The contribution of art and culture in peace and reconciliation processes in Asia

Ereshnee Naidu-Silverman


How can art and culture contribute to peace and reconciliation processes in post-conflict societies? Through a series of case studies this CKU occasional paper highlights how art methodologies can provide the non-didactic, participatory tools necessary for building relations between groups and contributing to long-term peacebuilding processes. It recommends long-term investment in local community models that use art and culture methods that support rebuilding societies that value human rights, peace and tolerance.

This paper systematically synthesises existing relevant literature from the fields of art, culture, transitional justice, human rights and peacebuilding, programmatic resources from case studies and 34 qualitative virtual interviews. It uses a purposive sampling strategy drawing on a sample group of practitioners, victim’s associations and civil society representatives. While the views of donors and policymakers is beyond the scope of the paper, it includes a stakeholder analysis outlining a range of stakeholders working in this area.

Key findings

Conflict, identity and culture are inextricably linked; culture may not be the cause of conflict, but when boundaries between groups are threatened it informs how this threat is perceived. While much reconciliation literature focuses on post-conflict contexts that are emerging from protracted active violence, reconciliation may also be necessary in contexts where horizontal conflicts between groups have resulted in social segregation within societies. Much of the literature on the role of art and culture in post-conflict reconstruction highlights the role cultural activities such as theatre, video and dance can have in instances where language is insufficient to convey experiences of trauma during conflict.

The case studies highlight art and cultural initiatives to: counter extremism and religious fundamentalism in Pakistan; recognise an alternative historical narrative in Nepal; facilitate inter-ethnic dialogue in Myanmar; and to promote religious tolerance in Indonesia. Replicability in low-resource settings, collaboration leading to wider engagement with those communities who historically have been most excluded, and empowering individuals to engage as active citizens are key opportunities for these and future initiatives. Challenges include: safety and security in situations of ongoing conflict; government censorship; and sustainability where support is stronger from donors than national or local government.

Most Significant Change, Theory of Change and Outcome Mapping are M&E tools better able to capture the process-orientated nature of reconciliation activities, particularly where the aim is to transform individual behaviour and facilitate attitudinal change. Longer term programmes, such as CKU’s two-phased, six-year project cycle allows for longitudinal evaluation studies that are conducive to measuring such outcomes.


  • Identify target communities’ needs. While art and cultural activities can be replicated they need to be context-specific and meet the particular needs of those they is aimed at. Some activities may be more appropriate to one context than another. For example: dance may be inappropriate in a community that has taboos about the body. Futher, lack of consultation can lead to survivor fatigue where survivors begin to feel that organisations are benefitting from their victimisation.
  • Use local tools and traditions to ensure target groups are better able to identify with the form and content of the activities that is presented to them.
  • Apply a multidisciplinary approach. Art and culture should form part of a broader peace and reconciliation strategy alongside traditional peacebuilding techniques, transitional justice practices, psycho-social interventions and human rights methods.


Naidu-Silverman, E. (2015). The contribution of art and culture in peace and reconciliation procceses in Asia. A literature review and case studies from Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Denmark: Centre for Culture and Development.