Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Favela education

The Barbican sent me an invitation to a seminar called "Can Culture be Our Weapon?". The title is surprisingly literal - this session was about cultural work with young people in the inner cities (notably Hackney), responding to gun crime and knife crime. There was a Commander from the Met on the panel, Jeremy Weller from Grassmarket project, and the remarkable Camila Batmanghelidjh, who runs something called Kids Company, which combines art and therapy for young people. She comes up with some fascinating ideas - for example that "brain research" (does she mean neurology or psychoanalytical theory?) is showing that violence is often the result of poor attachment or of trauma. Art / performance, she argues, allows the processing of unresolved emotional material, and so is therapeutic and a force against violence. If this is true then science proves Aristotle and catharsis theory....

I email Paul, my favourite neurologist. Here's what he says: "Attachment theory is a psychological theory (after Bowlby) and is about social relationships. Neuroscience is really at its limits with social relationships. The first journals in this area came out only last year. I was at Westminster today addressing (with Susan Greenfield no less) some all party group about neuromyths - and how Hilary Clinton helped start the myth that brain research tells us how people are going to turn out. This is baloney. Biology is not destiny."

So - catharsis is still theory.

The impetus for the seminar, however, is very real - a group called Afro-Reggae from Brazil, who grew up in response to the 1993 police-led massacre in the favela Vigario Geral, and have done an enormous amount to empower youth through music and performance, to turn people against the drug war, and to suggest a different way of living. It's almost evangelical - you "join" Afro-Reggae - but that is what it needs. Now, in the person of their distinctly street-cred lead percussionist and insightful thinker Altair Martins, they are in London, starting a project with Hackney youth, which the Barbican is backing for five years, no less. "The longest we've ever backed any project" Louise Jeffreys tells me. "God - they were some I backed for three and regretted it." This one is called Favela to the World, and I suspect she won't regret one second of it.

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