The Role of Arts & Culture

What role do the arts and literature play in the advancement of scholarly or general understanding of genocide?

The same question can be asked for the role of museums and memorials. What critical exhibitions, performances and venues are available to the academic community and general public that will augment our knowledge of the history and legacy of genocide around the globe? This resource page is dedicated to answering these questions and offering information on a host of current institutions, memorials, exhibitions and performances that reach a global audience and reflect popular contributions to this field.

The arts hold a unique place in the field of genocide scholarship in that they can often reach broad audiences simply by popular attraction to the genre itself. Ritualized expression in language; visual art; dance and music are universally compelling activities that draw in audiences and can have impactful consequences in promoting awareness and fostering understanding. Artistic expressions of all genre that deal with the issue of genocide bring to light these massively traumatic events in history and place the perplexing questions of “how” and “why” directly to the viewer for consideration, contemplation and greater understanding.

It is commonly understood that the subject of genocide is one which engenders indifference, apathy and recoil. Asking individuals to consider, digest and want to learn more about mass atrocity is a supreme challenge for educators, artists, and coordinators of public displays and memorials. These venues which reflect mass atrocity, however, are critical catalysts which hold up to the public a window of understanding and provide a vehicle to personal and genuine experience of the nature of genocide and mass violence through the lens of the cultural expression. Their power to affect the individual can often motivate awareness, contemplation and hence greater understanding of the complexities and legacies of mass violence and its relationship to the viewer.

The arts play a critical and central role in absorbing the shock of mass atrocity, transmuting chaotic and frequently repelling facts into the gristmill of ritualized expression whereby the observer, listener, visitor or reader can gain a modicum of “what it may be like to walk in another’s shoes.” This is especially relevant as a personal and close up experience of a genocide or mass atrocity is nothing less than a horrific and repulsing story.

Memorial locations serve as gathering sites whereby individuals and communities dedicate specific ground to concepts of collective remembering, honoring and learning about past acts of mass violence. These locations play a pivotal role in helping the individual cope with the trauma of mass atrocity and absorb the magnitude and complexity of these events in history and reflect back on the questions of “how” and “why”. Ultimately the role of the arts in genocide scholarship leads society forward towards peaceful co-existence.

As members of IAGS community our roles as scholars and educators includes accessing and distributing knowledge, developing critical theory and helping to broaden general understanding of the issues of genocide and mass atrocity for the scholarly community as well as the general public. Genocide, after all, is an issue which affects humanity in its entirety. Therefore it is incumbent upon the academic community to incorporate the arts into the broader scholarly discussion of genocide and mass atrocity. These resources pages will assist the scholars, educators, authors, and artists to locate resources in the arts, which are relevant to genocide studies.

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