A piece of protest in progress as part of My Body My Space 2021
Created by Hayleigh Evans, POPArt and ultimately YOU!
An interactive exploration into the possibilities presented by the intersection between ways of protest and the world we are discovering online. If a world of technology gives us the opportunity to amplify various social issues that affect our lives and communities, how do we turn this amplified awareness into organised effective and sustainable community driven action? If protest, by definition, is about identifying and calling attention to areas of need and injustices that we object to, then what is the next step for sustained action from here?
In an attempt to answer this question, POPArt invites you to become an activist for your cause or a responder to an identified cause, and to use this platform to discover, access and connect with like-minded community members who share your passion to be active and create change… in short to do more. It starts with a first step…
STEP 2: Type ‘Interact’ to view the interactive menu
STEP 3 : Type ‘POPArt’ to read about the project
Step 4 : Type ‘POPArt1’ to leave us your response in the form of an IMAGE, VOICE NOTE OR VIDEO in the reply section, or take the survey.
We see this project as an opportunity for you to call like minded people to you, to open up a conversation that will help us discover mutual exchanges that create real positive impact, short or long term.
A community can be defined by geography (communities who live together) as well as identity (communities who identify with the same attitudes and interests). In creating space for these connections, we invite you to think about spaces of expertise, interests, knowledge and skill that could help bring about positive impact, systemic problem spaces that you feel passionate about bringing change to as well as geographic spaces that are in need of change and support.
We hope that this project will connect and support people who will be able to more easily create considered mutual positive impact together. If you want to do more, this is to give you a place to START. Some questions to consider in your response:
- Name and preferred contact details
- If any, what change are you passionate about seeing or what are you currently standing in protest of? What do you think can be done?
- Are changes needed within your space / community? If so, what do you feel these are?
- What skills, knowledge or resources could you exchange with or be of service to any community seeking change or survival?
- What space do you find yourself in, geographically?
- Are you looking to participate in a short term or long term project?
- How much time would you be willing or able to volunteer per month?
- What compels you to get involved?
- What has stopped you from starting in the past?
- Anything else…
NB : Some things to be aware of when sharing your response:
- Your response may be shared publicly (in part or in full) to create an evolving artwork on this platform and others that amplifies and identifies various social issues, as well as potential ways forward.
- Your details may be used to connect you to people with similar interests or geographical locations with whom you might be able to work together to create change.
- By sending your response through this WhatsApp line, you are consenting to the above uses.
- If you are not comfortable with the above points, but would still like to participate more anonymously – please feel free to include this in your response or omit your details.
- We cannot promise connections long or short term. Once connected, pursuing or maintaining the connection is at the discretion of only you. You are not committed to any person or cause if you feel that it is not resonant or you don’t want to be.
- Responses may also form part of crucial research toward best practises in mutual aid and ‘community work’.
PROJECT RATIONALE :
2020 might go down as a record year of protests. All over the world and here at home, we saw people and communities unite to draw attention to injustice, inequality and increasing social issues against the backdrop of a spreading pandemic. Measures taken to stop the spread of the pandemic meant that, different to any time before, much of the progress achieved by protests in 2020 was predominantly achieved online. In contrast to what is known as ‘arm-chair activism’ (that is, to simply share a post and then celebrate yourself for your incredible engagement in social issues), the past year seemed to mark a turn where online community organisation started to flip the switch from awareness toward action. Bigger than social media, the vast possibilities of the online space gave us new ways of communing, listening, discussing, sharing and taking collective action. After a long time of being a skeptic of awareness-driven protest, I started to become aware of the possibility to create change, if one could stay focused and lift out of the digital noise.
The realities on the ground in South Africa, however, did make the online space feel a little too lofty. Here, a stark spotlight was thrown onto the indisputable disparity and daily injustice, not caused, but certainly exacerbated by the measures to contain the pandemic #StayHome#StaySafe South Africa. Police brutality, Gender Based Violence, threatening economic devastation, corruption of relief funds, a shortage of food parcels, access barriers in the education system and multiple other threats to the basic human rights of many South Africans flared in the light of the pandemic. With so much to protest, and a growing desire to lift from both the noise and the arm-chair, a desire to DO something burnt strong, but the HOW of doing something needed and meaningful was not close to clear.
With all this in the background, POPArt submitted our proposal to My Body My Space in response to a call for projects speaking specifically to Human Rights issues during Covid-19. Within POPArt and our circles, we had already begun trying to understand notions of online participation and question how we could take advantage of the online space’s ability to not only amplify voices, but to also connect communities regardless of geography. This felt like a good place to start thinking and imagining from. Protest would definitely be the theme and core of our proposed project.
One winter’s morning, shortly after lockdown restrictions were lowered to level 4, I drove past a scene of a woman pulled over to the side of the road, planting several young trees on a barren stretch of ground alongside of the highway. As I drove closer, I could see a sign in the tree that read “I want to do more”. There, she had listed her number. I might have called the number if that sign had still been there when I passed by the route later in the day. The sign was gone 😉 but I looked for it because that call had stuck with me all day: I want to do more. I felt a deep sense of resonance. And hope.
What if there was a way to do more? What if we made time to do more? What if there was someone out there that wanted to do more with you? What if we could do more together to meet each others needs?
These thoughts stayed and played along in the Covid-Time-Space-Continuum until it was finalised that My Body My Space 2021 was to be ‘a festival on your phone’ using WhatsApp. With all these new inputs toward the idea originally proposed, it became exciting to start imagining something that an audience could interact with, be part of and also use to speak to issues that affect them or that they would like to be part of changing. However, suddenly, the arts administrator in me had taken over from the artist. Whatever idea was forming, I was convinced it was not art! (the administrator within was quite tickled by the kismet of a synonym for protest being ‘organising’ though, so I ran with it). Much of the intention and structure of this project was clarified in wonderfully generous consultations with the My Body My Space team, who were also unsurprisingly the first to assure me that Activism is very much Art! We’d come to the right place and this Art-ivism piece began to take shape.
There is a fantastic chapter in Amanda Palmer’s ‘The Art of Asking’ that talks about the artist’s process. She surmises that the creative process is made up of three parts, and every artist is drawn to one more than the others, and this will be part of defining what kind of artist you choose to be. Regardless of the artist, all art produced will have to go through the process : Collecting . Connecting . Sharing.
This is a really helpful way to understand the approach we have taken in inviting audience and community participation throughout the festival period. We start with collecting the responses, then slowly begin to connect the dots between the responses (and connect the people who want to be connected) and then sharing both ways to DO more, as well as sharing what is being DONE on the festival platform. Together, we’ll share where and how the project shapes and, hopefully, sets down more practical roots for its own sustainable future. We’re not thinking all the way there yet… this really requires participation to get there, after all!
I would be remiss to not also mention two other important pieces of theory that shaped some of the thinking, structure and approach of this project : mutual aid and positive peace (if you like everything you’re reading, these are great things to read up further on :
To neatly sum up what I learned about mutual aid is that it offers a positive antidote to what often feel like problematic approaches to ‘charity’, ‘community work’ and presumptive volunteering. At the core of it, mutual aid seeks not only to work together in communities for strategies and resources to meet [survival] needs, but also seeks to simultaneously organise against systems that create the shortages or crises in the first place. Reading and listening further on this approach, it was encouraging to feel a genuine sense of commitment to sustained solidarity and deep change with volunteers opting to give of themselves in time, skill and resource. This is prioritised over a short-term engagement (ie: donations). Another important hallmark worth mentioning is that the preference of mutual aid communities is to stay small: successful projects do not necessarily grow bigger or centralise with more people or interest, but rather continue to meet and serve the needs of the localised community. Multiple smaller projects are encouraged and the connection between small groups is then possible through exchange of information and replication of best practises, for example. Fun!
Positive Peace is about actively working toward better societies (as opposed to negative peace which is seen as the absence of war). Basically, societies/ governments / communities should be always engaged in creating optimum environments for human potential to flourish (rather than focus on delivery responses to threats). Positive Peace is based deeply in the principles of oneness and linked humanity – so Ubuntu.
In context of protest, it’s exciting to think about protest becoming positive, where we unite for common causes (as opposed to against a common enemy). Certainly within this project, it is a feeling of positivity that we hope to continue to generate.
We’ve called this a social-good experiment. A positive protest and we hope that the experiment will have more to show with in the festival period and beyond. We hope this project and the festival platform will bring people together as well as support communities who want more and those who want to do more.
POPArt would like to thank you My Body My Space team for their generosity and patience. PJ, Tshego, Athena – your time and care is so appreciated.
To the POPArt team who bring ideas, energy and doing : Khanyisile Zwane, Rethabile Headbush, Zanele Mthombeni, Dintshitile Mashile and Orly Shapiro – Thank you.
To Toni Morkel and Clara Vaughan, fellow organisers in every sense and whose excellent conversations also have a hand in this project shaping as it has. Love.