woensdag 27 juni 2012

Meeting of cultures

Through my work on the benchmark for the Delft science center I got in touch with the Legermuseum (army museum) in Delft. A museum with the rare ambition to take on educational projects with a strong ethical dimension. I was contracted as an advisor for the project on Strangers in Focus (Fremde im Visier). An exhibition created by Petra Bopp with the private, long forgotten photos taken by German soldiers in the war as topic. Fascinating topic, espcially when you realise that photography wise it was early days yet for this type of photography. The pictures are sometimes extraordinarely jolly and sometimes harrowing. 

So....what do we do with this project educationwise? Target group was clear: young adults, 16-18 year olds. German young adults and Dutch young adults. We definilty wanted something with a dialogue. Early thoughts went towards the debate form. But that means opposing parties. Exactly what we did not want. We aimed for a good conversation, with the elusive mutual understanding as the envisaged result. The "picture of the other". Out went the debate, in came the conversation. No set model, no set structure. Just a conversation between the groups on different angles of the exhibition. Do you actually think that the pictures are aesthetically beautiful? Although they depict sometimes brutal events? To what extent is society responsible for the behaviour and deeds of its army in wartime abroad? What story do the pictures tell about the country the soldiers were in? What are the stories from your own family in WWII? What is your view on the current relation between Germany and The Netherlands?

Once we had the loose form of a conversation as the finale of the project, we reasoned backwards from their. Preparations to be done: finding schools and teachers that wanted to cooperate. A mailing to several schools in the area resulted in two very enthusiastic teachers responding: Markus Schickentanz from the German School in The Hague and Linda van de Beek from Sorghvliet Gymnasium. They offered their advice and support and involved their students. We organised a class for the students by a professional photographer on what you can read from pictures: from the angle they were taken from, the subject, the composition etc. All the things you think you know but that got me by suprise during a symposium the Legermuseum organised to open the exhibition. A professional journalist gave an interview class. Because during the visit to the exhibition we wanted the youngsters to interview each other on the pictures. Both groups are fluent in both Dutch and German, so little language problems expected and the teachers would be at hand. 

As ever the project was continuous work in progress:-) Whilst organising and preparing we all of a sudden realised that it would be great if the students could be filmed telling their story on a personal item or picture that to them was the quintessential image of WWII. Which they all did! A huge applause for them. Imagine being 16 and telling on video your story, to be seen by your class mates and the students from the other school. Wauw. 

It all came together the morning of 14 June. The movies with the stories of the students were edited and shown in the theatre. Offering input for thought and the conversation. In teams of two - one Dutch one German student - the students visit the exhibition, meanwhile interviewing each other but mainly getting to know each other. Culminating in a conversation with Thierry Baudet as chair. Who offered a great open floor for stories leading to better understanding of each other. Students told their experiences, how they view the other culture, which prejudices are still alive and what they experience living as a German in The Netherlands. Their openness, honesty, well spokenness and authenticity leaving all of us pretty much flabbergasted. 

What a morning. What an experience. And what a guts of the Army museum, the schools and the teachers to dive into such an open structured educational project. As we speak (ehmm....I write:-)) this blog we are still working to push some plublicity out. So watch the newspapers, the project might just appear in it! Below some fragments of the symposium that was organised by the Army Museum on 26 April to celebrate the opening of the exhibition.

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