Images of the Other
The Alumni Seminar "Images of the Other" was hosted by the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda (RMR) and took place in Ronda, from the 22nd to the 29th of September, 2013.
During this week, the participants analysed the nature of stereotypes in European societies. The aim was not only to see the consequences of the use of stereotypes but also to gain a better understanding of its impact during human history, and to identify the patterns behind it.
The seminar was a great opportunity to approach the topic from both a national and a European perspective, as the eighteen participants came from thirteen different countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine. This diversity provided for a rich and heterogeneous exchange of perspectives, also for intense debates, and it influenced the result of the final projects. The seminar location also had an impact on the seminar. La Algaba where the alumni and the seminar organisers lived and worked is a place that protects the natural heritage of the region, where the beauty of nature substituted the lack of access to the internet. Everybody also appreceiated the romantic town of Ronda and the premises of the RMR.
Starting point were the stereotypes that were used at the beginning of the 20th century in European countries towards their neighbors. The participants did this research prior to the seminar and found many caricatures and paintings which illustrated the image people of different nationalities had of each other around the times of World War I.
To find out how Eureopans see each other 100 years later, the participants tested themselves by drawing maps of Europe in smaller groups, where the European states were represented with just one symbol and one word. These maps showed their own views towards other European countries. Many of the stereotypes the alumni had towards other nations were quite similar, some were positive, others rather offensive. During a heated debate they were confronted with the fact that they weren’t free of stereotypes either and they discovered similarities and patterns about how these images were formed.
They talked about more than the images they have of each other in Europe. They also wanted to find out if there are differences when Europeans look at the same ‘other’: Muslims. Prior to their arrival in Ronda, participants were asked to look for a contemporary caricature of Muslims and to conduct a survey about the image of Islam in Europe. These national perspectives about the Muslim population was contrasted by the visit in Ceuta, one of the two Spanish exclaves in the north of Africa.
All participants looked forward to this excursion. Despite the fact of having to get up at 4.30 a.m., the trip to Ceuta was very productive and they received there one of the most important lessons of the week: the difference between coexistence and "convivence", a word that doesn’t exist in the English language.
In this European town on African ground, the alumni were able to gain an institutional and quite optimistic perspective on the reality in Ceuta and also a more realistic and problematic one. In the morning they discussed with José Luis Barceló -the Official Archivist of Ceuta- the history of Ceuta and its present situation. Then they split into two groups: one went on a walk through the multicultural environment of the town with Gabriel Fernández from the Cultural and Educational Department of the City Council of Ceuta, while the other group visited the cultural center Al-Idrissi, an association that is offering Arabic and Islam classes to students of all ages and works also very actively in the field of intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
In order to share their personal impressions with each other, the alumni created an individual image of the essence of Ceuta and expressed it in different formats: a poll made by the Spanish speakers of the group about the identity of the citizens of Ceuta, a photo essay, and a compilation of individual short texts of different genres. Later on, back in Ronda, they also got the chance to discuss their impressions with Prof. Waleed Saleh from the University of Madrid, whose story fascinated the young Europeans. He explained how the Western world formed its image of the Islamic world throughout history.
After all the background work had been done, the young Europeans started to work on the final project: the ESA (Eustory Seminar Animates). The format of the presentation had already been defined at the beginning and the program was designed accordingly. The alumni were to create animates explaining complex topics as a final result, similar to those produced by the Royal Society of Art (London).
The idea was to make a synthesis of all relevant information the participants gathered during the seminar. After an intensive preparation and four days of work during the seminar, our participants got the task to develop a concept and draft a storyboard for an ESA in groups of three. Surprised by the complexity of their ideas and instead of choosing the ‘best two’, they merged the best ideas into two topics for the animations: the question of Convivencía and Coexistence and the use(ability) of stereotypes in a historical perspective. What they had to do at this stage was more than to present what they had learned during the seminar: they had to decide on the most important issues, explain these to an audience that wasn’t present, and to make their conclusions visible.
And even though the technical things were really important (drawing, recording images and audio, cutting) the other dimension was much more complex: Finding the topic one wants to explain, developing a concept, gathering all information necessary, thinking of images to support the information, writing a text that is both focused but not too simplifying, matching it with the images to develop a storyboard, etc. They were conceptualising, drawing, writing, and rehearsing, until they finally got to recording. In the meantime the technical team set up the scene, using ladders, frames and a lot of creativity. To see their results, click the links in right column.