From the President




  Books & Film



  My Response

  Letters to the Editor

  Online Bulletin Board

  Contact Response

  Submit Footnote

  Submit Letter to Editor

  Address Change

  Back Issues

  Response Home

  SPU Home

Spring 2004 | Volume 26, Number 6 | Features

Can Art Help Heal the Wounds of War?

Professor’s Research Points to Restorative Nature of Art Forms

IN 1983 IN BARZAN, a small Kurdish village in Northern Iraq, Saddam Hussein arrested every male over the age of 12. “They disappeared and have never been found again,” says Seattle Pacific University Assistant Professor of English Kimberly Segall. So how does a community function, even move on, in the wake of such brutality?

Segall’s new research, to be published by Duke University Press later this year, explores that question. “I interviewed Kurdish refugees and became intrigued with the ways in which cultural groups work out their traumatic experiences,” she says.

Her curiosity took root while spending two years in Iraq teaching English as a Second Language and delivering humanitarian aid to the Kurdish people. She began to wonder, “After years of being terrorized, how do people recover? How do they work through the horror of the past? How do they find their sense of identity when they’re always afraid of being killed, or they’re always running?”

Then she noticed that one of her Iraqi friends, who had survived torture and the effects of chemical weapons, would sing and dance with his community as a way to deal with grief. “I was so impressed by this, because you would think that when people are completely downtrodden their voices would be silenced, that their artistic forms would cease.” Instead, says Segall, it was art forms that kept the people’s hope alive.

“When people are traumatized, it distorts and disrupts their current moment,” she says, noting that such trauma in Iraq goes far beyond the reach of one dictator but represents tensions between groups such as the Iraqi Shiites and Kurds over disputed lands in Kirkuk. “But through song and other art forms, you’re acting out the past, dancing and interacting with people. You’re not alone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Segall says she still feels a desire to return to Iraq, to be on the “front line.” “But what I do at SPU is equally important, because the misunderstandings about Middle Eastern cultures are so great.”

Several of Segall’s students have been deployed to Iraq over the past year for military service. “I want to give all my students a gift as a teacher,” she explains. “I want to give them a sense of understanding about the history and culture of the Iraqi people.”

The recent war, says Segall, has brought new suffering to the country. Even more reason, she says, to see art as one possible avenue for healing. “Post-war Iraq needs to incorporate the opportunity for people to recognize historical changes with rituals and artistic forms. If healing doesn’t happen, Iraq will always have the potential for violence.”

So the widows of Barzan sing, dance and tell stories. “They sing songs of grief and lament, and of a wistful wonder whether their husbands and sons are still alive,” says Segall. “This is what gets them through. It helps to confirm that the past is over.”

Back to the top
Back to Home