Subject: Art class in Timor-Leste

Guardian Weekly - UK

Art class in Timor-Leste

Art class in Timor-Leste

Thursday December 18th 2008

Indonesia's 25-year military occupation of Timor-Leste has come to an end, but for many it is still a country devastated by violence. Cesar Lourdes, 25, is a senior student at the open-door art school Arte Moris, in Dili. He describes a place where young people can paint and sculpt their way towards a deeper understanding of themselves and the value of non-violence

I always had a talent for art and I wanted to learn more. But during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste I never really knew if what I was doing was "art". After we got our independence as a country, I heard about Arte Moris and decided I wanted to come here.

We learn all types of art here, but what I enjoy most is painting – mainly because of the use of colour. Sometimes there's a lot I want to say, but I can't go out onto the road and scream there. With painting I can express myself on the canvas. That way I can scream with the brush and the colours.

I want to live away from violence and have freedom in my life. That’s what I hope for most when I think of the future.

In April 2006 riots broke out in Dili. Thousands of people fled their homes and about 300 families came to live in our compound. We had to help them because we are human beings. But they broke apart our sculptures to use for firewood and destroyed a lot of our work. We told them our art was our world and they would have to find some other wood to burn.

We went out and made a lot of graffiti about peace during those times. We wanted an end to the fighting. In Dili, most of the graffiti about peace is done by us.

During that time some young people came from other districts and tried to fight with us. They threw stones at us in the compound, but we always responded with peace.

I’ve been to Australia three times to exhibit my work, and Switzerland once. I think it's important to show the world our culture and show them what the country looks like and what our life is like. I tell people that Timor-Leste is not far from Australia, that we have around 30 languages. I also tell them about Arte Moris.

Quite a lot of people come to visit us at the art school. They always say that we have a beautiful country – they say that we have nice skin, nice tattoos and nice alcohol.

At school, during the day from Monday to Friday we have to be active. We make paintings and sculptures, and teach the junior students. We cook for ourselves and clean our own gallery. Then on Saturday morning we have a meeting for one or two hours, and after that we drink until Monday.

I believe our art comes not only from what we are taught, but from our culture and our life here in Timor-Leste. It's not just about painting or sculpture. It can help us see peace because it comes not only from our hands but from our hearts. It's a good way to see into each other and learn more about ourselves, our culture and our life here.

Timor-Leste is one nation. It is a simple life and a simple country. But it is troubled, and I think art can help us learn how to be free.

• Cesar Lourdes was speaking to Matt Crook in Dili. For more information visit the <>Arte Moris website.

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