why same difference?
The name was inspired by a children’s book from Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, called Same, Same, But Different (2011). In the book, Elliot (in America) and Kailash (in India) are pen pals. Through letters and pictures, they learn that while their worlds may look very different, many of their experiences are the same. I planned on using the book throughout the project to jumpstart children's thinking about common human experiences around the world. Fundamentally my intention with the mural is to create empathy and connections through shared experience--before, during, and after the creative process. In anticipation of the language issues I knew I might face in the refugee camps, I asked a volunteer to translate the book into Syrian Arabic for me.
This book was a great kick start for the Community Art Club kids in Chapel Hill, because we had so much time together to think about and work on the project. As my journey unfolded, I ended up teaching older students who spoke different languages under much greater time constraints, resulting in a paring down of the process that excluded the use of the book. But I still have great fondness for the way it set the tone for our work.
And for those of you old enough to remember the slang version we used to throw around in the 80's, “Same-diff!” (said in a snarky tone, it means “whatever the difference is, it’s not important.”), you might have wondered about the title. The refugee children from Samos all have a history of and continue to experience trauma on a daily basis under appalling conditions. How could they have anything in common with the more privileged groups? How could those commonalities outweigh the differences in their experiences?
It’s not a perfect title. I was shaken by the lives of the refugees I worked with. Some differences struck me as terribly unfair and tragic, not the same at all. I was amazed to see that the refugees without a common language still chose to connect their lives to the other groups visually and conceptually. All of the children loved what they made, felt hope for the future, and found the process inclusive and positive. All of them wanted to share with each other. Perhaps in our desire to learn and grow and connect, we are all the same. For more on this topic, see Impact, and Visual Analysis.