Written by Jekonia Tarigan
In a multicultural society, intercultural openness and even intercultural dialogue are very important, because this concerns the question of how crucial cohesion is in society.[i] However, sensitizing people to cultural diversity is more a matter of approach and method. Teaching the arts helps reconnect the scientific process with intuition which is a key component of cultivating attitudes that promote intercultural openness.[ii] The question then how can mutual understanding and exchanges among people of different cultures and ethnicities be supported in a manner that recognizes the variety of their worldviews and spatial-temporal-kinesthetic knowledge and cultural and spiritual values? This question is proposed by Diane Butler, PhD, regarding her concern about the art of intercultural dialogue. Butler is a dance-movement artist, teacher, who was the first non-Indonesian to earn a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from Universitas Udayana. She resided in Bedulu and Tejakula in Bali since 2001 and become volunteer Associate Professor in Cultural Studies program in Udayana University, Bali. Butler, co-founded Dharma Nature Time, an international foundation to support interculture in cultural environments through sharing in the arts, religiosity and nature Butler delivered a presentation regarding the issue of intercultural dialogue at the Wednesday Forum, a weekly discussion forum organized by the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) an the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS) on April 13, 2022.
In her presentation, Butler argues that in her experience, a practice-based approach to the art of intercultural dialogue does not stem from a predetermined method but rather is an organic process that grows from the interactions of the people involved, which will evolve differently in each place depending on its historical and current conditions. One approach that she has greatly appreciated in Indonesia, which has given good results, is by considering the place, time and conditions. The approach that influenced Butler the most was ‘gardener approach’ which was created by Solonese movement artist, the late Suprapto Suryodarmo. Butler explains that for Suryodarmo, the realm of the garden is a source for the creativity of art. Furthermore, for Suryodarmo, the garden, literally and metaphorically, is an environment where all the diversity of cultures and, in particular, both traditional rural and modern urban peoples with their diverse perceptions, understandings and practices, can share and engage in creative dialogue based upon the value of unity in diversity. Therefore, cultivating the field for intercultural dialogue is thus like the work of a gardener sensing the qualities of the ground, tilling, fertilizing, and watering the soil and so forth such that diverse seeds can blossom in their own place and time in the “freshness, joy and healing of the garden”.
Nevertheless, Butler found it is interesting that in Indonesia, each area has their own approach toward diversity and intercultural dialogue. In Bali there is termed the desa, kala, patra; while a common Javanese proverb is desa, mawa, cara (each village has its own ways). Align with that, another important aspect one might consider is the fostering of a common field for dialogue. In general, aspects one might consider in developing a practice-based approach to the art of intercultural dialogue have long been the questions of many artists. According to Butler there are three aspects that should be considered, which are aspects related to place, time and conditions. Furthermore, Butler proposes several questions regarding those three aspects of intercultural dialogue. Regarding the aspects of place, Butler questioned: Is there a place that is a culturally significant or heritage site where the genius loci evokes an atmosphere of dialogue or remembrance of socio-cultural values?; Would a natural environment be more suitable for dialogue or a semi-open or closed architectural setting with elements of nature within it such as plants, moving or still water, sunlight or firelight, currents of fresh air, and open space?; and What type of spatial layout would be conducive for dialogue: for instance a rectangular or square seating arrangement with participants on all four sides to stimulate discussion?
Moreover, regardless of aspect related to time, Butler also have several questions, for instance: What is the nuance of the era and its possible influence on the dialogue?; Is there a favorable day for dialogue or a date that marks an annual event of importance; Would it be beneficial to engage in dialogue at dawn, or in the morning, or at noontime or in the afternoon, or at dusk or in the evening or the stillness of night; What rhythms of movement, music, or words would support the dialogue?; and When are the moments of silence for contemplation or receiving the ‘speaking’ of people’s inner feelings. Lastly, regardless of aspects related to conditions, Butler questioned: What proximity to or distance from a place of cultural significance and what physical distance between the people involved will foster dialogue?; Would dialogue in small groups followed by a gathering of all be of benefit?; What would be a suitable use for high-level, mid-level, and lower-level areas?; What orientation is conducive for dialogue (rather than a grid structure where participants are in a passive position facing speakers positioned in front)?; and What is the resonance of the environment and how are people tuning with each other and the situation?
Finally, to conclude her presentation, Butler reaffirms that with the increasing contact between cultures in all regions of the world, the ability to engage in dialogue has become ever more vital. Butler explain that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) within the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), in which Article 4 presents that: “interculturality refers to the existence and equitable interaction of diverse cultures and the possibility of generating shared cultural expressions through dialogue and mutual respect.”[iii] Therefore, Butler argues that on a concrete level, the creative process of art can contribute much to the fostering of a common field and taking into account the place, time, and conditions offers valuable guidance. Butler has an expectation that although the above mentioned list of aspects one might consider is not all-inclusive, but it can serve as a source of inspiration for artists, teachers, staff and students, curriculum developers, and community members who wish to develop a practice-based approach to the art of intercultural dialogue.
[i] Susana Gonçalves and Suzanne Majhanovich, Art and Intercultural Dialogue (Springer, 2016). p. vii
[ii] “Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue: UNESCO World Report | Intercultural Dialogue,” accessed April 26, 2022, https://en.unesco.org/interculturaldialogue/resources/130. p. 130
[iii] Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) “Convention2005_basictext_en.Pdf,” accessed May 4, 2022, https://en.unesco.org/creativity/sites/creativity/files/convention2005_basictext_en.pdf#page=15