Inspirational Creative Practice: The Work of Artists after War and Violent Conflict (INSPIRE)

Led by Katarzyna Grabska

Jan 2020 – Jul 2024

Picture: Kasia Grabska.
INSPIRE studies the role of artists and creative practice in and after violent conflict, exploring both what inspires and motivates those engaged in creative practice as well as how artistic expressions inspire and move others into action for social justice.

Inspirational Creative Practice: The Work of Artists after War and Violent Conflict (INSPIRE) studies the role of artists and creative practice in and after violent conflict, exploring both what inspires and motivates those engaged in creative practice as well as how artistic expressions inspire and move others into action for social justice. The project introduces inspiration as a new and important field of ethnographic research through studying the intersections between artists, art and activism during and after war. The project will focus on the role of local and transnational creative practices in and after wars in Sudan and Myanmar, and study artists and activists in exile in four European countries.

INSPIRE has received funding from the FRIPRO programme of the Research Council of Norway.

Project team

The project is led by research professor Katarzyna Grabska. She is joined by research professor Cindy Horst, senior researcher Marte Nilsen, doctoral researcher Trude Stapnes and research assistant Sara Christophersen.

INSPIRE also has an advisory board consisting of artists, academics and cultural institutions to provide guidance on issues such as arts-based methods, finding appropriate artists and cultural spaces, and dissemination beyond academic outputs.

Project summary

Conflict, war and displacement reconfigure societies in abrupt, dramatic, and contradictory ways (Grabska 2014, Lubkemann 2008, Vigh 2008). The speed and unpredictability of unfolding events during war, the experience of violence and the need to take risks in times of war creates protracted and radical uncertainty (Horst & Grabska 2015). Social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt (Horvath et al. 2009). At the same time, in such an open situation, potential exists for creativity, innovation and societal transformation. Artists play a central role in periods of uncertainty and openness, both as commentators of events and as inspirators for change. INSPIRE introduces inspiration as a new and important field of ethnographic study and studies the ways in which artists, art and activism intersect during and after war.

INSPIRE draws on work on inspiration in the humanities and psychology, combined with insights from research on artists and activism in anthropology, sociology, political science and conflict studies. It will particularly focus on spatial and temporal dimensions of inspiration in times of war. By making a substantial empirical contribution to the study of artists, art and activism during and after war, INSPIRE will provide new insights into the interrelations between the individual creative and collective mobilising forms of inspiration.

INSPIRE will draw on multi-sited ethnography, (creative) life history interviews with artists, collaborative arts-based workshops, qualitative interviews and focus group discussions. A virtual platform will also be created for the project. The virtual platform will function as a space to show how we work with the project and to share research outcomes, as well as being used as a research tool and method in the project. By using exploratory approaches, involving arts-based workshops and the virtual platform we aim to explore ways of co-creating knowledge that draw on a combination of scientific and artistic methods. Our approach aims to bridge social sciences with humanities, while drawing on work at the boundaries of science and art. We believe that research that engages artists, art and audiences is needed to help the social sciences better comprehend human experiences – in particular those in times of war – in more holistic ways than is currently the case. The collaborative arts-based methods will allow us to bring to light the importance of situated and embodied ways of understanding the world.

Research Questions

INSPIRE will analyse 'inspiration' in local and transnational intersections between artists, art and activism in war and in post-war contexts. The project is guided by the following three research questions:

RQ1 What inspires and motivates those engaged in creative practice during and after violent conflict? RQ2 What role do artists play in creating alternative discourses during and after violent conflict?R Q3 In what ways do artistic expressions inspire and move others to act towards social justice?

Case studies

The project focuses on three case studies: Myanmar, Sudan and selected exiled artists who work transnationally in France, Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands. Marte Nilsen and Trude Stapnes will be working on the Myanmar-case, Katarzyna Grabska will be working on the Sudan-case and Cindy Horst and Katarzyna Grabska will be working on the case with selected exiled artists.


While the primary objective of INSPIRE is to develop a comprehensive theory of inspiration and thus contribute scientifically, the project is expected to have a strong societal impact as well. This potential lies in understanding the ways in which artists, through their art, move the intellect and emotions of others. During and after war, representations and narratives play a substantial role in shaping the basis for a post-war future. New knowledge on how these representations and narratives are shaped by artists, art and their audiences can help stakeholders working with reconciliation processes after war, especially those who use arts-based methods.

Advisory board

INSPIRE has invited a team of artists, academics and cultural institutions to support the research process by discussing relevant themes and issues that develop throughout the research process and provide guidance on issues such as arts-based methods, finding appropriate artists and cultural spaces, and dissemination beyond academic outputs.

The advisory board consists of George Mahashe (Artist, photographer and academic), Anna Konik (Visual artist), Martin Bach, (Director of the Goethe Institut Norway), Mirjam de Bruijn (Professor in anthropology and African studies, Leiden University), Solveig Korum (Kulturtanken Oslo) and Anaïs Lellouche (Art curator).

George Mahashe, Photographer, artist and academic;

Dr Mahashe works in the field of photography, particularly at the intersection of artistic practice, archives and anthropology. His research takes khelobedu as a central idea, drawing on its capacity for complicating ways of knowing. His current project '––defunct context' investigates the creative potential in the gaps inherent in popular approaches to transforming institutions like ethnographic museums. This process has led to a prototype of a pavilion for hosting transdisciplinary exhibitions like the installation Camera Obscura #0. He regularly contributes to exhibitions and conferences. Website: and

Anna Konik, Visual artist;

Anna Konik makes video installations and art films. Her practice combines video, photography, drawing, art objects and works in situ with a strong space context. Konik received a Ph.D. in Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw and her work has been shown in numerous Polish and European museums. Her art works are in private and corporate art collections and her solo exhibitions include: In the Same City, under the Same Sky..., ZiF Bielefeld and National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC), Bucharest (2015/2016); Grain of Sand in the Pupil of the Eye. Video works 2000-2015, Centre for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw (2015/2016). Selected group exhibitions include: Three Plagues Labirynt Gallery, Lublin (2019), The Wall. Art Face To Face With Borders, TRAFO, Szczecin (2017); Invisible Barriers: Moving Images, The Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast (2015); Progress and Hygiene, Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw (2014/2015). Konik also has extensive teaching experience including at the International Summer Academy in Salzburg, the Humboldt University in Berlin, the Faculty of Fine Arts in Warsaw, the University of Art in Poznan, Poland, and the Dresden Academy of Fine Art, to mention a few. Konik is based in Warsaw, Poland. Website:

Martin Bach, director of the Goethe Institut Norway;

Martin Bach is currently the Director of the Goethe-Institut Norway in Oslo. He was the Regional Program Director for South America at Goethe-Institut São Paulo, Brazil from 2015 -2017 and Project Director at the Allianz Cultural Foundation from 2008-2014 in Munich and Berlin. Bach was Project Manager for the German Foreign Office in the Department for Culture and Education in Berlin from 2003-2007. Martin Bach has studied Political Science in Berlin and Kyoto. He is appointed to become director of the Goethe-Institut Netherlands as of June 2020. Website:

Mirjam de Bruijn, Professor in Anthropology and African studies, Leiden University);


Solveig Korum, Senior Advisor at Kulturtanken (Arts for Young Audiences Norway);

Solveig Korum is a doctoral researcher at the University of Agder, Faculty of Fine Arts, and Senior Advisor in Kulturtanken – Arts for Young Audiences Norway. Solveig holds a MA degree in Asian and African studies from the University of Oslo and Dakar, majoring in History. She has been employed at the International Department of Kulturtanken (formerly Rikskonsertene, Concerts Norway) since 2008, where she has been in charge of musical development projects in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Solveig contributed to the planning and programming of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' annual seminar for cultural cooperation with the Global South at Voksenåsen between 2009 and 2016. Besides this, Solveig is the co-founder of NaCuHeal Senegal, a non-governmental organization that operates tree-planting programs in Senegal, West Africa. She has lived abroad for several periods, with longer stays in France, Mali and Senegal. Website: and

Anaïs Lellouche, Art curator;

Anaïs Lellouche is a curator and art consultant based in London. She has curated exhibitions and commissions in London, Paris, New York, Dubai and Melbourne. As a result, she built a nuanced expertise in contemporary art from Europe, the United States, the Middle-East and the Asia Pacific. Anaïs is an agent for a select group of artists, developing opportunities for them through museum projects around the world. She also advises and curates private collections and foundations. Her curatorial expertise was forged working in leading museums, such as the Centre Pompidou, Metz and her art-market acumen was developed leading the pre-eminent Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. She has curated shows and commissions by some the most visionary artists working today, from global pioneers such as Daniel Buren and Sol LeWitt, to vanguard artists Oliver Beer, Marguerite Humeau, Chiharu Shiota and many more. Anaïs Lellouche is on the advisory board of La Pause Residency (Marrakech) and INSPIRE, Peace Research Institute (Oslo). She holds an MA from Bard College, Centre for Curatorial Studies (NY). She regularly publishes and teaches masterclasses on contemporary art. Website:

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