Tunaweza Portraits Murals

Continue reading “Tunaweza Portraits Murals”

Updates from the Field:  May 8 2019 Reflections on Transition and Closing: 

The end of a project is always emotional, a bit sad, but also full of positive sentiments.  Because we have been together almost everyday, the girls, the assistants who are mentors to the girls, the daily vendors, drivers, neighborhoods, and community chefs we work with have become a special community.  These repeated interactions have woven strong and dynamic positive relationships.  Another truly special aspect is how present and vibrant the girls are by this stage. I think when self-expression is encouraged everyday, when girls have the space to be themselves, to dance, draw, paint, share their experiences and overall just to be creative, their personalities, their identities become more alive, bigger and more present.  I find it to be such a clear reflection of the power of creativity, safe space and collective actions to move youth into a fuller expression of their humanity.  

One of our last activities with the group included creating a transitional object. This was incorporated into the curriculum by our advisor and art therapist Bonnie Hirschhorn.  In this activity, participants make a piece of jewelry they can wear to symbolize strength and belonging.  This object with its symbolic meaning helps the participants to remember their experiences during the project and to transition these experiences into their lives post-project.  On the advice of our artist assistants the transitional object was made from beaded jewelry.  It was a great way for everyone to spend time together talking, creating, and then at the end sharing what they want to remember as they wore their new pieces.  

– Christina 

Update from the Field:  April 5, 2019: Posters Finalized!

 
image
image
image
image
image
image
image
image

Just one more week of painting and postering to go!

The posters are in their final form so we have printed multiples of them and started pasting them in the four neighborhoods where we are working:  Mapendo, Murara, Kyeshero and Mugunga.  There will be 7 posters in each neighborhood totaling 28.  

The posters are based on the four themes of: A female judge, a female artist, a female construction worker, and a woman who creates, nurtures and educates society. These were decided by the community arts council of local leaders working with our group of adolescent girls.  

For more information on why these themes were selected to represent women and girls and how it forwards our agenda to achieve gender equality and prevent sexual violence in the region please visit our two blog posts: http://blog.colorsofconnection.org/post/183141545414/what-community-leaders-think-their-input-on-the and http://blog.colorsofconnection.org/post/183314065399/field-update-happy-iwd2019.  

How were the posters created?

Poster style: With the themes selected, the participants reviewed different poster styles and techniques, ranging from abstracted imagery to cartoon styled drawings to realistic photos and were invited to select their preferred style.  For all four themes the participants opted for the technique of using actual photos.  

Photo portraits:  We worked with our photographer and videographer Bernadette Vivuya.  She brought her creative vision to the portraits, and photographed people here in Goma for the different themes. Two of the images, the female construction worker and female artist are portraits of participants in our project. The female judge is in fact a current sitting judge in Goma.  The woman who creates, nurtures, and educates society is a professor at the University of Goma and also an aspiring politician. She was a candidate in the last election for the position of provincial deputy, and has inspired other women as a role model in politics.  As a teacher and a role model she was well placed to represent the theme of the women who creates, nurtures, and educates society.    

Block Printing:  Then the practice of craving potatoes and making stamps finally paid off!  The girls identified different objects and symbols associated with the themes, for example a judge: sources her knowledge from books, scales symbolize the fairness of the judicial process in which each side is given equal consideration, and of course the famous gavel is a symbol of her authority.

We used linoleum blocks and created block prints of the different symbols and objects for the four themes.  This was the first time our artist assistants Wisline and Salima ever worked with this art medium, and a first for the girls as well. It was so exciting to see them discovering how it worked for the first time.  

Written Message: Making letters the old-school way, we cut out paper letters to create the phrases for each theme given to us by the community arts council. They are written in Swahili, the predominant language spoken in the region.  

Here are the translations:

Woman who creates, nurtures and educates society: Mwanamke msingi wa maadisho =  Women are the pillars of education in society.

Female construction worker: Ndio naweza jenga = Yes, I can build.

Female judge: Mwanamke katika ngazi zote za sharia = Women, in all domains of the justice system.

Female artist:  Kubali ujuzi wangu  =  Consider my talents.  

In our first community engagement forum we already received requests from a pastor of a church and a woman who runs a pharmacy for copies of the posters to share with their communities.  Beyond the 7 in each neighborhood we will be printing smaller ones for community members to take with them. It’s exciting to have more avenues of communication and dissemination.  

-Christina

Colors of Connection

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!

-Christina

Colors of Connection

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!

-Christina

Field Update: Happy #IWD2019!

image
image
image

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.  

Christina

What Community Leaders Think : Their input on the posters and muralsMarch 1, 2019Truly, 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... What Community Leaders Think : Their input on the posters and muralsMarch 1, 2019Truly, 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...

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!

-Christina

Strength and Empowerment CollagesFebruary 22, 2019We’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... Strength and Empowerment CollagesFebruary 22, 2019We’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... Strength and Empowerment CollagesFebruary 22, 2019We’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... Strength and Empowerment CollagesFebruary 22, 2019We’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... Strength and Empowerment CollagesFebruary 22, 2019We’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... Strength and Empowerment CollagesFebruary 22, 2019We’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...

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

Colors of Connection

Update from the Field: April 27, 2019

Community forums

I’m catching up on our activities the last few weeks as the end of the project is always a flurry of activity.  In the last two weeks of project the girls participated in four community forums in different neighborhoods to engage with the public about their work.  About 20 people attended each forum. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the moment we take our activities out into the public spaces there is constant engagement with the community, as neighbors and passersby stop to observe and ask questions about what we are painting.  However, the community engagement forums are a bit different because the girls have time to present in a more formal setting, to engage in more in-depth discussions, and through this experience to develop their leadership skills. This project is the first time we’ve designed such forums.

We had originally wanted to present in front of the murals themselves, but it was difficult to arrange for outside seating and to coordinate with the neighborhood chiefs.  To accommodate a planned meeting of this type, the community forums were held at the small offices of the neighborhood chiefs.  These are typically small buildings made out of wooden planks decorated with a Congolese flag.  Inside the chief and his team field all sorts of community issues from the common thief, agreements to sign with the Mayor.  To exhibit the work, we brought photos of the murals and posters.  An interesting outcome of printing these materials was that people who attended the forums were really interested to carry the print outs with them.  It became a great secondary way to disseminate the images in the communities.  For example, in the neighborhood of Mapendo, one priest will share some of the posters with his congregation, and another woman who owns a pharmacy said she would like to put the  poster prints in her store.  

In general, the community members who attended had a positive response to the images created. Some commented how this project and the images created could encourage other girls to be ambitious and pursue careers that are normally male dominated.  Many recognized that this project showed appreciation for women and promoted them in society.  

Others questioned why the training only included women, which of course led to a discussion with the girls about why women and girls need additional support and the realities of gender inequality.  These discussions are important and also frustrating as many don’t recognize the disadvantages that women and girls face.  In general I really appreciate that in Congo people are eager to discuss and debate and how lively the forums were.  

As everywhere, public speaking can be a challenge, and especially for some of the girls we work with who have not had many opportunities to practice, (e.g. who haven’t spent much time in school.)  Our community engagement lead Grace and her assistant Gracy trained worked with the girls on presentation skills.

Some of the most moving exchanges that I heard were comments from the girls themselves, showing their growing self-confidence.  In Goma, where decades of instability have made NGOs and the UN a constant presence, people are used to outsiders bringing in projects and proposing solutions.  It’s therefore easy for people to fall into the habit of looking to others for solutions to their issues. Perhaps as a result of this, many community members in the forums expressed that Colors of Connection needed to do more, and to provide more materials for the girls to launch post-project.  However, one participant Natalie responded that it will be possible for her to go out and find work by herself, as a house painter, or as a sign painter, and in fact it is something that she done in the past.  She highlighted that she has what she needs and her entrepreneurial spirit was inspiring.  I don’t dispute that there is a big need to work with more girls and our participants can definitely use more resources.  However, it is important and hugely valuable that some of the participants show this self-confidence, and are ready to take the initiative to find opportunities for themselves. This is one of the outcomes we have hoped for in the project, and something that we believe creativity can cultivate.  -Christina

Colors of Connection

Update from the Field: April 27, 2019

Community forums

I’m catching up on our activities the last few weeks as the end of the project is always a flurry of activity.  In the last two weeks of project the girls participated in four community forums in different neighborhoods to engage with the public about their work.  About 20 people attended each forum. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the moment we take our activities out into the public spaces there is constant engagement with the community, as neighbors and passersby stop to observe and ask questions about what we are painting.  However, the community engagement forums are a bit different because the girls have time to present in a more formal setting, to engage in more in-depth discussions, and through this experience to develop their leadership skills. This project is the first time we’ve designed such forums.

We had originally wanted to present in front of the murals themselves, but it was difficult to arrange for outside seating and to coordinate with the neighborhood chiefs.  To accommodate a planned meeting of this type, the community forums were held at the small offices of the neighborhood chiefs.  These are typically small buildings made out of wooden planks decorated with a Congolese flag.  Inside the chief and his team field all sorts of community issues from the common thief, agreements to sign with the Mayor.  To exhibit the work, we brought photos of the murals and posters.  An interesting outcome of printing these materials was that people who attended the forums were really interested to carry the print outs with them.  It became a great secondary way to disseminate the images in the communities.  For example, in the neighborhood of Mapendo, one priest will share some of the posters with his congregation, and another woman who owns a pharmacy said she would like to put the  poster prints in her store.  

In general, the community members who attended had a positive response to the images created. Some commented how this project and the images created could encourage other girls to be ambitious and pursue careers that are normally male dominated.  Many recognized that this project showed appreciation for women and promoted them in society.  

Others questioned why the training only included women, which of course led to a discussion with the girls about why women and girls need additional support and the realities of gender inequality.  These discussions are important and also frustrating as many don’t recognize the disadvantages that women and girls face.  In general I really appreciate that in Congo people are eager to discuss and debate and how lively the forums were.  

As everywhere, public speaking can be a challenge, and especially for some of the girls we work with who have not had many opportunities to practice, (e.g. who haven’t spent much time in school.)  Our community engagement lead Grace and her assistant Gracy trained worked with the girls on presentation skills.

Some of the most moving exchanges that I heard were comments from the girls themselves, showing their growing self-confidence.  In Goma, where decades of instability have made NGOs and the UN a constant presence, people are used to outsiders bringing in projects and proposing solutions.  It’s therefore easy for people to fall into the habit of looking to others for solutions to their issues. Perhaps as a result of this, many community members in the forums expressed that Colors of Connection needed to do more, and to provide more materials for the girls to launch post-project.  However, one participant Natalie responded that it will be possible for her to go out and find work by herself, as a house painter, or as a sign painter, and in fact it is something that she done in the past.  She highlighted that she has what she needs and her entrepreneurial spirit was inspiring.  I don’t dispute that there is a big need to work with more girls and our participants can definitely use more resources.  However, it is important and hugely valuable that some of the participants show this self-confidence, and are ready to take the initiative to find opportunities for themselves. This is one of the outcomes we have hoped for in the project, and something that we believe creativity can cultivate.  -Christina

Colors of Connection

Update from the Field: April 27, 2019

Community forums

I’m catching up on our activities the last few weeks as the end of the project is always a flurry of activity.  In the last two weeks of project the girls participated in four community forums in different neighborhoods to engage with the public about their work.  About 20 people attended each forum. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the moment we take our activities out into the public spaces there is constant engagement with the community, as neighbors and passersby stop to observe and ask questions about what we are painting.  However, the community engagement forums are a bit different because the girls have time to present in a more formal setting, to engage in more in-depth discussions, and through this experience to develop their leadership skills. This project is the first time we’ve designed such forums.

We had originally wanted to present in front of the murals themselves, but it was difficult to arrange for outside seating and to coordinate with the neighborhood chiefs.  To accommodate a planned meeting of this type, the community forums were held at the small offices of the neighborhood chiefs.  These are typically small buildings made out of wooden planks decorated with a Congolese flag.  Inside the chief and his team field all sorts of community issues from the common thief, agreements to sign with the Mayor.  To exhibit the work, we brought photos of the murals and posters.  An interesting outcome of printing these materials was that people who attended the forums were really interested to carry the print outs with them.  It became a great secondary way to disseminate the images in the communities.  For example, in the neighborhood of Mapendo, one priest will share some of the posters with his congregation, and another woman who owns a pharmacy said she would like to put the  poster prints in her store.  

In general, the community members who attended had a positive response to the images created. Some commented how this project and the images created could encourage other girls to be ambitious and pursue careers that are normally male dominated.  Many recognized that this project showed appreciation for women and promoted them in society.  

Others questioned why the training only included women, which of course led to a discussion with the girls about why women and girls need additional support and the realities of gender inequality.  These discussions are important and also frustrating as many don’t recognize the disadvantages that women and girls face.  In general I really appreciate that in Congo people are eager to discuss and debate and how lively the forums were.  

As everywhere, public speaking can be a challenge, and especially for some of the girls we work with who have not had many opportunities to practice, (e.g. who haven’t spent much time in school.)  Our community engagement lead Grace and her assistant Gracy trained worked with the girls on presentation skills.

Some of the most moving exchanges that I heard were comments from the girls themselves, showing their growing self-confidence.  In Goma, where decades of instability have made NGOs and the UN a constant presence, people are used to outsiders bringing in projects and proposing solutions.  It’s therefore easy for people to fall into the habit of looking to others for solutions to their issues. Perhaps as a result of this, many community members in the forums expressed that Colors of Connection needed to do more, and to provide more materials for the girls to launch post-project.  However, one participant Natalie responded that it will be possible for her to go out and find work by herself, as a house painter, or as a sign painter, and in fact it is something that she done in the past.  She highlighted that she has what she needs and her entrepreneurial spirit was inspiring.  I don’t dispute that there is a big need to work with more girls and our participants can definitely use more resources.  However, it is important and hugely valuable that some of the participants show this self-confidence, and are ready to take the initiative to find opportunities for themselves. This is one of the outcomes we have hoped for in the project, and something that we believe creativity can cultivate.  -Christina

Update from the Field: April 27, 2019

Community forums

I’m catching up on our activities the last few weeks as the end of the project is always a flurry of activity.  In the last two weeks of project the girls participated in four community forums in different neighborhoods to engage with the public about their work.  About 20 people attended each forum. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the moment we take our activities out into the public spaces there is constant engagement with the community, as neighbors and passersby stop to observe and ask questions about what we are painting.  However, the community engagement forums are a bit different because the girls have time to present in a more formal setting, to engage in more in-depth discussions, and through this experience to develop their leadership skills. This project is the first time we’ve designed such forums.

We had originally wanted to present in front of the murals themselves, but it was difficult to arrange for outside seating and to coordinate with the neighborhood chiefs.  To accommodate a planned meeting of this type, the community forums were held at the small offices of the neighborhood chiefs.  These are typically small buildings made out of wooden planks decorated with a Congolese flag.  Inside the chief and his team field all sorts of community issues from the common thief, agreements to sign with the Mayor.  To exhibit the work, we brought photos of the murals and posters.  An interesting outcome of printing these materials was that people who attended the forums were really interested to carry the print outs with them.  It became a great secondary way to disseminate the images in the communities.  For example, in the neighborhood of Mapendo, one priest will share some of the posters with his congregation, and another woman who owns a pharmacy said she would like to put the  poster prints in her store.  

In general, the community members who attended had a positive response to the images created. Some commented how this project and the images created could encourage other girls to be ambitious and pursue careers that are normally male dominated.  Many recognized that this project showed appreciation for women and promoted them in society.  

Others questioned why the training only included women, which of course led to a discussion with the girls about why women and girls need additional support and the realities of gender inequality.  These discussions are important and also frustrating as many don’t recognize the disadvantages that women and girls face.  In general I really appreciate that in Congo people are eager to discuss and debate and how lively the forums were.  

As everywhere, public speaking can be a challenge, and especially for some of the girls we work with who have not had many opportunities to practice, (e.g. who haven’t spent much time in school.)  Our community engagement lead Grace and her assistant Gracy trained worked with the girls on presentation skills.

Some of the most moving exchanges that I heard were comments from the girls themselves, showing their growing self-confidence.  In Goma, where decades of instability have made NGOs and the UN a constant presence, people are used to outsiders bringing in projects and proposing solutions.  It’s therefore easy for people to fall into the habit of looking to others for solutions to their issues. Perhaps as a result of this, many community members in the forums expressed that Colors of Connection needed to do more, and to provide more materials for the girls to launch post-project.  However, one participant Natalie responded that it will be possible for her to go out and find work by herself, as a house painter, or as a sign painter, and in fact it is something that she done in the past.  She highlighted that she has what she needs and her entrepreneurial spirit was inspiring.  I don’t dispute that there is a big need to work with more girls and our participants can definitely use more resources.  However, it is important and hugely valuable that some of the participants show this self-confidence, and are ready to take the initiative to find opportunities for themselves. This is one of the outcomes we have hoped for in the project, and something that we believe creativity can cultivate.  -Christina

Introducing Mohammed

Notes from the field:

Introducing Mohamed:

I am a maternal orphan because my mother died in childbirth and my father did not want to take on the responsibility of raising me.  I was adopted by my grandmother and come from Gossi Mali.  I went to the Coranique School for over two years and I want to build my future as a professional painter in Touareg Art, even if it’s difficult.  I am a student of Christina Mallie’s in a project called Energizing a Refugee Community Through Art and I am very proud to work with her.

Christina’s observations: Mohamed has a wonderful energy and who tends to bounce off the walls a bit if he has to sit too long.  His dedication to the project is amazing and he makes me and others laugh a lot – he’s like the willing clown of the group.

Update from the Field:  April 5, 2019: Posters Finalized!

image
image
image
image

Just one more week of painting and postering to go!

The posters are in their final form so we have printed multiples of them and started pasting them in the four neighborhoods where we are working:  Mapendo, Murara, Kyeshero and Mugunga.  There will be 7 posters in each neighborhood totaling 28.  

The posters are based on the four themes of: A female judge, a female artist, a female construction worker, and a woman who creates, nurtures and educates society. These were decided by the community arts council of local leaders working with our group of adolescent girls.  

For more information on why these themes were selected to represent women and girls and how it forwards our agenda to achieve gender equality and prevent sexual violence in the region please visit our two blog posts: http://blog.colorsofconnection.org/post/183141545414/what-community-leaders-think-their-input-on-the and http://blog.colorsofconnection.org/post/183314065399/field-update-happy-iwd2019.  

How were the posters created?

Poster style: With the themes selected, the participants reviewed different poster styles and techniques, ranging from abstracted imagery to cartoon styled drawings to realistic photos and were invited to select their preferred style.  For all four themes the participants opted for the technique of using actual photos.  

Photo portraits:  We worked with our photographer and videographer Bernadette Vivuya.  She brought her creative vision to the portraits, and photographed people here in Goma for the different themes. Two of the images, the female construction worker and female artist are portraits of participants in our project. The female judge is in fact a current sitting judge in Goma.  The woman who creates, nurtures, and educates society is a professor at the University of Goma and also an aspiring politician. She was a candidate in the last election for the position of provincial deputy, and has inspired other women as a role model in politics.  As a teacher and a role model she was well placed to represent the theme of the women who creates, nurtures, and educates society.    

Block Printing:  Then the practice of craving potatoes and making stamps finally paid off!  The girls identified different objects and symbols associated with the themes, for example a judge: sources her knowledge from books, scales symbolize the fairness of the judicial process in which each side is given equal consideration, and of course the famous gavel is a symbol of her authority.

We used linoleum blocks and created block prints of the different symbols and objects for the four themes.  This was the first time our artist assistants Wisline and Salima ever worked with this art medium, and a first for the girls as well. It was so exciting to see them discovering how it worked for the first time.  

Written Message: Making letters the old-school way, we cut out paper letters to create the phrases for each theme given to us by the community arts council. They are written in Swahili, the predominant language spoken in the region.  

Here are the translations:

Woman who creates, nurtures and educates society: Mwanamke msingi wa maadisho =  Women are the pillars of education in society.

Female construction worker: Ndio naweza jenga = Yes, I can build.

Female judge: Mwanamke katika ngazi zote za sharia = Women, in all domains of the justice system.

Female artist:  Kubali ujuzi wangu  =  Consider my talents.  

In our first community engagement forum we already received requests from a pastor of a church and a woman who runs a pharmacy for copies of the posters to share with their communities.  Beyond the 7 in each neighborhood we will be printing smaller ones for community members to take with them. It’s exciting to have more avenues of communication and dissemination.  

-Christina

Street life passes by as we near completion of the mural on the female artist!  #Tunaweza #LikeAGirl #CongoPositive 

Update from the Field : State of “Flow”

March 22, 2019

We are in the midst of painting now and are frequently outdoors, in the neighborhoods.  The time spent painting is a special and specific.  It’s hard to describe exactly but there’s a feeling of deep satisfaction, of time standing still, and of happiness.  

I wonder what is it about this experience that creates this sense of happiness?  

There is the quiet of non-verbal communication as we adjust ladders, mix paints, look together at what has been done and search for the next steps.  Working together as one group motivated to a complete our goal. People who pass by are curious, amazed by the work we are doing.  There are conversations with people who live in the neighborhood of unexpected and simple exchanges.  Brief words of encouragement, questions, amusement, skepticism, and interest.  And daily life continues all around us, women selling French fries, buses transported loads, school children returning home in their uniforms.    

I think that the theory of flow put forward by Mily Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist, relates to our mural painting experience.  Csikszentmihalyi identified a specific state of happiness he calls “flow,” while researching what makes life worth living. Listening to the TED talk where he identifies certain conditions that are present for people who experience a state of “flow” I noticed a lot of corollaries in our mural painting process.  These include:

  • • Being completely involved in what you are doing, so submerged in the process that you don’t have the brain power to think about whether you are hungry, or tired, or to worry about the problems at home;
  • • Experiencing a sense of ecstasy, referring to the ability to do something outside of everyday reality;
  • • You feel that it is possible to accomplish what you are doing;
  • • There is a sense of timelessness, that you are focused only on the present and time passes without you noticing;
  • • And You are intrinsically motivated pulled forward to engage, you feel part of something larger and the work becomes its own reward.

I thought it interesting as well that Csikszentmihalyi’s research found that people experience a state of flow when they engage their skills in something they love at a level higher than average, and feel challenged.  This very much applies to the mural painting process:  It is complicated but achievable, outside of ordinary experience, and something that myself and the girl love to be engaged in.  

Check out his TED Talk here : Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

Field Update: Day 1 of painting

March 15 2019

We had our first day out painting in public spaces in the neighborhood Mapendo which means “love” in Swahili.  What was incredible was how within minutes of the group of girls arriving and painting the wall, young men approached us, with some degree of aggression, and asked the girls why they were taking “their” jobs? Soon after a woman arrived and engaged in a discussion with some other men, and speaking on behalf of the girls painting, said something like, “let women also do the same work as men, we are capable too.”  

Having these kinds of community discussions pop up so frequently already as we start working in the public spaces highlights that what the girls are doing is far outside the societal norms.  It’s a reminder of how strong community expectations are that a woman’s place is in the home, and how few opportunities women and girls have to work in different sectors.  The girls themselves are very eager to climb the ladders, be covered in paint and to have the attention of the community in this role – it’s something that they are extremely proud of.  

I’m looking forward to this public process of painting, as there will be many opportunities for community engagement on the issue of gender norms. It’s a tricky thing to discuss.  Norms are so ingrained that it’s difficult for most to recognize how unequal the playing field is, and why it’s important to promote gender equality.  Norms change slowly and so not all of these discussions will be friendly.  We believe though that this kind of exchange is meaningful and works to slowly shift perceptions.  We are working now on how the girls and our team can best engage the community on these types of questions and discussion so that it becomes an opportunity to learn another perspective and not simply an argument.  

Christina

Field Update: Happy #IWD2019!

image
image
image

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.  

Christina

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!

– Christina

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.

image

– Christina

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

Just in time for the holidays, CC has opened an online boutique store!

Our pieces feature a beautiful design created specially for friends of Colors of Connection by artist and muralist Magda Love. The design incorporates a quote by Matisse, “Creativity takes courage” that we hope will inspire and encourage you in your creative endeavors whenever you wear or use one of our products.

Now you can celebrate creativity by wearing the coolest t-shirt ever and support the work of Colors of Connection at the same time. Now that’s a great way to enjoy the holidays!

And don’t forget our Colors of Connection logo swag! We’ve got mugs, t-shirts and totes all sporting our catchy logo.

Visit our shop on our website to find the perfect holiday gift for yourself and all your friends and family today!

https://www.colorsofconnection.org/shop/

All proceeds from Colors of Connection products go to support our work of empowering conflict-affected teens and their communities through art.