Written by Smita, Illustrated by Upasana Agarwal
Though the third session of the #SkillsforChange: Public Campaigning for Advocacy and Social Change online workshop series took place on 14th August, work on this session started as soon as the participants registered. This session, titled Using Art & Digital Media to Deliver Your Call-for-Action, was led by Indu Harikumar, an artist and storyteller from India, and had Vincy Chan, a non-binary trans performance poet from Hong Kong and Faris Saad from Shh…Diam!, a Malaysian queer band as guest speakers.
The participants were asked to create A Pandemic Portrait as a way to introduce themselves at the beginning of the session. With a design inspired by Yuko Murata’s Staircase to the Moon, each person’s Pandemic Portrait was to be made with common things available around the house to showcase some of the things which one used a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic, and speak about the different identities within each one of us. Some of the participants made this physically using paper, wrappers etc., and some also made this portrait digitally. Indu shared that her intention behind this activity was to push people to move beyond this perception of art being this scary intimidating thing that is done only by people with special skills, and to actually embrace the everydayness of art and the individuality each person brings.
“When people start to share stories, it becomes okay for a lot of people who have had similar experiences but no place to talk about it,” said Indu. She then went on to speak about the importance of making your campaign and social media handles/profiles safe spaces, especially if one’s campaign is rooted in stories shared by people. “In my work, people share a lot of stories with me, a lot of very intimate details. One of the first things that I tell them is that please do not share anything that you’re not comfortable sharing. People have also come back and asked me to hide a tattoo which may have revealed their identity, and some others have even asked me to take down their story. It may be a very powerful story but it cannot come at the expense of their safety. This is essential in any campaign that you may do,” Indu added.
Vincy Chan, our first guest speaker, started by speaking about their experience performing with cis gender heterosexual men who dominate the music scene in most places, and the need that they saw for singers, performers, artists from diverse genders and backgrounds. “Songs are such a great way for people to get to know about issues or stories which they otherwise might not have heard,” they said. “The process of putting out content that is different than that is easy to consume (often that which is made with a cis gender lens) is also part of the process of educating not just the audience but also buyers, producers, promoters, media,” added Vincy. They spoke about the need for art and media to move beyond the stories of coming out and transitioning and violence, and to highlight the actual lives of queer and trans folks.
Shh…Diam! is the first openly queer band in Malaysia which actively promotes acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQIA community in the country. When the band didn’t start out as an activist band, the very first song which they performed was Julie Don’t Listen To Them, about two girls making out and caring about what people think. The band’s following was built through performances in queer spaces and secret shows. “My journey in the band is also my journey as a trans person. And so, inadvertently, the band became a platform to speak about this. People would come and ask me are you the same vocalist, I thought that vocalist was a chick,” shared Faris Saad.
Shh…Diam! was asked to create the soundtrack for the 2018 play, To Which My Brother Laughed, based on the incident of the public caning of two women in the country for being in a same-sex relationship. “On the opening night, we were informed that the police were keeping an eye on us and that they might send their people disguised as audience to decide whether the songs were suitable for the public. So there is always a risk. There were mixed reactions, some were supportive but there was also some backlash. We have been banned on Twitter three times,” shared Faris.
Using different forms of art in campaigns and putting out stories is an act of reclaiming our power. The responsibility of the campaign organisers is multifold in that they need to take cognizance of the data and stories which they are collecting, and also to ensure that they are creating a space where consent is paramount. This session and the conversations with all the speakers was a striking reminder to all in the room that movements are made up of people, and without the people, there is no movement.
This workshop was the third in a series of four workshops about Public Campaigning for Advocacy and Social Change. Click here to find out more about the series, resource persons, and read the other blogs.