Over the last couple of weeks I have volunteered time at Bawso– an organisation that works with women and men to combat domestic abuse and other wider global issues affecting women.
The task was to work with the women in the refuge to create a banner that could be used on the upcoming demonstration: International day to Eliminate Violence against Women, November 25th.
I hadn’t met the women and I didn’t know how many women were going to turn up. All we knew – we had two sessions to create a banner. In ‘team terms’ this was our shared goal but other than that it was free reign as to how we were going to work. I was one of two artists there to help facilitate the making.
Session 1, we discussed ideas and planned out what we wanted on each banner- we had materials for two. Interesting that as new people arrived the plans changed to accommodate new views. Eventually we had a plan of the visuals and key statements that were going to be included. One was to be positive and the other more hard hitting showing the effect of domestic violence. The women then volunteered their skills depending on who could draw and who was better at writing.
As we all worked it was interesting to see how decisions and negotiations took place between the women who were all different ages and came from different religious backgrounds including Punjabi, Arabic, African and Chinese.
I think the common shared experience of them having experienced domestic violence and the commitment to the goal of expressing themselves on the banner for this march was what held the group together, allowed challenges to take place and the work to be finished in such a short space of time.
I thought how hard organisations work to create this sense of commitment, understanding and collaborative working in their staff.
At session two one person who was quite influential in terms of the statements to be used wasn’t present. She was moving out of the refuge and into her new accommodation. Every one else came back and we picked up where we left off- trying to ensure that the key messages agreed earlier were included in the final work.
In this session we shared stories as we worked. I thought how powerful creativity is in not only allowing people to express themselves visually but also the process of making art creates a perfect environment for conversation about ‘tough stuff’. I think because you are not sitting opposite each each other having a direct conversation- but sitting side by side and looking else where different types of conversation happen. It was all quite philosophical rather than specific- we talked about how pride can be the cause of much pain.
We also shared music- each woman choosing her own cultural music courtesy of youtube.
A highlight of this session was one woman deciding to create a song for people to sing on the march. Just walking with banners didn’t seem enough. I suggested she use a well known song and change the words. She took the words from the banner, the music from Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and composed a new song.We recorded her soulful voice so that we could share the song before the march (see below)
It was great to see this small group of women collectively create such empowering art and a song.
What did I learn or relearn? People have so much creative talent that just needs a space and opportunity to come out. When people believe the goal anything can be achieved. Women can, perhaps naturally, collaborate beautifully.
You can hear the song here