Deradicalization in Europe Exhibition Showcases Collaborative AUP Research


AUP faculty regularly conduct interdisciplinary research on topics of international importance in collaboration with similar institutions across the world. For example, the Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS), a research center dedicated to promoting the practice, study and life of democracy, is part of D.Rad, a Horizon 2020–funded comparative study of radicalization and polarization in Europe and beyond. D.Rad brings together 17 universities and NGOs with the aim of identifying contributing factors to radicalization, particularly of young people in urban and peri-urban areas.

Professor Stephen Sawyer is Director of CCDS. He coordinates AUP’s contributions to the D.Rad project along with Professor Roman Zinigrad of the Department of History and Politics. Over the course of 2021, Sawyer and Zinigrad produced five reports on various aspects of radicalization processes in the French context, including a legal and policy framework for deradicalization in France. As part of the final stages of the research project, they sponsored an exhibition displaying works from six international artists who offered perspectives on themes relevant to this research: social inclusion, crossing borders, community and cross-cultural understanding.

The exhibition, which took place at the Espace Canopy, an art gallery in Paris’s 18th arrondissement, was titled “Complicating the Narrative in a Time of False Simplicity” and ran April 1–22, 2023. It attempted to complicate the violent and extremist binary narratives through which people create and view “the other” in various international contexts. “We are particularly fortunate to have the show in this gallery because it has as its mission to reach into the community and break down social and cultural divides through artistic practice,” explains Sawyer. He also noted that hosting the exhibition in Paris, which he described as “a historical and contemporary place of radicality,” allowed attendees to reflect further on both the possibilities and dangers of radicalization.

At the exhibition’s vernissage, which took place at the gallery on April 1, the breadth of audience emphasized the collaborative nature of the D.Rad project; the attendees, who were more than 250 in number, were made up of academics, art enthusiasts and members of the local community as well as several high-profile guests, including the Counselor for Cultural Affairs from the US Embassy and AUP President Sonya Stephens.

Dr Umut Korkut (Glasgow Caledonian University), project lead for the D.Rad consortium, spoke at the vernissage. He explained how each artist’s work related to the project’s research findings and in particular to the “I-GAP spectrum,” which categorizes individuals’ emotional responses to being singled out in society in four stages: injustice, grievance, alienation and polarization. “D.Rad examines the microlevel foundations of radicalization to understand how individuals travel along a spectrum from unradicalized to radicalized to deradicalized,” explained Korkut.

Professor Sawyer also addressed the audience. “We can say we live in a moment of radicalization in all kinds and in multiple directions,” he said. “It is certain that radicalization is not in itself a bad or dangerous thing and can even push us to produce artistic works that fascinate or upset us – like those which surround us today.” He noted, however, that this does not prevent citizens and academics from being obliged to understand processes of radicalization and learn to employ deradicalization if such modes may lead to civilian violence.

The exhibition was curated by Dr. Maggie Laidlaw, Glasgow Caledonian University. Writing in the brochure for the vernissage, she noted: “Realizing that you find something of yourself in the other, as well as something of the other in yourself, can deeply impact our consciousness and outlook for the rest of our lives. Art and artists are crucial to challenging the boundaries of society’s established limits.” The exhibition encouraged attendees to examine ways in which individuals or groups who may be tempted to turn their backs on each other could instead communicate and create among themselves.

One of the exhibited artists, Stefan Lukić, also attended the vernissage. Lukić’s work showcased his performance art, which uses running as a tool for activism; he planned to run across the Kosovska Mitrovica bridge, which divides Kosovo and Serbia, 22 times to symbolize the 22 years the bridge has not been crossed. In doing so, he sought to reframe this symbolic border as a symbol of connection, thereby reclaiming the bridge’s original function. Though his attempt was stopped by police, he was able to instead complete his performance on Kosovska street in Belgrade, where he unfurled a banner on the tarmac that read “Stefan does not recognize borders.” This banner was his contribution to the exhibition, alongside photography of his attempted run.

The other exhibited artists were Emily Brooks-Millar and Lew-C, whose animation, “The Steve White Experience,” highlighted how absurdist narratives are used by political commentators; Veljko Vučković, whose paintings explored the imposed coherence of the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia; Frances Ryan, whose collages engaged with everyday experiences of social isolation; and Alan Stanners, whose paintings complicated the conversation around otherness by using insects as a metaphor for difference.

Building on the success of D.Rad, CCDS has today begun work on a second EU-funded collaborative research project, OppAttune, which aims to enhance social and political dialogue by examining and reducing the negative impact that can emerge from political extremism. You can find out more about the OppAttune project on the CCDS website.