 10th day, we decided
to visit one more village before returning home. It was a clear beautiful day. The sea was tranquil. I walked around the now too familiar
landscape of fishing boats balanced impossibly on gutted buildings and I surrendered myself
to the rubble one last time. There was nobody around,
it was quiet, almost peaceful, when I noticed a man with a wheelbarrow
and approached him. Mr. Konno had lost his home and fishing net business to the tsunami. He had buried his wife just weeks before. As I spoke with him, interrupting the work
of clearing the debris from his life, I realized there was
something different about him, a strength and resilience
I had not yet seen. He said to me, “You notice there is no one else out here. All the people of this village
are sitting up on that hill, staring out at sea, day after day, sighing and waiting. Tell me, what are they waiting for?” He continued, “In times of crisis, you have to get up and act. You can lose everything
and still hold onto your dignity.” This is the photo that I took of Mr. Konno in front of his destroyed business, just moments after our conversation. He restored my spirit with this smile and I returned home to Kyoto
to become a campaigner on post-Fukushima issues
for the next 18 months. As I continue,
I ask you to consider the impact that one face-to-face encounter can have. Which brings me to the reason
I’ve been asked to speak with you today, the Peace Mask Project. In the year 2000, Myong Hee Kim, a Korean artist
and my mother, turned 50, marking 25 years in Seoul,
Korea where she was born and 25 years here in Kyoto,
Japan where I was born. Most of you are aware
of the history of conflict that exists between the two countries, and so for Myong Hee this birthday marked not only a personal significance, but a larger, historical meaning, and as an artist,
she set out to express it to the world. She launched on a journey to seek
Japanese and Korean individuals who would offer their name and their face as a symbol of reconciliation
and friendship between the two countries. With my father Robert Kowalczyk
at her side, and the help of countless volunteers,
supporters and organizations who believed in and shared this vision, she began to make
the impressions of each face using traditional handmade papers. During a period of two years, 27 workshops in various locations in the two countries were held, and the masks of 1,580 individuals, Japanese and Korean, were shown at the final exhibitions
in Seoul and Yokohama, to coincide with 2002 World Cup games, which were cohosted
by the two countries that year. This is an image
from the final exhibition in Yokohama. Whenever I see these masks in person, I’m always struck by how unique
each individual mask is. There truly are no two faces alike. And yet, when you step back
and view the mural as a whole, it is impossible to identify
the nationality of each face, or even in most cases
the gender or the age. The masks, through the magic of art,
were able to display that part of our humanity
that cannot be divided. This simple yet powerful symbolism
that attracted so many people, became the foundation
for the Peace Mask Project, a community-led initiative dedicated to a shared vision for peace, through art, intercultural dialogue,
workshops and exhibitions. We have now held
Peace Mask Project workshops in various countries around the world, including Cambodia, India, the United States, Spain and Finland, and have made the Peace Masks
of close to 2,000 individuals. Whenever we hold
a Peace Mask Project workshop, many people appear to support
and participate. A spontaneous community seems to pop up
around this small initiative, bringing together a diversity of people, from different backgrounds,
cultures and ages, to share with each other in real time through the slow process of art. Not only do we make masks together, but we share meals, and spend hours, sometimes days, learning from each other through honest, respectful dialogue. The mask-making process itself
is a platform for personal meditation,
a moment of self-reflection. Plaster of Paris is applied
over the entire face, except for two straws
allowing the model to breathe. In that vulnerable position, the model offers themselves
to the process with trust. This trust is an essential feature
of the Peace Mask Project. A divided world creates
more insecurity and fear, and fear too often results in violence. Trust is the courageous act of being the first
to break through that fear and reach out to the “other”. Peace Mask Project itself is an act of trust, from the idealism
that inspires the effort, to the individual act
of being a Peace Mask model, to the support and participation
of hundreds of individuals in a collective effort to advance
into a sane and healthy future. Today, tensions are rising in East Asia and in many regions around the world. Fear and insecurity are also on the rise. This tension we are experiencing
does not guarantee violence, but, instead, could be seen
as a great opportunity. Conflict is natural and always present. It is neither negative
nor positive in itself. Violence and aggression are only one possible response
to a conflict, and one that our societies turn to
for resolution far too often. There are many reasons for this: the profitability of militarization for a handful of corporations
and individuals, the control and manipulation
of a population through fear, but mostly, I think, it is due to a lack
of creativity and cooperation. We are stuck in old habits
and old ways of thinking. Today, young people have an unprecedented
understanding of the greater world. We are becoming increasingly aware of how we are interconnected and interdependent. We find beauty in other cultures, and by reflecting more on our own, we are open to growth and to change. This is the reality of our future, and one that needs to be reflected
in our societies. Conflict is no longer synonymous with war. It is rather an opportunity for growth, an opportunity for peace. This summer, our team has launched our current initiative,
Peace Mask East Asia. We are recruiting and working with youth from Japan, China, and Korea. Our basic goal is to make
1,000 peace masks, 333 from each of the three countries, with the 1,000th representing
a youth of the future, within one year. We have also started
a Youth Leaders program, inviting exceptional young people
from these three countries to join us as members of our team. We will be offering them
trainings in Conflict Transformation, Media for Peace-building, and Nonviolent Leadership Skills,
to name a few. We hope that once again Peace Mask Project will provide a platform for the youth of this region to express their shared message
for peace, to build trust
by building lasting relationships, and to gain experiences and skills to help them
become leaders of a better world. As Konno-san said, in times of crisis, we have to get up and act. We do not need
to wait for the conflicts of our time to erupt in violence
or be resolved through aggression. Every one of us has a role to play in determining the outcome
of our shared conflicts. How will we participate? What opportunities
will we present through our actions? Which future will we choose? Thank you. (Applause)

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