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No words

Prof Peter O’Connor: The arts will be the way we resist and claim back the spirit of who and what we might be as a nation.


Over the past few days I have heard on numerous occasions people say, there are no words to express how they feel about what happened on Friday. Prosaic words are never enough to capture the fullness of human experience. If they were we wouldn’t need the arts. It is only the arts that have the potency to capture the inner workings of our lives. The great gift of the arts is that they are ways to process in the deepest parts of who we are, the things that trouble our spirits as individuals and communities.

Cry of faith

Last night I stood in the Auckland Town Hall with 1,000 others. We sang Whakaaria Mai. We started tentatively, listening carefully to each other. We found ways to weave our own voice, our own story into the wider song. The waiata connected us together in the room and then it felt, somehow to the people of Christchurch. In the soaring chorus as we grew louder and more confident our singing became a bridge to possibility. Our song was a cry of faith and hope.  In its communally created beauty it was an act of defiance against the ugliness of terror. This is the possibility inherent in arts making. It gives us, as individuals and communities, the strength to imagine afresh, to see the world again as a place where hope might dwell. It gives us the possibility of connecting to others across time and space and beyond life itself. Through the arts as a nation we will remember, mourn, come together, rebuild who we are.  The arts will be the way we resist and claim back the spirit of who and what we might be as a nation. In the same way we did last night, through different art forms we will find ways to deeply listen to each other and to find new ways to breathe in harmony.

Indestructible acts of solidarity

Terrorist attacks deliberately make the world unbearably ugly. The arts are the finest and best tools we have for resistance to terror.  They do this as indestructible acts of solidarity, potent healing balms that remind us of our common humanity. The world has always needed the arts, but perhaps never as much as we do today.

Here is the link to Peter’s interview from the weekend on Radio New Zealand on the role of theatre in healing traumatised communities.

Professor Peter O’Connor is an internationally recognised expert in applied theatre and drama education based at University of Auckland.  He worked in Christchurch schools following the earthquakes.

Images from Radio New Zealand

Mourners outside the Wellington Islamic Centre. RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King
Nadia Elhajjaoui. RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King
Wellington Islamic Centre. RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King
Flowers left at a cordon in Christchurch. RNZ / Dan Cook

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

18 Mar 2019

The Big Idea Editor