Building peace – with paper bags and no weapons

Building peace with paper bags and no weapons

When writing this text, we were overtaken by reality, by politics, by acting parties and political actors... And this time it was very good news, as this extract from the homepage of the City of Nuremberg shows:

On the basis of the municipal statutes regarding the awarding of cultural prizes, 20,000 euros are available for cultural prizes every year for up to five persons and groups. The money is awarded in equal parts. In addition, this year the Grand Cultural Prize of the City of Nuremberg (endowed with 10,000 euros) will also be awarded. The prize is only awarded every two years.

In 2022, this prize will go to conceptual artist Johannes Volkmann, who is known for his participation formats. The award will be presented at a ceremony in November 2022.


Theatre premiere and exhibition in the St Egidien church in July

“You asked for it! HE WANTED IT THAT WAY!” The representative of the “screw faction” becomes increasingly angry with the representative of the “nail party”. The two-man play in the St Egidien church in Nuremberg shows nothing less than the genesis of war. What becomes clear is that, in war, right and wrong are dissolved; in war, everyone always feels that they are in the right (even if they have previously twisted things to the best of their ability). This is what Johannes Volkmann, the inventor of the event, and his acting colleague Arnd Schimkat demonstrated during the premiere in St Egidien church in Nuremberg in July 2022. Impressively simple, the artists elaborate how quickly a provocation and a lie can lead to war – even if it’s a matter of only small things that cannot be resolved peacefully at the beginning. Ultimately, when the weapons start “speaking”, there are no more solutions, only victims. So it’s worth turning the question around, going back to the beginning and getting personal: “What are YOU doing to help make a peaceful world?” When the situation on stage has already escalated to this point, Arnd Schimkat asks the artist: “Now show me how peace works.” The answer: “Maybe through courage, creativity and music.”


A paper bag sculpture almost four metres high and 10,000 small bags

It all began back in 2020. That’s when the Catholic relief agencies issued the annual motto LIVING PEACE. The dioceses joined in. “Aspects of social cohesion, inter-religious dialogue and climate justice were also central,” is what the Church and its relief agencies in Munich/Freising said. This led to the search for a suitable artist and the commissioning of Johannes Volkmann from Nuremberg, who has long been active as an ambassador for peace with his Paper Theatre and other forms of art in public spaces. At the start of the art campaign in 2021, a paper bag almost four metres high stood on Munich's Odeonsplatz square, surrounded by around 250 small paper bags. They all had the following question printed on them: “What am I doing to help make a peaceful world?” The large bag sculpture then went on tour, stopping at churches and meeting places of various denominations along the way. “Besides the mosque in Pasing, they were the Catholic parish association “Maria Schutz und Leiden Christi”, the Protestant Church of the Ascension, and, for the first time ever, the Old Catholic church of St Willibrord, too,” as an accompanying newspaper article stated.


Large sculpture in the churches of all religions – small bags into the big wide world

While the large peace bag went on tour for a year through places of worship of different religions to remind people of peace, the work of the Ambassadors of Peace was in full swing: “Through press work, in cooperation with friends and partners, with the aid of the Goethe Institutes, and (international) aid organisations, it was made known internationally that everyone can request these bags, everyone can formulate their creative contribution to peace. On the front, “What am I doing to help make a peaceful world – lots of space for good ideas on the back,” says Johannes Volkmann. The free space on the paper was meant to be filled in with people’s own thoughts and deeds for peace. They could be painted or written on, and you could also fill the bag with your stories of peace. School classes, teachers and big and small ambassadors of peace all joined in, and wherever this happened, it was met with huge media interest. Thousands (2,500) of bags were sent back to be exhibited. Johannes Volkmann calls it the "Archive of Peaceful Acts" since he archives all the peaceful thoughts and deeds in the form of a work of art. This large sculpture was first exhibited in St Egidien church in Nuremberg. It can now be shown anywhere on request.

A funny, sensual and profound play was also created for the exhibition, because peace always begins with oneself – as one learns in the production.


More about Johannes Volkmann

More about the Grand Cultural Prize for Johannes Volkmann on the website of the City of Nuremberg:

More on the campaign:

More about the Paper Theatre and the many other activities of Johannes Volkmann:

About the author:

Peter Budig studied Protestant theology, history and political science. He worked as a freelance journalist, ran the editorial department of a large advertising paper in Nuremberg for over 10 years and was the editor of the Nürnberger Abendzeitung newspaper. Since 2014, he has been a freelance journalist, author and copywriter again. In all respects, storytelling is his preferred way of communicating information.


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