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June 5, 2018

In Kosovo, Turning Civil War Memories Into Art

Brian Testa, an art education major, got an offer he couldn’t refuse from his adviser, Cindy Maguire, Ph.D., acting associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the B.F.A. in Art and Design Education program.

“I saw her one day,” he explained, “and she said, ‘Hey, Brian, you like having life-changing experiences, don’t you?’ “

Yes, he does. So Testa, Class of 2019, joined Dr. Maguire on a trip to Kosovo. Together with seven other students and two other Adelphi faculty members, they traveled to Suharekë, Kosovo, a town of about 60,000 people. The two-week trip in March, Testa said, was as Dr. Maguire had promised.

“It was definitely life changing. I learned so much. It was amazing,” said Testa, a native of Massapequa, New York.

The students worked at the Fellbach-Haus Center for Creative Education in Suharekë. While there, the students helped children and adolescents work on a collaborative art project that centered on memories gathered from the community over the last 20 years, especially memories of war and conflict.

Kosovo, part of the former Yugoslavia, suffered through a civil war in 1998 and 1999. While the war has been over for nearly 20 years and Kosovo declared its independence 10 years ago, the effects of the conflict remain and can be seen even in children who only know of the fighting through their parents or grandparents.

That’s why art can play a powerful role in helping process memories, Testa said. The 70 or so Kosovar participants were encouraged to draw their interpretation of the memories and stories that had been gathered. With guidance from the Adelphi students, the memories were transformed into abstract symbols. The symbols were transformed again, into art installations using LED lights and other digital media effects. Testa said he was surprised at the effect the project had on him.

“You just have these things that started out as memories, and now the physical memories are taking up a whole wall. It’s just very moving,” he said.

Dr. Maguire said she and colleagues at Adelphi and in Kosovo spent months planning the trip. She and her husband are co-founders of ArtsAction Group, an international community-based collective committed to facilitating arts initiatives with children and youth in conflict-affected environments. ArtsAction Group works in three other locations—northern Sri Lanka, a refugee camp in Algeria, and high-needs schools and juvenile facilities on Long Island.

Dr. Maguire has been leading trips to Fellbach-Haus in Kosovo since 2010. She said the focus has changed slightly as the needs of the community have changed.

“It started with socio-emotional work,” she said. “But now we’re trying to document history and envision a way forward.”

She said her group even helps with job training. For example, the former Yugoslavia had a thriving animation industry, so they have been teaching classes in film animation.

“We also teach the soft skills—risk-taking, perseverance and generating ideas,” she explained.

Testa said he looks forward to a career in the arts that includes travel, so he can continue to learn.

“These people have such a rich history, such a strong sense of community,” he said. “It was amazing to understand that and see it for myself.”

Work from the Kosovo trip was recently on view at Adelphi University Performing Arts Center. ArtsAction Group also produced a book documenting the experience, Outside In/Inside Out.


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