Creative Placemaking as Peacemaking

“Always follow your intuition; delight in beauty; find the image that captures the “heart’s core” of a conflict; listen for the poetry of human relationships; etch a shape into the chaos, beat a rhythm into the dark; and rely on the creative act, as the artist, to bring into existence that which has never existed before.”

— John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace.

It has been 2 years ago today since I helped lead another co-creative ritual space making for the peace process of the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In 2011, we helped create a children led mandala ritual space for the resumption of their peace talks. Fast forward to 3 years later, the long awaited peace pact — Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro will be signed.

A children crafted ritual space made by hundreds of interfaith children and a children led ceremony for the resumption of the peace talks. President Aquino looks on.Weeks before this took place, I heard my soul speak aloud that I was startled. She said, “When the peace talks finally get signed, I want to be there.” I had no idea about what the developments were about the peace process as I had already started focusing on ecovillage led humanitarain assistance. I had goosebumps all over as soon as I read a peace activist announce about this eventful ceremony on Facebook that evening. How I could end up in Manila from my little tent at a Typhoon Haiyan post disaster site, I wouldn’t really know but how this unfolded is a living story of trust and divine inspiration for artists.

I’ve always wanted to do street art out of the beautiful designs of Philippine weaves and patterns where the story of the people are embedded in symbols and colors and so when I heard that the peace agreement would be signed, this was the first thing to do in my mind. For this gathering at Mendiola, we did some creative placemaking using tribal (Islamized and non-Islamized) tribal weaves of Mindanao ethnic groups to co-create a sacred space for the SAPA, a ritual of forgiveness, the letting go of past hurts, and a pact of promise led by Datu Migketay Saway Victorino of the Talaandig tribe together with Babaylans and elders of the Teduray, Talaandig, Subanen, Higaonon, Matigsalug, Arumanen and Manobo and other tribes.

Before the creation of the circle, the ground was blessed by the noon-time prayer of the Muslims present. Right before that we had a bomb scare because of some exchange between the National Democratic Front and the activists and movements present. As I started drawing the circle to shape a ritual space of Mindanao weaves using coloured chalk in the middle of the busy, noisy, and crowded Mendiola Peace Arch on the day of the landmark signing of the peace agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, I started doubting myself, “What was I thinking?” Oftentimes, things like this come as a vision and an idea and most of the time, it doesn’t make sense when I’m faced with the real scope and logistics of the situation. All I felt was I had to make a circle and allow the creative spirit to flow through every co-creator joining in. But to do that in a heavily crowded public space with statements blasting on the speakers on stage, people shouting with their banners, and even a bomb scare earlier in the day made me doubt that something else was possible. The street was a blank and messy canvas to begin with.

As soon as I drew the circle in the middle and the children started colouring the spaces with the beautiful patterns of Mindanao’s ethnic tribes, bit by bit the space expanded. Sometimes people stepped over the artwork only to realize that what they’ve done damaged something beautiful. Some did not care and simply brushed us off. While some jumped in and to help. It didn’t take long until, we were able to claim a space for peace in the center of a crowd of probably almost 1,000 people. It allowed more and more people to rest and sit down, watching, witnessing, creating a wider ring around the space.

After dedicated hours of drawing together, we finally saw the big picture of our weaves intertwined as one big ritual space for the evening’s intertribal peace pact called Sapa which was meant to support the peace agreement signing taking place at the Presidential Palace that afternoon. As we completed the giant circle in the middle of the sea of people and banners, we saw that we created order out of chaos. Seeing the beauty of what we created also showed us that naturally the waste thrown about everywhere did not have space there and thus inspired us to collect them making the space truly sacred.

Datu Migketay Saway leads the peace panel representatives to the peace pact.

In the evening, the space held the Sapa, an intertribal ritual of healing the past hurts paving the way for a peaceful future for the signed peace agreement that afternoon. In that sacred circle, Tribal elders led by Datu Vic Saway of the Talaandig Tribe asked the tribal elders and the peace panelists from both the government and the MILF side to place their hands on the signed agreement documents and publicly declare their commitment to peace. It is often said that rituals also invite our ancestors to be present to witness the changing of fates and to make peace together with the ancestors of those present helping find closure to the old story. To close the circle, I asked the young people who helped design the ritual space to engage the leaders in a ceremony of support to claim their role as heirs to the peace agreement recently forged.

What did I learn from all this? I learned that we need to claim space to make our dream of peace possible. I learned that using a universal language that transcends boundaries (like art), we can create a shared space where we can temporarily put our guards and our biases down despite our differences and hurts. I learned that first, people must feel safe to enter the new space and so the circle temporarily helps shape a boundary open only to those willing to show up and participate. I learned that even in the chaos and the unknown of what can be birthed, we can truly create something beautiful that reminds us of our wholeness, reclaiming what was once broken or lost. I learned that when we give more energy that holds space to imagine that something else is possible, we can help write our new narrative, our new story of peace.

I’m a student and as it’s turning out, a keeper of this circle- creating sacred spaces and ceremony, to facilitate meaning making in an important transition experience. It’s beyond artmaking, it’s an experience of the sacred, of something greater than ourselves- literally as you expand that space beyond your self. As Joseph Campbell said, “if you take one step closer to God, the gods move 10 steps closer toward you.

Click HERE to view more photos of this experience.

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