What escapes the camera lens?
November 12th, 2006. Novi Pazar
“Communications” workshop – theme DREAMS/PASSION
Erna brings photos of a text book cover on astronomy:
– My passion is astronomy.
Others: Esma, Eshfer, Nermina … join in. They are also interested in astronomy.
– But we are forbidden to use the school telescope recently donated to our school!
– Ok. Can you all bring a photograph of that telescope?
– But we don’t have access to it – they covered it and locked it in the teacher’s study!
– Then photograph the door of the room hiding the telescope, the key hole, anything: a glimpse of the telescope underneath the cloth it is covered with, the windows of the room where it is placed, and so on. Try engaging your desire for knowledge, to discover, to see beyond that which is offered to you, that which is obvious.
– We can’t get to it. They won’t let us! We simply can’t do it…well, it doesn’t matter!
I insisted they shouldn’t give up and suggested that after making these photos they could put up an “exhibition” on the ceiling of the astronomy room; and then even try to photograph their teachers while observing this “exhibition”. I was leading them to understand the dynamics of creative approach to this particular problem – a possible outcome being a critique of the society where a school telescope is not available to the students even though the school has one.
An eventual series of photographs would open up more subjects than the obvious one – why is it forbidden for the students to have access to something they are interested in? Why can’t they use educational equipment provided for them either by the government or an NGO? Why are they not encouraged to develop their passions? Why is knowledge a taboo? And is the resulting taboo in itself, in fact, a consequence of a restrictive educational system that makes the educational tools unavailable. The interrelationship between the educators and the students has, thus, been affected by the politics which render the educational tool obsolete when it is eventually made available.
I was making sure that students were aware what a powerful object they were holding in their hands – the camera. The stubborn spirit of the past regime was intervening with my work – the students’ fear of punishment was stronger than their wish to discover, to push the boundaries – even to photograph them!
This is just one of the problems I came across in the period March – December 2006 during the workshops of the project “Communication”.
The students I was working with had already developed a critical understanding of the realities in their communities. Now, they have developed new skills required by modern art forms. I taught them how to transform these new experiences into an art form by using photography. Every time I left Novi Pazar my curiosity grew – how much would their perception and way of expression develop by our next meeting ?
As the students have changed through this newly acquired skill of photography, in making and analyzing their photographs I have changed as well. I have realized that in the process of self-discovery, the discovery of our fundamental needs and plans for the future, it is Art that presents itself as the most grateful mediator of our hopes, dreams, passions and visions of ourselves suspended between the present and the future.
What mattered to me most was developing the students’ ability to find a way to present their newly discovered realities so that these can be recognized and seen by others. Unfortunately in Serbia, children by the age of 14 lose creative classes such as art and receive 16 new speculative subjects and thus have no conditions to develop these skills through their schooling.
The story of the donated telescope covered with a white cloth and locked in a teacher’s study to collect dust is the story of our politics: the stubborn insistence on “status-quo” – i.e. preserving an outdated educational policy – proves to be fatal for youthful desire and eagerness to learn new things and to acquire new knowledge.
The goal of education in such a conservative setting seems to be to “inspire” (restrict/force?) children to learn something that is already known, something that is always the same. It actually kills creativity and suggests there is no such thing as change, vision or foresight … and that we should just “bravely” continue with the old ways.