© Jorge Aceituno
Gigante de Paruro con hijo

The Sylt Foundation’s new international long-term project, Diverse People Remember, aims to share approaches to trauma and reconciliation through the arts.

Telling our stories is fundamental to catharsis, healing and reconciliation on an individual, community, national and international level. Narrative is a critical instrument of human agency and there is an enormous amount of literature on the devastating effects of silence. According to sociologist Aleida Assmann, ‘there is the speechless silence of the victims as an expression of a continuation of paralysis and there is the silence of the perpetrators that preserves the secret and therewith is an expression of power.’
     The Sylt Foundation, an internationally operating arts foundation, is developing a new programme, titled ‘Diverse People Remember’. This arts-related social programme will investigate how we deal with the burden of our histories, and with the transformation and trauma that result from it.

The Sylt Foundation has already sent artists, writers, storytellers, dancers and counsellors to work in communities in six countries (Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Myanmar and South Africa) as part of another successful project that was entirely focused on the arts and the production of artworks to negotiate the different approaches to revising our histories, and creating transformation through the means of art. How do different countries, whose histories have been marked by huge social upheavals and violence, deal with their pasts? Or with the resulting trauma and how it is perceived differently by different generations? In what way is the future informed by the past, and how do artists and curators experience the processes of transformation, of shifting identities, of trauma and reconciliation? Are there common experiences that we all share despite our different cultural codices and historical asynchronicity. What connects us and what separates us?
     Diverse People Remember, however, aims to work with artists on a community level; to engage in stories and dialogues, offer healing and an understanding that our past informs our future and that wounds are not healed through silence. The underlying idea of it is to give back the agency that allows a dialogue with other communities. And thereafter, to build an archive of shared lives, to share experiences about transformation and the difficult legacy of the past among artists and community members.
     Diverse People Remember will send small teams of writers, dancers, artists and psychologists into chosen communities in the six countries we work in with the task to collect and share memories, to address and heal trauma, to learn from our pasts and to share with other communities in other areas and countries. Independent artists will be loosely connected to the team to independently work on their own art production.

text and curator: Indra Wussow

Read more about this project in Indra's monthly columne "Literary Landscapes" in the August 2018 issue of the South African creative feel magazine.