Visual Arts and Theatre Collaboration - new models for art practices in post-conflict situations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hertfordshire
Department Name: School of Creative Arts


A network of artists, theatre practitioners, curators, writers, producers and scholars will research, using practice methods, the potential of visual art and theatre collaboration to foster new models of practice for post-conflict situations. Our research will be located in the de facto state of Abkhazia in the Southern Caucuses, a disputed territory between Georgia and Russia, which has been in geopolitical isolation since the Georgian-Abkhaz War of 1992/93. The network will analyse the many NGO-funded creative initiatives that have occurred in Abkhazia in terms of artistic excellence, as well as 'efficacy'. We will situate our analysis within a broader review of arts initiatives in post-conflict situations, both contemporary and historical.

Abkhazia has a strong but traditional theatre scene and an under-developed but nascent infrastructure for contemporary visual art, hence this initiative of bringing them together. This network is conceived in order to harness the strengths of both, as well as deepening scholarship in the field. This network will ask, what can we learn from each other to better enable strategies for beneficial and psychologically relevant creative arts practices in post-conflict situations that are also artistically excellent and innovative? Abkhazia is our field site and builds on existing relationships and research of the PI. Our aim is not to create a generalized statement about post-conflict art, art-theatre collaboration or socially engaged practice, but instead to have a located approach, grounded in a specific location, in response to a specific post-conflict situation.

The network builds on practice-led research in Abkhazia undertaken by the PI, Sam Jury, between 2017 and 2020, working in partnership with the Abkhaz cultural centre SKLAD. The network seeks to address gaps in knowledge that became apparent during the process, that is, the misalignment between external agendas that tend to address more generalized issues, such as conflict trauma, and the complex reality in Abkhazia, where the longer view of Soviet era history and the recent war has created a loss of coordinates for the population. This research network responds to an on-the-ground need emanating from arts professionals within Abkhazia and is grounded on their terms. The emphasis is new art forms to better enable engagement with recent history and an alternative, inclusive future, avoiding problematic divisiveness of nationalism. It develops existing research interest and expertise of the PI and Co-I.

The network is structured equally between UK based and Abkhaz professionals. The Abkhaz contingent comprise a theatre professional and a curator, who will also connect the core network to local writers and performers. The UK based core network members are visual artists with expertise in practice-led research and scholarship on ethical engagement. The network's method is structured to identify areas of best practice through knowledge exchange, followed by workshops to co-create scripts and production designed for multi-platform performances. The aim is to discover new approaches and languages through the collaborative process. An advisory panel of scholars from Applied and Social Theatre, Post-Soviet art theory, curatorial practice and a member of an NGO with experience in art in conflict situations, will input expertise in relation to the wider context of the network's activities.


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