Amara Hark-Weber: Speaking in Color, 2006-2007

Amara Hark-Weber

Many friendships were created in games where children used their hands. Photograph by Amara Hark-Weber.

Introduction by Amara Hark-Weber

In 2006, as a Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow, I spent ten months working with Schedia, an NGO based in Athens, Greece. Schedia was founded in 1987 with the goal of using art as a tool for dialogue in Greece’s increasingly multicultural society. Today they run arts and theater programs for minority children between the ages of four and sixteen, as well as conduct training courses and seminars for grade school teachers.

In 2005, Schedia began Elele II, a project in the town of Elefsina intended to promote respect for diversity through afterschool and weekend arts, theater, and academic programs. While the targeted audiences are primarily children of Albanian and Turkish decent, many native Greek children participate as well. In addition to youth programming, Elele II also offers arts classes to families one day each week.

The Elele Center in Elefsina is a space in which everyone is encouraged to use paints, markers, rolls of paper, and swaths of fabric to express themselves as they see fit. In a culture where xenophobic slogans and anti-immigrant sentiment are highly visible, the freedom and safety that the children experience is a much-needed relief. Children and instructors employ movement, color, song, and dance to construct theatrical scenes, enormous murals, and larger than life sculptures.

My role as a Hine Fellow was to document Schedia’s programming at the Elele Center, and as a photographer, I was able to watch the creative process unfold, while native Greek, Turkish, and Albanian speakers communicated through art. For the children, the challenge was not just to find their own voices, but to form a cohesive group in which everyone was heard in spite of language barriers. Moments of stillness were few, and by the end of the year, the children had achieved new ways to communicate—with their eyes, hands, toes, legs, fingers, and with paint. Most importantly, they created bonds that overcame the linguistic and cultural barriers that had been so evident at the beginning of the year. My hope was to capture the emotions of the children as they worked together or alone but always with imagination.

During Elele II’s spring sessions, teachers and students spent many weeks exploring the Greek myth of Persephone, Demeter, and the creation of the seasons. Elefsina is where Persephone entered the underworld, and by exploring this myth, Turkish and Albanian children, considered cultural outsiders by their peers, were able to touch the mythic history of their town and reinvent it for themselves. They staged elaborate plays and created murals in anticipation of a field trip to the archeological site where the cult of Demeter was active in ancient times. Schedia, which means “raft” in Greek, carried the participants from the shores of modern Greek society to other banks, whether mythic, historic, or imagined.

Amara Hark Weber

Amara Hark Weber

Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow 2006-2007

Amara Hark Weber, a 2005 graduate of Bard College in history and African studies, is passionate about bridging cultural gaps and misunderstandings, and feels strongly that the best way to mend cultural rifts is to hear individual stories and voices.