Connecting through conflict: iMAE graduate Ana finds her purpose
- Education in Art
The international Master’s Artist Educator has a unique trait: you get to do research and study at (and with) different communities in Europe. These so called ‘Site Specific Colleges’ (SSC) enable the students to connect their own practice and research to meet the needs of a specific local community. For Anamika “Ana” Shah, alumnus of the Master’s, the SSC were invaluable. “Going to a new country, with people you’re not used to seeing, and especially at the end seeing your own pedagogy come to life, is invaluable. I don’t think the course would have been the same if we had stayed in Arnhem, even if we had been involved with NGOs there.”
Ana, 24, is both a fine artist and social impact-driven educator. With a background in text-based visual and conceptual art, she previously earned a Bachelor’s in Fine Art in Groningen. “I always felt a draw towards the education route, but not traditional educational paths such as a PABO course. I wanted to be an educator through creativity and didn’t want to leave my artistic practice completely behind.”
Uniting two equal interests
She was excited, then, to start studying the one-year International Master Artist Educator (iMAE) at ArtEZ in 2021, as a way to unite personal artistic practice with an impactful possibility to educate on her terms. When Ana started her studies, the iMAE course was made up of 3 phases: a studio and classroom based phase in Arnhem, where student make a variety of individual art projects based on their own identity and interests.
The second phase in Zwolle focuses on the identity of others and is a collaborative project that takes students out of their comfort zone into a real world situation. The final phase is set in the post-conflict scenario of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is designed to allow students to make a combination of their own interests with that of others.
I always felt a draw towards the education route, but not traditional educational paths such as a PABO course. I wanted to be an educator through creativity and didn’t want to leave my artistic practice completely behind
Collaboration with Windesheim in Zwolle
The Zwolle phase, was a collaboration between 4th-year students at the University of Applied Sciences Windesheim and ArtEZ's Artist Educator Master students, was a surprise for Ana. ”Since this is an unlikely collaboration from two usually opposite programmes in mindset, the most important thing for us was to create something of value to our lives on both sides,” Ana recalls.
“We often went for a drink after our work sessions, and there, we had more open conversations, where we realized we all were going through the same emotional struggle. That helped us learn to trust each other and by the end, I was surprised at how willing the business students were to pick up a paintbrush or cut wood for the project,” Ana explains. That takeaway helped Ana’s work in Ireland, because she learned how important fostering that organic trust, adapting in the moment, and finding something uniquely valuable for everyone is.
I was surprised at how willing the business students were to pick up a paintbrush or cut wood for the project
Bridging community divide through conversation
After Zwolle, the final phase in Ireland was where Ana was able to apply her knowledge in Belfast, a post-conflict still affected by the remnants of the so-called Troubles. Ana’s research focused on developing agency in young people and encouraging active citizenship, with a focus on areas where the left overs of conflict are at its worst.
In Belfast, Ana worked with youth, youth workers, community leaders and volunteer councils, the latter mainly being adults and elderly. These 'older' volunteers didn’t understand why young people often hang out and party on vacant derelict sites around the area. But, as Ana described, “through what we learned in our artist educator workshops with the youth we helped the councils understand that those sites were the only places where young people felt agency and felt they could express themselves freely. We were only able to understand that through the trust developed by the creative methods in our workshops and often it was the unplanned conversations with the youth when these issues came out.”
Personal agency in conflict
Following on from the project Ana co-created a resource, available below, documenting the methods developed in the creative. Though developed in the Site Specific College of Belfast , the resource can be applied to any youth center in a current or post-conflict zone. “It was absolutely necessary to be in Belfast to develop this resource because of how we came to understand the ways, through direct experience, that this conflict has divided the community,” Ana explains.
The combination of practice with theory and how this is then set into a real world context enables you to begin to behave like a professional from the outset.
Site-specific advantages: holistic and practical
Being site-specific made the programme more inspiring, says Ana. Spending so much time together in Zwolle and Northern Ireland, they were able to help each and teach each other through consistent contact. “In Ireland, we all lived together in the same house. If you ever felt dejected, there was someone else living 2 doors away going through the same thing. Not only did that enhance the experience holistically, it also made it a lot easier to coordinate working times and gave us an extra teacher, namely each other. The combination of practice with theory and how this is then set into a real world context enables you to begin to behave like a professional from the outset. This is program is unique as it is not just about the exposure to the subjects themselves.”
As for Ana’s next steps, the course helped her realize that she’s actually more interested in doing site specific research, rather than the traditional idea of art . Ana: “I want to be on the ground, working with people. I specifically want to continue youth work to inspire certain types of (deeper) conversation through light-hearted creative methods. I’ve already applied to refugee centers in Arnhem for work developing creative programs.”