Artistic Methodologies for Social Justice

One of I4P’s tentpole events at the Festival of Ideas, the Artistic Methodologies for Social Justice Symposium, took place on 1st June 2018. It was organised by Dr Victoria Foster, an Associate Director of I4P and author of Collaborative Arts-based Research for Social Justice (Routledge, 2016).

The aims of the afternoon were to explore the power of the arts to effect change through highlighting inequalities and encouraging people to see the world from different angles. Victoria opened the event by speaking about her experience of art and the subtle but profound impact this has had on her everyday life. She argued the potential of the arts to be used as a way of producing knowledge about the social world and went on to play a rap video from Measuring Humanity, a programme of research led by one of I4P’s external members, Dr Marisa de Andrade, who was unable to attend the event.

This suggested that the standard ways of measuring health and wellbeing do not capture the essence of lived experience, particularly of ‘hard to reach’ and BME communities, and that artistic approaches may be more insightful.

Dr Barnaby King spoke about an arts-based research project that he and Victoria are working on at a local community farm that is drawing on a variety of artistic methods including creative writing, mindful movement, photography and natural sculpture, to explore participants’ experiences of nature and growing food in ways that challenge mainstream, intensive farming methods.

This was followed by Dr Amy Bonsall’s presentation of her work on Shakespeare in Malawi. Amy, from the international theatre organisation Bilimankhwe, fascinated the audience with her tales of working on Shakespeare plays with local people and the process of translating material into Chichewa. She described how incredibly knowledgeable local young people were about Shakespeare and how the work provided a different narrative of these capable young people from the stereotypical ‘AIDS orphans’ one that is so familiar in the Western world.

Dr Katy Goldstraw, I4P’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, discussed an AHRC project, Taking Yourselves Seriously, which explored artistic methodologies for social cohesion. She described the artist-led activities in a school and in the community that invited participants to think about their identity and the space and place where they live.

During the break, the group had a guided tour of Gergana Ganeva’s exhibition of art produced by images created by survivors of trafficking and modern slavery. She described some of the harrowing stories that lay behind the images and stressed the importance of providing an opportunity for the participants in this arts-based research project to be able to represent themselves in such personal and meaningful ways.

After the break, artist Eva Brudenell guided the symposium’s participants through an artistic activity that involved designing a manifesto and poster via a paper folding technique. She regaled the group with colourful examples of political art which provided plentiful inspiration.

Participants enthusiastically busied themselves with this creative endeavour and, in the reflective discussion that closed the symposium, discussed how they would be able to use the technique with the groups that they work with, including students and community groups. The reflective discussion incorporated insightful thoughts on power relations in research and how artistic methods might mitigate or reproduce these, depending on the motives of the protagonists. The symposium, then, raised some challenging, critical issues as well as being an enjoyable and relaxed summer afternoon.

Dr Victoria Foster is a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences and I4P Associate Director (External Networking) here at Edge Hill University.