Owl & Panther Speaking Peace

Marge PellegrionOn September 17, at 11:30 a.m., participants from the Hopi Foundation's Owl and Panther Project recite original work on themes of war and peace in response to Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children's Paintings, on display at the Poetry Center from August 29 to September 23. Join us!

The Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther project will take part in the Speak Peace exhibit on display at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, even knowing that we walk a fine line when we ask those whose lives have been damaged by war to speak back, speak out, speak peace to images depicting that very aggression.

Our participants are as young as five and a few grandfathers are as old as sixty. They come from Congo, Guatemala, Mali, El Salvador, Chile, Iraq, Nepal, Bhutan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Each carries private memories of the brutality of war, some the scarcity of camps. Others still witness a family member's ongoing battle with PTSD's haunting night visitors.

When introducing Speak Peace, one woman balked. She wouldn't write about war. Done, flat out refusal. She didn't want to look at the images projected at the Poetry Center the night we introduced the project. But the images weren't all bombs and mayhem. And she will be invited to choose one with a band aid on the world, or an image where peace is already peeking out from the scarred earth. And if that proves difficult at all, she'll be asked to paint her own soothing image from which to speak peace.

The OP project has never asked anyone "What happened to you?" or "What did you witness?" While collaborating on the Comic Book Project we came closest to the line when we asked "why would someone from your country have come here?" but never directly "why did you and your family come?" We strive to provide a safe community with a variety of activities that allow them to express who they have been, who they are now and who they want to become. They are always the boss of where that brings them.

Last week we asked them to shake up a jar of muddy water and place it in the middle of the labyrinth. By the time they'd finished walking the curving path in and out, the dirt had settled and the water was close to transparent again. And then we wrote. We try to design our activities that way - as a metaphor for letting the fear and confusion drop so they can enjoy their moments of clarity and build on them. We offer experiences they can replicate at home - ways to find clarity in movement, breathing, in words and image. To work through on their own terms.

Some have taken home their images with Post-it notes. On a visit yesterday, I saw that one student had hers up over the table where her schoolwork happens. Post-its hold lists of things she's noticing about the image, things that she's thinking about because of the image.

Last night in a preparatory workshop funded by Poets & Writers, Kit McIlroy taught us strategies volunteers and mentors will use to encourage our participants.

This week, after setting the stage, each will find a quiet space. Closing their eyes and breathing in quiet, first noticing themselves, and then opening their eyes to notice the Speak Peace image they've selected, they will begin. Join us on September 17 to hear Owl & Panther Speaking Peace.

by Marge Pellegrino

Marge Pellegrino is the author of Journey of Dreams and the project coordinator for The Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther.

Created on: 
Friday, September 16, 2011
Arizona Board of Regents