Using art to create change in traumatised communities

Thursday October 17 2019

One of the Artolution murals at  Highland

One of the Artolution murals at Highland Primary School Zone four, Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement Photo by Gabriel Buule 

By Gabriel Buule

Wikipedia describes a mural as any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other permanent surfaces.
This is what Max Levi Frieder, a 29-year-old American has set out to do. He encourages refugee communities to paint murals that show their aspirations.
“After the shelter, water and food have been provided for refugees, what then? What about the trauma and psychological pain? How is that dealt with?” asks Frieder.
These questions are what Frieder and his partner Joel Bergner set out to answer when they started Artolution, a project that uses art to inspire reconciliation.
With art, they encourage people especially children, to paint images of hope and healing, paintings of the future and the reality they hope for.
The two have been from one community to another painting walls and preaching reconciliation and togetherness.
While at Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement Camp in West Nile Uganda, Frieder meets a young man seated alone lost in thought. Frieder gets the young man to open up about how he ended up in a refugee Camp.
The refugee narrates how on his way home from school he found his fathers’ body hanging in their house. Hearing gunshots, he hid among the dead and then later together with other survivors from the village walked to Uganda and ended up in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement.
“He spoke of revenge saying it was a rival ethnic group that had killed his parents,”Frieder says.
In a group discussion, Frieder tells the young man and others in the community about peace, co-existence, forgiveness and achieving dreams. The conversation ends in a decision to put their dreams into paintings as a way of creating awareness for others. They decide on painting a mural which features two young men from rival ethnic groups shaking hands.
“Artolution is to empower communities through collaborative public art-making initiatives that engage communities in creative experiences to promote healing, resilience and positive social change,” Freider says.

Telling stories and creating hope
The movement that came to life under the stewardship of Artolution organisation was created early in 2019 with an art initiative to provide more than 1,100 youth in Bidi Bidi with an outlet for trauma and instilled hope for the future of their communities.
Alban Rwamukwengye, a beneficiary and currently the assistant coordinator of Artolution, says so far several murals have been put up in schools and communities communicating various messages.
“At Zone (1) Tuajiji Primary School, youth and teachers painted three large-scale murals, and engaged more than 400 students in the workshops and daily creative activities,” he says.
He adds that when Frieder arrived at the school to tour its facilities, enthusiasm quickly spread and he led the first workshop on the spot!
“When the project was finished, the Bidi Bidi artist team, youth, and school teachers had painted three large-scale murals on five separate buildings” Mr Rwamukwengye explains.

The art
At Bidi Bidi, murals have been put in communities and schools to tell stories and emphasise issues of public concern that include girl child education, nature, environment, domestic violence, peace among many themes that are fused in abstract art. One of the most captivating is the “Elephantstrument” that was constructed in one day. Frieder says that the choice to make it an elephant came from the issue of elephants becoming extinct in Uganda.
“Refugees at Bidi Bidi were passionate about transforming trash into a musical recycled sculpture to help us all reflect on the value of sustaining the Earth’s creatures and their homes” he adds
Mr Rwamukwengye notes that in March, Bergner the co-founder of artolution trained at least nine artists to ensure that they pass the skills to others.
Later after the training, the youth together with fellow youth in communities painted three large-scale murals on 4 buildings at Alaba Primary School (Zone 2), engaging 320 youth participants.
The community came together with the artists to put in place an independent mural project at the Luzira Bright View Primary School in Bidi Bidi that impacted nearly 300 youth.

Other projects
Much as Artolution has found strong roots in Bidi Bidi refugee camps, Mr Frieder says that the same movement is also in other places that include Nakuwadde communities in Kampala.
At Nakuwadde, the first mural was created by more than 200 youth at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival.
It depicted Imran, a student, who sadly passed away in a car accident just a few short months before the collaboration began in September.
Imran’s mural was inspired by his dedication to education and the obstacles he overcame as a child with disabilities.

A similar story in 30 countries
Mr Max Levi Frieder who started artolution as a boy in Colorado says it is an art movement that has been undertaken in 30 countries that include; Palestine, Syria, Bangladesh, West bank, Uganda among others.
The 29 year-old says that the project seeks to bring hope to the people that is why people have been highly involved and they appreciate art wherever artolution has been witnessed.
“During these projects, young people learn to humanize those whose ideology they may disagree with, and often discover that they have more in common than they thought.” He adds
He notes that through the creation of public art, participants can envision a brighter future for their communities that for once in countries like Rohingya (Bangladesh); the focus is on what unites instead of divides them in a process that encourages ordinary people to work toward solutions which have eluded their leaders for generations.