Peace from Pieces

In January 2022 a team of twelve undergraduate students at the University of St Andrews were selected to work on a ‘Vertically Integrated Project‘ called ‘Visualising Peace‘. Directed by Dr Alice König and supported by PG Mentor Jenny Oberholtzer, this project seeks to extend the work of the Visualising War project by examining how war’s aftermath, conflict resolution and peace-building are conceived. Our aim is to study different habits of imagining, understanding, representing and working towards peace, and we are particularly interested in analysing how different narratives and ideas of peace have evolved and gained influence over time. 

Part of studying how others visualise peace involves being mindful of the stories and images that we ourselves amplify and project. For this reason, we thought hard about the kinds of imagery we wanted to use in our outputs and on social media. Our conversations inspired one student, Harris Siderfin, to design a logo for the project that captures many of the elements of ‘visualising peace’ that we have been talking about. In this blog, Harris explains the ideas behind his design.

There were several inspirations for visualising peace in this graphic which I tried to incorporate into the piece. 

The first came from Frank Möller and his research into visualising real 'everyday' peace. Möller's particular focus is photography, and he argues for broad understandings of and approaches to 'peace photography', discussing the power of images which represent 'everyday' peace, even during times of war (Möller, Peace Photography, Palgrave Macmillan 2019). Möller states that images of 'everyday' peace can help frame and address the reality of conflict, which in turn can support mediation and peace-building processes. 

Some 'realistic' images of peace include military equipment abandoned in post-conflict zones. In the image below, for example, a tank has been abandoned and subsequently taken over by nature. I wanted to incorporate this idea of abandoned instruments of war, which help us to visualise the ugly realities of peace in a post-war landscape, so I included two guns in my design - a modern assault rifle and a traditional single-shot rifle - with flowers growing from their barrels. The flowers show that the firearms can no longer be used for war as they have been taken over by nature. However, the guns serve as a reminder that peace often comes post-war. We may celebrate when peace flourishes, but we should not forget that it can often have violent roots.  
The flower-sprouting guns also represent the 'flower power' movement of 1960s America, where war protestors placed flowers on soldiers' guns. This transforms the guns from being objects of killing and war into something natural, peaceful and beautiful, as they act as vessels for the flowers to grow.

I have inverted the colours of some of the flowers to represent different aspects of peace. For example, I have used white to represent pure and peaceful intentions, but I have included streaks of red to show the bloodshed that often occurs before peace and stability are established. The black also signifies the darker sides to peace and memories of war which we often fail to see. The bright flowers catch the viewers’ attention whilst the black stems are understated and can easily be over-looked. This is to illustrate how the public can hyper-focus on specific aspects of peace and it success, often overlooking the reality of day-to-day peace-making and the sacrifices required for getting there. The withered nature of the stems further illustrates the fragility of peace: without healthy stems and maintenance the flowers of peace will die. 
On the far right of the logo, the flowers are more colourful, demonstrating that beautiful things can happen when peace flourishes. You might notice a bee on one of the flowers. This is a reference to a story told in Emily Mayhew’s book The Four Horsemen and the Hope of a New Age about the city of Mosul’s post-conflict recovery (Mayhew, E., The Four Horsemen and the Hope of a New Age, Riverrun 2021, 240-41).  As she explains, a year after the end of ISIS’s bloody occupation of Mosul the local bees and their beekeepers produced record amounts of honey: ‘hope in a jar’, as she puts it. Bees (like flowers) can flourish in the wild, but they benefit from good care and attention; and they are social creatures, working collectively. Bees remind us of the hard work and co-operation that goes into producing something sweet. They can teach us important lessons about peace. 
The green roots represent the 'grassroots' peacebuilding efforts which are often critical in achieving sustainable peace (Hamidi, M. 2018. Peace Insight. Accessed March 28, 2022). However, they also look like lightning bolts which demonstrate how peace can occur and disappear rapidly – and sometimes violently. The dark blue field the graphic sits on symbolises hope and apparent horizons. However, I decided to use a darker blue to signal that, while there may be hope for brighter days, darkness and conflict are never far away. Finally, you might notice a white feather helping to bind one bunch of flowers together: a symbol which brings to mind the conscientious objectors of WWI. The white feather evokes pacifist movements, but it also reminds us of the stigma which some pacifists have faced for standing against war. In Britain, men who did not sign up to the war prior to the introduction of conscription in 1916 were verbally attacked by women on the street, and had a white feather pinned onto them. Although from the perpetrator’s perspective, the feather was representative of cowardice, for the conscientious objectors it often became a symbol of pride, showing their pacifist nature. Thus, the inclusion of a white feather also shows the importance of positionality when considering peace, as the differing symbolism highlights how personal interpretation is key. Finally, the white feather raises thoughts of historical interpretations of peace, and how this has changed throughout the eras. 

Overall, this graphic visualises peace through imagery of hope, nature, beauty and growth. But it also evokes the fragility of peace, through references to the violence that often precedes it and to threats that persist when peace starts to flourish.   

Harris Siderfin, April 2022