- Learning Space 6: Public Art Exhibition, Secondary School, Radio
8.1.1 Tent (Kerry)
In one of the in-class planning sessions for the art exhibition, Kerry talked about what really grabbed the attention of her fifth year art class. She said that her pupils were really struck by the ages of some of Arba’s children, who, born in 2001, were similar in age to themselves. This “really struck them”, she said. She also talked about how she was struck by one of her student’s description of how he imagined the family flight from their home in Sinjar to the Bersive camp in the north of Iraq. The pupil had said “I see him on top of a mountain but looking back on his house”. I noted too that this was exactly what struck me when I first spoke to Arba about his journey. I had seen this almost biblical image on TV of the flight of Yazidis people and I wondered if perhaps the young person in Kerry’s class had seen similar images, and had subliminally taken them in and associated them with Arba’s journey. This led to a discussion on the possible creation in-class of a long scroll, which also had, as Kerry said, a “biblical feel”.
In the end her class decided to make a tent which was the same size – 3×2.4 meters – as the tent in which the Arba family lived, all ten of them. Kerry spoke in class about how enthusiastic her group were, how they had been researching the Yazidis genocide and how they had been taking the project very seriously. In the classroom I asked if they had been exploring the reasons for the forced displacement of this population. Kerry said yes, but I noted in field notes that I did not have a strong sense that she herself had moved from empathy and compassion to seeking deeper knowledge such as the causes of the genocide or even of broader human rights issues.
8.1.1 Class radio
Nevertheless, when I interviewed her fifth year class at their school, and saw the tent, it was clear that she had facilitated her students to do so. During the interview, the students told the story of the Arba family. They explained for instance that the family had been displaced in their own country, Iraq, and forced to move to the safety of the camp in the northern part of the country. They described the journey and how the family “escaped over mountains and lived in the tent for years”. They told the story of the family; “it’s Arba and his wife and they’ve got one boy who was at the age of four, so it’s A, K, and Y, that’s the baby. K is the housewife. The family live with his seven brothers and sisters”.
Another gave the story of the Yazidi people:
The Yazidi people are a Kurdish-speaking religious ethnicity from Northern Iraq. They are Islamic, but they are being persecuted by the ISIS because they believe that the world is ruled by seven angles. The most important – the leader of those angels is the Peacock angel, which is often mistaken with the equiVeraent of Lucifer, which would be the Fallen Angel. ISIS believes that the Yazidi believe in the Devil, which would be the Devil, but to them, he’s not the Devil, he is a fallen angel, but he’s not the Devil because they don’t believe in hell, so he could never be the Devil. That’s the main reason why they’re being followed and persecuted by the ISIS.
Still on radio, another explained that they had been introduced to the family by their teacher and that “before she introduced it to us, none of us really knew anything about it”. “She brought it to us and brought the idea to us and we decided that we would do a tent. We would make a tent out of whatever materials we could find to represent what he was going through”. Showing me around the tent, one student proudly described its dimensions and how ten of the class had gone inside to feel what it felt like as ten people. She described conditions in the camp:
… there are thousands of people living there. Obviously the conditions are bad. […] They share bathrooms. They cannot cook for themselves or live a proper life. There’s no education or school. Arba is actually trying to teach the children. I know that they’re separated from the ISIS by a normal fence, which is not helping them at all. They’re constantly living in fear of being attacked again, or even killed. I know that here is a lot of women who have been taken, and children, by the ISIS before. They’re living in constant fear in small tents with a lot of people and basically nothing they can do.
The class lay down in the tent and as one student said “lying down, so they know how it feels to be stuck with a load of people and not being able to turn and stuff”. Another student also referred to the team work which developed as they worked together.
The young people went on to explain how they had been struck by the fact that there were people living there who are the same age as they are, born in 2000. “We have to consider that we are lucky because being the same age, we have more possibilities, we have a home here, we can eat when we want or drink, we have education and everything. While there are people of our age in other parts of the world who are suffering, and they have to share bathrooms. They don’t have a private room, or they have to sleep every night with other nine people”. They also saw the importance of education in terms of the general public. “First of all, people don’t know about these problems because no one thinks about it if no one tells us. The fact that we are already working on it, it’s good. I think people should start thinking about other problems around the world. We’re just here living our lives without thinking about it”
In terms of refugee protection in Ireland and Europe, one student spoke about the common European Asylum system saying, “it does protect the rights of the asylum seekers and the refugees. However, not all EU states comply to these rules and they don’t operate fairly. The laws are meant to set out the minimum standards and the procedures for processing and deciding on the asylum applications”. He said the Ireland was not “doing its bit in terms of taking in refugees”. When asked what they would like listeners to do is “to spread the word and let as many people know as possible about the injustice that’s going on in Iraq, to the Yazidi people, and support them in any way that they can really. One student said, “one thing I think people would really like to see is change in the laws in Ireland, to allow these refugees to seek asylum in our country”.
The young people were looking forward to the Glucksman exhibition, none of them had ever had an exhibit at an exhibition and they were excited by the opportunity. At the end of the radio show, when asked to give one or two words on how the project had impacted on them they used the following words: “shocking and appalling really; upsetting, very upsetting; helpful and compassionate; disgust and anger; anger; overwhelming and disappointed; hurtful; anxiety and fear; interesting in another way; contemplative and lucky; change and thoughtful; bothering and awareness; action and social justice; motivated, like to do something”.
On the radio show too, their art teacher, Kerry, talked about the use of this story in teaching about human rights. She talked about how well the students responded and how the “piece of the story that really captured their imagination” was that some members of the family were born in 2000. This she said really motivated them to participate in the project. In addition the fact that Arba’s brother, their own age, could not go to school. “They took their education for granted”, she said. “When they heard that he was in the tent for the last four years. That he didn’t have the opportunity that they had because of his religion. It really brought home for them, I think, the injustice that others suffer”.
Finally, on the subject of learning about human rights through art, Kerry said “I think it is because at that age, in the classroom, they don’t yet have the words. We’ll say, art is a very personal response. It’s a way of making it a subject that might be very emotive or tricky to cover in a class. Art is a very nice way”.