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The War Childhood Museum’s “Speaking Out” exhibition visited Newcastle this July as a part of the “Communities and Change” conference, organized by the Memory Studies Association. Prints of twelve body maps created by survivors of conflict-related sexual violence were exhibited in the foyer of Newcastle University’s Frederick Douglass Center for the duration of the conference.

In addition to seeing the artworks created by women from BiH who survived wartime sexual violence at a young age, the Conference participants had the opportunity to take part in a body mapping workshop and learn more about this methodology in a practical way, but also the “Speaking Out” project in general. The workshop was co-organized by the War Childhood Museum and the International Coalition of the Sites of Conscience.

Body mapping workshop, Newcastle

The central part of each body map is made up of two outlines or silhouettes, which serve as a life sized-representation of the workshop participant, while some of the most important recollections from different periods of life are added around them in the form of writings or illustrations. The body mapping process allows participants to reflect on their life in its entirety, voicing current needs and hopes for the future. For the survivors whose maps were later featured in “Speaking Out,” the methodology created a safe space and provided them with tools to articulate their traumatic experiences.

Drawing from WCM's "Speaking Out" project, we explored art-based methods as potent tools for documenting subjugated histories and counteracting trauma and injustice. Through art-making and sharing personal life stories, we fostered a space for collective learning and growth, and I am truly inspired by the courage and openness demonstrated by each participant.

Aynura AkbasWorkshop facilitator (WCM)

On July 6, the WCM also participated in a special roundtable session titled “Memory and Community: Sites of Conscience around the World.” Moderated by Christopher Whitehead from Newcastle University, the insightful discussion brought together Sites of Conscience members to explore the profound impact memory plays in contemporary discussions within the fields of human rights and social justice, and as a tool for promoting understanding, empathy, and healing. Panel of speakers included Katia Chornik from Kingston University and the University of Cambridge, Pierre Claver Irakoze from Aegis Trust Rwanda, Lebogang Marishane from Constitution Hill, Aynura Akbas from the War Childhood Museum, and Linda Norris from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

The Conference itself featured a range of different lectures and presentations, including the one by Véronique Labonté about the War Childhood Museum. In her paper, Labonté emphasized the polyphonic and transnational nature of the Museum’s approach and work, identifying it as “a place of joy and compassion, where ordinary objects become extraordinary.”

The WCM will continue to amplify voices of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in different ways and share insights and best practices gained while producing “Speaking Out.”