Rhodes-based international network seeks culture’s potential for peace

One of the realities that became apparent for yet one more time, through the media coverage of the Iraq war, is that images are used and contextualized in ways that shape our impression of the world and politics. And that, although to varying degrees, the images broadcast by Western media feed on the long-held, biased notion of a sophisticated West and an uncivilized East, a prejudice that surely has its own version in the opposite camp. It is in the hope of softening these kinds of prejudices that Aliki Moschi-Gauguet, originally prompted by the image of a chador-clothed Afghan woman shown on television after the September 11 attack, came up with the idea behind «Breaking the Veils, Women Artists from the Islamic World,» an international touring exhibition that began last year in Rhodes, was then shown at the Benaki Museum and recently met with an enthusiastic audience at UNESCO in Paris before setting out for Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona. Beginning in September, the exhibition will tour major Italian cities and next year will also pass through the United Nations in New York. The exhibition is only one project of a peace-driven, ambitious initiative that Moschi-Gauguet has undertaken through the establishment, in 1998, of the network FAM (an acronym for Femme-Art-Mediterranee) which hosts artistic projects and fora, drawing mainly on the Mediterranean region (this includes Europe, the Middle East and the North African littoral) in order to advance intercultural communication and to help diminish racial, gender, ethnic or other conflicts. Can contemporary art contribute to this? For while it is true that art is a universal language, not all of us respond to the same kind of art, nor in the same way. Also, as in the case of media images, our understanding of art depends on the context in which it is presented, its overall packaging and the institutions behind its production. Aliki Moschi-Gauguet sounds positive: «I think that art is perhaps, together with athletics, the only means for effecting a cross-cultural understanding. I think that art can bridge differences, that it can channel such universal values as respect for the Other, the prevention of violence and racism, the acceptance of otherness. Beyond any racial, cultural and religious barriers, art is the emotional and universal language that allows for the transmission of these values. As a fundamental means of communication, art enables the convergence of sensitivities and provides the seeds for a genuine understanding of the Other. Learning to communicate with what is different from us is a precondition to any peaceful coexistence,» Moschi-Gauguet told Kathimerini English Edition. The artistic projects are actually only part of FAM’s activities. Its main focus is the biennial conferences (held under the auspices of UNESCO) that bring artists and people from the academic world and politics together in discussions themed on issues of peace. (The ways that art can promote peace education was, for example, the general theme of last year’s forum). This is a challenge in itself, particularly since many of the participants are divided among themselves by longstanding tensions. Which is why the reward is all the greater when those tensions gradually wane through discussion and exchange of ideas. «During the first and second forum, in the midst of the second intifada, we had managed to have Israeli and Palestinian women together, women from Bosnia and Serbia, Greek and Turkish Cypriots,» said Moschi-Gauguet. She also says that these conferences are not aimed at immediate and spectacular results which, in her opinion, would have been totally unrealistic; their value lies in how they gradually cultivate the ground for mutual understanding while also offering an opportunity for women suffering from gender segregation in their own countries to express themselves. FAM’s means and objectives are delicately balanced between cultural affairs and politics. This is partly explained by Moschi-Gauguet’s background; educated first in Paris, where she studied political science, and then at the world-renowned School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, where she studied international law and economics, Moschi-Gauguet initially planned a career in the diplomatic corps. But her faith in art and culture led her to the path of «cultural diplomacy» and to exploring the political and social potential of art and culture. Her exposure to a sophisticated, artistic environment largely through her husband (a French art publisher specializing in bibliophilism and limited editions illustrated by artists such as Dali, Fuchs and Chagall) must have also swayed her toward her decision. Her upbringing on the island of Rhodes, much frequented by tourists, was also a decisive factor, as it instilled in her a sense for the international and a curiosity about exploring other cultures. Indebted to her homeland and her family, Moschi-Gauguet – who, after her return from Paris in 1998, now spends an important part of the year in Rhodes – wishes to bring some of the «treasures» she discovered around the world back home. Indeed, through the Rhodes-based FAM, Moschi-Gauguet is contributing to making Rhodes a year-round cultural spot and center of artistic education in the Mediterranean, not just a tourist destination. Apart from the international fora and exhibitions, another side to FAM is the project currently under way, the Euro-Mediterranean Center of Contemporary Art and Culture, an institution which will organize educational programs and run fully equipped, special workshops on teaching rarefied art-related, traditional crafts such as bookbinding and lithography. The program will be running in collaboration with renowned international institutions, among them the «Impremerie Nationale de France,» UNESCO’s Cultural Peace Program, the International Foundation for a Culture of Peace and New York’s Columbia University. An international network for the «international» aim of peace and respect for the Other filtered through art: this sums up the ambitious and expanding activities of FAM, not to mention the persistence and benevolent vision of Aliki Moschi-Gauguet, its founder. Contact the Pan-Mediterranean Women Artists’ Network FAM at [email protected]