Against all odds: Doing Things Differently
Stories are often treated as reflections of the world we live in. Representation is one of the strongest aesthetics by which we understand stories, especially when they are rooted in lived reality of individual and collective experiences. The trope that is repeated regularly is that stories hold a mirror to life. That approach would make us believe that there is one story, and one story alone that was to be told, of a particular experience – and that the story that we are hearing is the only one that ‘naturally’ grew from a phenomenon.
This idea of a naturally growing story is romantic, beautiful, aspirational, and downright wrong. Stories are intentional, and require labour, resources, and bodies to bring them to life. Stories are political – stories come into being based on what we choose to focus on; and the ways in which characters in a story are given a voice in that story, also shows us what kind of actors we are inviting into the fold of story-telling.
Narrative Change insists that we need to start thinking about the very ways in which our stories are told and how they need to evolve through multiplicity. At the heart of this is the call to destabilise the author and find formats where multiple people, through their voices, through their bodies, through their song, and their fiction, create a rich tapestry of stories that surround us. Doing Things Differently is not so much about the formats and aesthetics and media and platforms where our stories get told but the very conditions through which our stories of collective action can emerge.
Section 1: Pockets of Pleasure
Neha Singh represents one of the largest public space and gender campaigns in India, #WhyLoiter. Inspired by a book of that title, which looks at why women in urban public spaces in India, seldom occupy spaces without intention and how we need to reclaim those spaces through a narrative of ownership and fear, Neha has been organising online and offline campaigns which invite people to change their relationship with public spaces.
Her work as a community organiser is political, critical, and profoundly invested in creating conditions of care that allow for people to experiment with their own bodies in public spaces. Bordering on art, political organisation, social justice campaigning, and community building, the #WhyLoiter shows us how easy it is to fall into the traps of continuing the stories of fear, protest, defiance, and conflict when thinking about women in public spaces.
Neha reminds us that if we continue to begin with the premise that women are unsafe in public spaces, we will only tell stories about defence, caution, protection, and support, thus reinforcing the idea that women will always only be unsafe in public spaces, and that the only thing we can do is to keep them individually safe.
In this video that explains her work and the ways in which the #WhyLoiter campaign has evolved over the years, Neha helps us understand the power of creative ‘ideal world enactment’, where we re-frame how we approach our bodies in public. Instead of thinking through risk and danger, she shows the possibilities that organising through pleasure and freedom mean. The narrative change is not about changing the story of what women do in public, but changing the very idea of what the public is, entering into spaces of ‘de-intimidation’ and ‘re-enchantment’ that helps us rethink how we can build our publics as safe for the communities that live in it.
In the following video, Devin Hentz introduces her work, which helps contextualise the conversation between Neha Singh and Devin Hentz in Section 2.
Section 2: Will you play with us?
Narrative work is serious work. As every narrative expert in these episodes has shown us, their work intervenes in conditions of conflict, pain, oppression, and discrimination. All of them work in empowering different communities through narrative change practice. The fiercest hope comes from the most transformative recognitions of pain and injustice, and each one of them approaches their work with a passion and commitment that informs the long duration of narrative work.
In our Global Residencies, however, one of the things that came up repeatedly, was that we do not have adequate vocabulary and language to change the narrative of what we do. Even though the work that we do is embedded in hope, passion, freedom, playfulness, pleasure, and creativity, it doesn’t always become visible in the mainstream programming and dominant ways of talking about our work.
How do we make sure that we continue to engage with the artistic, creative, and innovative modes of framing our work and telling stories that continue to focus on the intensity of the lived experience but also makes visible, the joy and hope that communities of transformation bring into their work?
Devin Henz, who is originally from New York and has been working on sustainable fashion practices in Senegal as a part of artistic research practice, was a part of our residencies and enters into a conversation with Neha Singh, about this need for and the capacity of developing playful and pleasurable ways of working. Devin’s own practice, under the brand name Kama, reminds us, that even within the fabrics of fashion, there is a continued need to think of visual and embodied ways of talking about the problems at hand.
In this raw and vulnerable conversation about how we can change, reimagine, and transform the daily life and space of our bodies, and the clothes that we wear, we get many different kinds of entry points into rethinking our own habits of narrativization. How do we unstick our tried and tested methods and make room for something new? How do we bring our collective desires and connections to shape the narratives that matter? How do we create narratives where communities actively participate in the making and remaking of these stories?
This conversation gives a sense of what it means to do narratives differently, and more interestingly, how do we keep on growing and evolving to go beyond the habits that often constrain the stories we tell of us and the others.
#doingthingswithstories #doingthingsdifferently #againstallodds #narrativechange