As I was researching narratives to incorporate into our Museum of Peace, I was struck and inspired by the rich ways in which several poets I came across imagine peace in the context of forced displacement, so I picked up my pen and pencil and turned those words into pictures.
Opting for black-and-white ink and marker illustrations, with a distinctly abstract approach, I am first and foremost citing Picasso’s Guernica, one of the most influential war paintings to be created. Picasso used the freedom and abstraction of modernism to show the complexity, chaos and atrocities of war, but I think that peace can be just as complex and convoluted, hence I chose to follow a similar style. Throughout the course of our research, we have critiqued habits of visualising peace as simply the binary opposite of war. I deliberately adopted a colour scheme that would evoke but also question such ‘black-and-white’ distinctions; the different degrees and styles of shading in my drawings are designed to nudge the viewer into look beyond what is superficially suggested and read between the lines and the black-and-white aesthetics.
Your might notice that some graphic patterns are purposefully consistent between the three illustrations. I wanted to convey some meaning with this. The symbols of peace – namely the doves, the jasmine florets and the trees – are patterned with geometric shapes that are whole and fairly similar in appearance, ranging from squares and triangles with smoothed angles to circles. I drew inspiration for these patterns from Nihad Al Turk, a Syrian painter currently active in Beirut. Though his compositions are much more colourful than mine, I really appreciated the intricacy of his style, and wanted to incorporate an element of his art into mine to ensure that my illustrations are both thematically and artistically positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean. The other recurring pattern in all three of my illustrations can be found adorning all the figures that are reminiscent of war and conflict; the gun, helmet, and guard post for ‘Jasmine’, the skyline of Damascus ravaged by war for ‘Lament for Syria’, and the fire and smoke for ‘The Ash that Travelled’. This pattern is intentionally more disorganised, the shapes being incomplete and unpredictable, which is something I wanted to contrast to the more harmonious pattern adorning the different symbols of peace I previously mentioned.
The similarities but differences between more harmonious and more disorganised patterning are designed to prompt reflection in the viewer. My aim is to show that experiences of peace and war can be synchronous, and they may even be found in the same composition. This is exactly how all the poets I have read visualise peace for refugees and forced migrants: as liminal figures that mediate between conflict and peace.
The final influence on all the illustrations I produced is the work of Xanthos Hadjisoteriou, a Cypriot painter active in the 20th century, who pioneered the figure of the woman with her eyes closed and head turned towards the ground. To me, his style is reminiscent of Greek Orthodox depictions of the Virgin Mary, whose face is depicted with a similar simplicity and emphasis on her large eyes, a motif that corresponds to how she has witnessed from up close the great miracle of the birth of Jesus. The choice to leave the eyes closed is therefore another probing feature I wanted to include in my illustrations. It cites an artist that is close to my upbringing, while also urging the viewer to think about why the woman may be averting her gaze and closing her eyes. Is peace the grand miracle that will make the woman open her eyes? How many people, be they refugees or not, are waiting to see this?
What do you think?
- If you were representing peace, what colour scheme would you use?
- What recurring or recognisable motifs might you include, to nudge people to think about different ways of visualising peace?
- How much conflict would you incorporate into your artwork?
- What does the figure of the woman with downcast eyes mean to you?
If you enjoyed this item in our museum…
Marios Diakourtis, April 2022