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VISUAL COMMUNICATION AS A PEACE-BUILDING TOOL. The struggle of Colombian social leaders

Roland Bleiker begins his book on aesthetics and world politics with the following reflection: “ls it trivial, or perhaps even irresponsible, to explore aesthetic themes at a time when the world is engulfed by war, genocide, terrorism, poverty, climate change, and financial turmoil?” Should visual communicators take a step back and hand over the responsibility of dealing with these problems to social science, human-rights experts, NGOs, the United Nations, or politicians? Alternatively, perhaps aesthetics are more needed than ever. So, visual communicators should explore the potential of the visual arts: all this with the aim to find innovative, sensitive, potent, useful, and inclusive solutions to confront the challenges presented by a world with severe social issues, needs, and challenges. However, the question is, how can visual communicators do that? How can one deal with a subject as complicated as politics, economics, conflicts, wars, or social changes through a visual message? Could an image initiate a significant change in society? What is the social responsibility of visual communication? What can be the purpose of working in that direction? Is it effective? The objective is to try and provide answers and reflect on the scope of images as a peace-building tool. Also, the aim is to find contributions in the field of communication and the visual arts and apply them to the particular case that has disturbed Colombia and the world in recent years: the systematic assassinations of social leaders after the signing of the peace agreement in 2016.
The Peace Agreement between the Colombian government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 was a great triumph for Colombia. It gave hope and empowerment to Colombians, especially to the victims of more than sixty years of conflict. It opened the door to dialogue, to forgiveness, to the search for justice and a compensation for the consequences of impunity and violence. Nevertheless, even after the agreement was signed, a social leader is assassinated in Colombia every four days. Up to now, there are 734 cases.
On the other hand, it was a blow to some legal and illegal sectors that held the control over lands and natural resources for decades and that, even after the Peace Agreement, they needed to confront the rights demanded by the people and supported by the law. Thus, the war began once again. However, what is really behind this systematic genocide? The answer? The large-scale consumption of palm oil, cocaine, and mining all over the world. Moreover, there also is an enormous culpability of the mass media at the national and international levels.
Defending people with such incredible strength and courage equals motivation; they should be national heroes, not stigmatized, persecuted, and murdered. It is for them that this project was created. Consequently, I wonder as a Colombian, as a professional in visual communication and, above all, as a human being, what I can do about it? It is the starting point of this journey called a Master thesis project.
Basel, 2019

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Paloma Lopez; Jiri Oplatek; Aylin Tschoepe
Instagram: @natiperaltavisual