Above are few images taken by photographer Betty Vivuya that we are using as basis for the murals and posters: female judge here in Goma and two of our own artists.
March 8, 2019
Happy International Women’s Day to All!
This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, meaning that with greater gender equality comes a better world for us all!
We know without doubt that this is the case. On a larger scale equality brings peace, and prevents poverty, and on an individual level creates healthier relationships. By celebrating this day we express our love, care and respect for women and girls and push forward the goal for greater gender equality.
In the Tunaweza Portraits Project we engage through public art with the adolescent girls to promote their strengths and capacities so that they as well as the community around them begin to believe that girls and women too are AS capable as boys and men. Shifting gender norms opens up more space for women to participate in society, and reduces sexual and gender-based violence.
On this day I’m excited to share with you the various themes that have come out of our discussions with community leaders and the girls when we asked: how should women and girls be portrayed to promote their capacities?
1.A female judge: People pointed out, let’s show a women who through her actions supports the rights of other women. This theme will have a specific story TBD once we hear from a female judge herself in Goma what legal story regarding women’s rights she finds most compelling.
2. A female artist: as you may have heard female painters and visual artists are few and far between here!
3. A female construction worker: People pointed out, let’s show the physical strength of women, and in a sector that not many women have jobs in.
4. A mother figure who creates, nurtures, and educates society – the woman as the creator of society. Lengthy discussions about this with community leaders and the girls show that this is such an important role for women in society, and that it is therefore important to acknowledge and promote. While other themes focus on a more modern vision of women, we agree that this is a positive and invaluable, ancient as time and relevant as ever.
Tomorrow we celebrate the day at the cultural center Yolé!Africa ! So stay tuned for some photos from that.
What Community Leaders Think : Their input on the posters and murals
March 1, 2019
Truly, the most lively a discussion can get is when you ask a group of people how women and girls should be represented in society. Last week our meeting with members of the Community Art Committee focused on just this subject. The purpose was to get their input on how to represent women and girls will be represented in the Tunaweza Portraits Project in the posters and murals.
It always strikes me how controversial this subject is, how political it is to discuss what women should do and what they should wear, and how they should look. We engaged for three hours, and had to close the meeting at 5pm as people need to be able to get home before dark. Happily, we left with a good sense of how to develop the themes for the murals and posters.
Initially, to stimulate a discussion, we first showed committee members a series of images of women and girls that appear in public spaces in Goma and the broader region. This effectively led to a lively discussion with them over snacks of beignets and fresh ginger/passionfruit juice. We were probing for “What do you see in these images?” “What is missing? “What aspects of women are NOT shown that you would like to see represented in the murals and posters?” We received lots of commentary and there was a healthy and long debate. Notable was commentary that it isn’t useful to portray women as victims, that it would be inspiring to show women with a determined, and happy expression that shows they have a vision for the future and to portray women as they are in contemporary times, meaning resembling Congolese women. It is an interesting point of reflection that while in genuine discussions like these we valorize women and promote a strong and positive image, when we look around, real gender equality and positive representation is lacking, especially on the commercial representations.
Grace, our community engagement lead, who guided the discussion points out that exchanges and discussions about the representation of women remains a very important subject that requires more attention here in Goma (as well as everywhere else!). In her opinion the community in Goma needs to work to “positivize” women and girls, to give women and girls hope, awaken their conscience and to show her that she is capable of participating in the development of society.
The committee definitely shared some interesting ideas with potential for positive impact and understood this need. For example, the representative from the Division of Youth suggested we show a woman riding a motorcycle at 180 kilometers per hour (aka 111 miles an hour!) as a way to shock people into noticing how capable women are. The representative for the Division of Gender, Women and Children brought out a calendar produced by UNICEF with examples of photographs of girls posed in different careers, from surgeons to engineers and suggested we integrate the concept of showing women in exceptional careers to highlight their capacity.
Grace notes that was encouraging to see that members of the committee were very active on this subject, it shows their interest for the project and the impact of posters and murals to be disseminated in the city of Goma to achieve the project objective.
I left the meeting with a few specific ideas in mind that are important to carry forward in the designs of the murals and posters: The facial expression, the gaze of the women portrayed really matters, it needs to show strength and inspiration.
Having clarity as to the message and meaning of murals and posters is crucial, sometimes things can be misread. The more specifically and detailed the visual message is the more effective it will be. Representing women working in specific jobs that are dominated by men is an effective way to draw attention to the capacity of women. And lastly, the women and girls in the posters and murals should look like the Congolese women and girls of today.
Right now, we are in the final stages of discussion with the girls and the committee on the specific images for the posters, will be sharing that soon!
Strength and Empowerment Collages
February 22, 2019
We’ve been working with the girls for the past two weeks now and have started to engage them in discussions about women and how they are represented in society. We’ve had the chance to do several arts activities with them on this subject as well. The collage activity, “Strength and Empowerment Collage” was an opportunity to hear from the girls about how they want to see women represented. Provided with magazines sourced from here in Goma, and some National Geographic magazines as well, the girls were invited to “select images, objects, or actions that mean strength of women to you” and create a collage. The purpose of this activity is to begin to define personal visualizations of strength and empowerment.Each had the chance to share what these images meant to them in a presentation. The discussion opened-up a rich conversation about how these girls see themselves and other women. A way to reflect what they think.
I expected that they would only select images that corresponded to women in a position of strength, but most of the collages were in fact a big mix of the duties and the rights of women. In some, the girls portrayed women working in powerful positions, or male dominated jobs, such as park rangers, the military, or as doctors. Several pointed out the immense strength that women have to give birth and that this is something men wouldn’t be able to endure.
There were photos of women with confident postures, and several in which the women were described as “looking into the future.” One girl explained that women often are exploited or behind, and so for this reason they need plan and strategize so that they can get ahead in life.
Other images chosen described the duties of women. “A woman need be clean and make sure her children are clean.” “A woman should always smile and not be frustrated.” “A woman should always be ready to host guests and feed them.” In relationships, “a woman must always be able to create harmony, even if her husband comes home drunk and unhappy.” “A woman must be submissive to her husband at all times.”
It struck me that even in creating a collage about the strength of women, her duties, the enormous amount of work that she is expected to do is also communicated. I had expected that all the images would speak about the rights of women, but I had assumed wrong.
In response, my assistants and I discussed with the participants the difference between rights and duties. What are women expected to do vs. what women should be able to do? The girls understood this distinction well. My guess is that while they know the difference, it becomes complicated to ask them to represent women detached from her duties as they are so ever present in their lives.
January 31, 2019
FIELD UPDATE, Democratic Republic of Congo: Tunaweza Portraits Project Gets Started!
Hello from Project Director Christina Mallie!
I have been on the ground for one week now and things are starting to move. Whenever I visit a country in Africa, I receive a warm welcome, no matter what may be going on locally. In this case, I arrived a few days after the highly anticipated and contested presidential election, and in the midst of an on-going Ebola outbreak (to the north of Goma). But even with the heightened tension and anxiety around these issues the people here with whom I am living, working and meeting have made sure that this has been a welcoming, energetic, and beautiful first week for me.
During Tunaweza Portraits Project, we’ll work with adolescent girls, their communities and community leaders to shift perceptions about the capacity of women and girls and their role in society through public murals and posters. This is a way to positively combat gender discrimination and gender-based violence, promoting a positive and alternative view of women and girls that does not further victimize or portray them as powerless.
So far, I have mobilized my team of local assistants, several of whom I worked with in the Courage in Congo Project back in 2016, and we have been organizing meetings to engage the community leaders and planning out the project step by step through the end of the project scheduled for the end of April. Each phase, from selecting locations for the public art works that will be created, to the relationships built with community, and the evolution of the young women we work with, is crucial to the meaning and success of this project.
Stay tuned for more updates!
*Photo above: Project Director Christina gets things rolling with Community Engagement Lead, Grace, and project photographer Betty at the Yolé!Africa Cultural Center in Goma, DRC
Prepping for our upcoming project in DRC is reminding us how much we look forward to working with these adolescent girls again ! ????????self portrait of Natalie #PaintLikeAGirl #goma #tunaweza