The Embassy of Canada in Budapest was home to a moving student-made art exhibit that creatively communicated the importance of human rights and the value of diversity.
The exhibit, consisting of 10 art pieces and 3D installations, was the collective output of over 200 students, who participated in a project to promote tolerance and inclusion through media and education. Visual World Foundation, a Budapest-based NGO, lead the anti-discrimination project, called “Your Decision: Training Bystanders to Become Upstanders” working with students from six Hungarian educational institutions ranging from elementary to university level to produce the art piece showcased at the embassy.
Leading up to the exhibit Canada’s Ambassador to Hungary, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina Lisa Helfand, addressed Canada's fight against anti-Semitism and the importance of inclusion and acceptance to overcome discrimination in a 12-minute film which was screened in classrooms, galvanizing student efforts.
Using two historical examples, the Holocaust and the 1994 Rwanda genocide, young participants explored difficult issues, focussing on the role ordinary people play when faced with human tragedies. The project expanded upon traditional education on discrimination, which tends to focus on victims and perpetrators. Students worked to understand the motivations of individuals who played a bystander role as their friends, classmates and neighbours were deprived of their rights, as well as in contrast, others who bravely engaged and helped those in need, ultimately saving their lives.
“We can hardly train ourselves to be heroes but if more and more of us begin to understand our own fears and motivations, recognizing what we can do to help others, then perhaps we can act as human beings even under strong pressures.”
Zsuzsanna Kozák, Visual World Foundation
To open the exhibit project leader Zsuzsanna Kozák recalled the importance of human dignity and individual responsibility towards others who may be subject to forms of discrimination.
Youth, teachers, educators and school psychologists collaborated through social media for four months. Their experiences were enhanced by the participation of Éva Fahidi and Katalin Sommer Holocaust survivors who shared their inspiring experience from the Holocaust era, which moved participants and helped the audience feel and understand the personal impact of these events.
The exhibit was well received by a diverse audience. Ambassador Lisa Helfand toured the exhibit and discussed students arts and inspiration, with insights from art consultant and media personality Nóra Winkler. The Ambassador told students that “I am impressed by the quality of your work, which conveys a deep sense of understanding other people’s experiences.” Miklós Thaisz, a senior government official from the Ministry of Human Capacity, recognized the exhibit success in strengthening key concepts such as democracy and active citizenship in ways that young people best understand. Miklós Réthelyi, Chair of the Hungarian National Commission for UNESCO, identified education as the best way to combat intolerance and xenophobia. Réthelyi also announced that the project received the patronage of the Hungarian National Commission for UNESCO.
The exhibit opening was followed by a half-day training and workshop engaging both students and teachers. Szilvia Gyurkó, a local activist for children rights, held sensitization training for students to highlight the opportunities and responsibilities of being someone’s neighbour. Teachers explored ways in which lessons learned from past genocide events can be translated into classroom discussions. Holocaust survivor Éva Fahidi engaged students and teachers in a creative and stimulating drama game to seek to redefine concepts and terms related to individual responsibility.
The project had a meaningful effect on the participants; students from different schools and with different backgrounds had the opportunity to celebrate their differences and the elements that bind them together. Students, teachers, and spectators gained a better understanding of Canada’s advocacy for inclusion and equality and the benefits of embracing diversity.
The students’ art work is scheduled to travel to the six schools participating in the project and will be exhibited at other venues in the coming months.