We were looking at a painting about the French-Algerian independence wars with a group of people from Norfolk. They were mostly white. We were talking about the imagery in the painting, trying to work out whether the bodies at the bottom of the painting were 'innocent' or not. In other words, we were trying to work out whether we were meant to feel sympathy for the victims or the perpetrators of the scene. Most of the victims in the painting are children though there are 2 adults that we can see - a young woman's naked torso and a man's face. The man's face is contorted. He is relatively dark-skinned. One of the women in the group interpretted that he wasn't an innocent because "he looked shifty". The only darker skinned person in the group (olive colouring) spoke up and disagreed, saying that she thought his face was contorted in grief for everything he had seen - his family being massacred. One of the group asked her then whether she saw it as one family. She answered, no, but it was a community. All the other people within the group were white english and some decided that the all different (darker) hues of skin represented all nations and nationalities - everyone and anyone who has been a victim of ethnic cleansing. The painting about the massacre the French perpetrated on the Algerian populations in their struggle for independence. The artist is French.

Because I felt my job was to empower them to think about art and respond to it in some considered way, I didn't wade in with my understanding of the work. All the dominant culture white people understood the painting either as some banal universal statement where we should pity the victim or they understood that evil men are killed in war as well as innocents. They refused to relate to the massacre as anything but a spectacle about other people. It seemed clear that the only person in the group who really understood the work was the non-white, or not-so-white person.

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