In 1994 Petrona de la Cruz and Isabel Juárez Espinosa founded FOMMA – which aims to support and stengthen Mayan women of the highlands of Chiapas. Both women had been writers with Sna Tzi’bojom (The House of the Writer) (see a previous post for a few links to things about Sna Tzi’bojom) and had written a number of successful plays about Indigenous womens lives in the highlands of Chiapas. If you read spanish check out their biographies on the FOMMA webpage. FOMMA does a variety of community development and support projects, including supporting literacy and education of women in 2 local Indigenous languages (Tzotzil & Tzeltal), providing training and enterprise development, such as running a bakery, a clothing and textiles workshop, providing childcare and running a theatre group.
The theatre group, which is comprised of women and performs self-devised and adapted works in San Cristobal, regional communities around Chiapas and Mexico, as well as internationally, is a very interesting example of participatory ethnography using creative arts. I find parallels in the work of BighART in Australia – both organizations use processes based on collaboratively devised performance to articulate and express issues in local communities, and have a commitment to deep and long term creative processes – although FOMMA is distinct because it is indigenous founded and run, and has continued to work on issues emerging from the lives on Indigenous women in the highlands of Chiapas for 15 years.
In partnering with the Hemispheric Institute, FOMMA has been able to renovate their long term home in the Barrio de Mexicanos in San Cristobal into a beautiful and unique purpose built house – complete with stage, kitchen, library, workshops spaces for mask-making, digital arts and computing to name just a few… not to mention some of the nicest bathrooms I’ve seen in a long time!
Check out the photo below of their stage in what was the central courtyard of an old San Cristobal house.
There is a variety of material available about FOMMA on the internet, but by clicking here you can read an interview with founder Isabel Juarez Spinoza from 2006 that gives you some info in her words about what FOMMA is all about and what is their theatre works seeks to do.
One of FOMMAs more controversial plays – The Demons Nun – is written about in a recent anthology of Latin American theatre and performance called Stages of Conflict – a critical anthology of Latin American Theatre and Performance ( Diana Taylor & Sarah J. Townsend Eds, University of Michigan Press, 2008). It is described as a play that takes a humorous look at the serious issues of “violence against women, alcoholism, limited educational opportunities for women and the role of religion in native communities” (pg318). The Hemispheric Institute is developing a web page to accompany this publication which has some info about the play The Demons Nun.
In a previous post I mentioned that as part of looking at historical photos of the Kimberley region in the Photo Me project we were given access to images from the Tindale collection, in the form of ring binders with photocopies of hundreds of 3 x 5″ portraits. We were encouraged to show them around and see what info we could get on the identities of those shown in the photos.
Jasmine and I did not end up showing the Tindale photocopies beyond the women who gathered regularly at the Jalaris centre and who we knew well. Looking at the faces in the Tindale collection Jasmine immediately started recognizing people. Resemblances were strong and sometimes startling, as family photos can be. Once some of the older people in the community started looking at them with us it was clear that they were very potent and might complicate the main goals of our project (to get Aboriginal people making their own photographs). The senior women felt that to show them without warning to people – in circumstances where people may see faces of family members long dead and long unseen – would be to risk upsetting people. So we gave them back to KLC and carried on with our work.
Interestingly the style of the Tindale photos, which I and many others found sad (see Jo-Ann Driessen writing about the photograph of her great-grandfather in the Tindale archive, in Photographies Other History Pinney & Peterson eds 2003), was not completely rejected by the photographers in the Photo Me and subsequent projects, as I imagined might happen. People liked the way that we could look into peoples faces in those portraits, and participants in Photo Me wanted to use their access to cameras to record their own families in the current time. They talked about the torso framing of the Tindale photos, and how you could see peoples clothing. Ideas were tossed around about making a set of contemporary images of local Aboriginal people that could be displayed with the Tindale images (although such an exhibition was never put together).
Portraits became a primary focus of the Photo Me project and the following Mowanjum TAFE Youth Program in 2006, which produced the Faces of Mowanjum exhibition. As a facilitator of both projects I was initially concerned that this focus was a result of my suggestion, on the 1st day of the Photo Me project, that we make portraits of each other as a way to start working with the cameras, but on reflection its clear that there were stronger influences at play, including peoples response to the Tindale images and other kinds of portraiture that are popular in the Kimberley. For example, the women who got most involved in the early weeks of Photo Me, a small group of friends in their late teens and early twenties, were really keen to do portraits of their friends and families infront of a backdrop, in the style of commercial family portraits. Traveling commercial photographers visit Derby each year, but charge high prices for prints, putting such formal portraits out of reach of many.
In Photo Me we made a couple of backdrops for portraits, first out of painted board which was set up in public places (the youth centre and out the front of Rusties supermarket), and then a more portable one out of fabric which we dyed blue and could roll out in the bush and hang from a tree. Below are some images made with the backdrop at the Gibb River Road Women’s Bush Meeting in 2005.
Looking at the mood and tone of the images from the projects we did in Derby and Mowanjum the relationship between the subjects and the photographers, as well as the photographic moment captured in the images, bear little resemblance to the pseudo-scientific style of the Tindale/Birdsell images, although they often are similarly framed. It is interesting, however, to reflect on the role that these historical images, taken in such a different context to how we were working, influenced peoples choices of subject and style.
Of course, these are the photos that were selected to be included in the exhibitions and products made in the projects. There were lots of portraits, often in a more documentary style, of participants friends and family that were not chosen for public display… What was and was not shown in the exhibitions in both projects, and how these decisions came to be made is an interesting topic for a future post.
The Chiapas Photography Project (CCP) has resulted in a large archive of images by (and mostly of) Indigenous people from Chiapas. The archive, known as the Archivo Fotografico Indigena (AFI) is housed at CIESAS Sureste in San Cristobal De Las Casas Chiapas, and the most pressing current task of the AFI is to secure the archive – ensure the images and negatives are safely stored and duplicated, and that the accompanying data is accurate and complete.
I have been interested to see that in most cases the names of the photographers are recorded in the archival material, however frequently the names of the people depicted in portraits and other photographs are not. This reflects, I think, something of the socio-political climate of Chiapas in particular, and Indigenous movements in Mexico more broadly. The Zapatista movement (or EZLN), an Indigenous uprising mobilised to improve Indigenous rights in Southern Mexico, typically moves through the streets and country-side with faces covered – the iconic balaclava covered faces of Commandante Marcos and his comrades are depicted in numerous postcards and tee-shirts around San Cristobal. The CCP has created a closed section of their collection under the theme of ‘Politica’, which is not included in the broader publicly accessible AFI. The ‘Politica’ collection contains images of local political activities, such as Zapatista gatherings, which are kept secure and confidential in an effort to protect the identities of people depicted in the images from political interference or retribution.
So documenting the names of people in the AFI photos is not a priority here in Chiapas. Indeed, anonymity and confidentiality of Indigenous people depicted in CCP & AFI images is highly valued and can be seen as a necessary part of the ethics of participatory photographic practice in the region.
The issue of names, and the naming of Indigenous subjects in photographic archives, has an entirely different meaning in a contemporary Australian context.
When Jasmine Francis and I were working on the Photo Me project in Derby in 2005, we looked around town at what old photographs of the region existed. The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) librarian, Jenny Bolton, loaned us photocopies of images from the Tindale Collection, which were taken in the Kimberley in the ’50’s by Norman Tindale and Jeffrey Birdsell as part of their now famous project of documenting Aboriginal tribes and people across Australia. The KLC copies from the Tindale Collection were in a ring binder, and there were hundreds of them, all similarly framed – a torso shot infront of a cloth background – portraits of individuals taken to allow consideration of their physical features and gathered by the anthropologists at the same time as they gathered information about tribes, languages, places.
Jenny told us that the photocopies were from the Museum of South Australia who had passed them on in the hope of KLC identifying people by name and family, to begin the process of repatriating images to the decendants of those they represent. KLC had no resources to do the kind of consultation needed to undertake this mammoth task, and so we were passed the folders of images to show around to people while we were working on the Photo Me project.
The original Tindale collection records the photographs, and the people in them, by number. Names were not accurately gathered. We began working with this collection when we were talking with Photo Me participants about how Aboriginal people have historically been depicted photographically, and many people who looked at the collection recognised family resemblances and faces in the photographs. Over time, however, the advisors on our Photo Me project decided that showing the Tindale images, which include ancestors and family members of families spread across northern Australia, was too emotional and volatile a task for our project. People might get upset; the images have a kind of melancholy about them, not least because people, on the whole, are not identified accurately, and perhaps did not submit voluntarily to having their photograph recorded. The difference between these images, and those being made by the Aboriginal participants in the Photo Me project was stark.
(Jo-Ann Driessen has a chapter in Photographies Other History, edited by Christopher Pinney & Nicholas Peterson, Duke University Press, 2003. in which she discusses her experience of seeing photographs of her grand father in the Tindale collection. Click here to read the chapter on Google Books.)
In our search for historical photos we also went to the Shire of Derby West Kimberley Library in Derby and looked at their collection of photographs, held in large albums and dating from early days of the construction of the town through to the 1980’s. In these albums, although many Aboriginal people are shown, only white people are named – hand written labels made by who ever originally put together the albums deposited in the library.
It was a strange and somewhat disappointing experience to encounter the photo collection in the Derby library. We took a group of local women who were consulting with us on the Photo Me project and they discovered photos of their family members in the albums, images they had not seen before yet could easily identify. The mood was sober after that visit, everyone aware of the silencing of the personal histories of the local Aboriginal people shown in the albums that occurs by having their names omitted from the historical record.
These experiences shaped the participatory photographic work that we did in the Kimberley over ensuing years, in particular the data we collected to accompany the images that were made. Although the projects were not specifically aimed at producing archives of images, the use of digital cameras meant we quickly found ourselves with thousands of images in our collection. As I have worked with the images from both Photo Me and the Mowanjum TAFE Youth Program in recent years, I realised that almost every digital photograph, the majority of which are of people, has documented the names of the people in the images. Participants spent many hours naming and filing each image during the projects, usually the simply naming subjects in full in the digital file name.
The Faces of Mowanjum portraits – a set of images of over 200 of members of the Mowanjum Aboriginal Community made in 2006 – shows this archiving system in the form in which the collection is displayed in the Side by Side on-line Gallery. The file names from the archive of the project were used as titles for the images, so each person depicted is named in the current on-line exhibition. The original Faces of the Kimberley exhibition displayed these images in a digital slide show, and names were not given. The primary audience for that display was the Mowanjum community itself, so people in the images were, on the whole, known by the majority of the audience. However in that same exhibition, as in the on-line version, the elders – who’s black and white portraits were originally displayed on large hanging banners – were named on the image, along with their language group / tribal affiliation. Naming them in the display was part of marking respect to these people by the young people who made the exhibition. Accurately naming people in the archive of the broader project, and getting permission for their image to be included in the project was a central part of the ethics and practice of the project.
The Photo Me Derby project was the first project I was involved with dedicated to collaborative photography in the Kimberley (the northern region of Western Australia). Photo Me Derby was a collaboration between Jalaris Aboriginal Corporation and Side by Side Community Project Consulting, and happened in 2005. The project grew from participatory research I had been doing with Jalaris, in which we used digital photography as a research tool and had an interest in using arts practices to engage local people in representing issues and experiences in their community. A lot of the young women associated with Jalaris were really interested in using the digital camera, so we started to think about a project to give them access to this tool. I had also been talking with Kim Lawler, another photographer working in the Kimberley about the role that photography could play in supporting young Aboriginal people across the Kimberley to get involved with arts practice, when painting, the most common art form supported in regional arts centres, was not always appropriate, or of interest to them. Kim later went on to do a long term digital media project in the community of Balgo (see her website www.kimlawler.com).
Jalaris Aboriginal Corporation got funding from DCITA (Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology & the Arts) for the Photo Me project: to fund some equipment, a series of workshops and a final exhibition. Jalaris and Side by Side Community Project Consulting both put up additional money and in-kind support to get the project off the ground. Over the course of the project a number of local organizations and business in Derby also gave substantial inkind support to the project, including help with framing and printing of newsletters produced in the project.
For 4 months in mid 2005 Jasmine Francis (from Jalaris) and I (Maya Haviland, from Side by Side) facilitated various groups of women and children around Derby in workshops and activities to take photos of their community. We were interested in supporting people to create visual narratives, but were also simply giving local people, specifically Aboriginal women and children, access to digital cameras to document their own worlds and lives. We ran workshops at the Jalaris centre on the Aboriginal Reserve, at the newly opened Derby Youth Centre, as well as at a variety of local events, such as the Gibb River Road Women’s Bush Meeting and the Derby Women’s Share expo. We took participants out and about in Derby to photograph, encouraging people to try new methods and subjects.
We began using film and digital photography- working with some re-usable plastic cameras and two digital cameras -but by the end of the project we were working exclusively with digital as it proved to be of better quality and more versatile in the Kimberley environment. A total of 40 Aboriginal women and young people were directly involved in the creation of the photographs, with several more involved in consultation about the project direction and preparation for the exhibition.
Quickly it became clear that the primary subject of the project was people – and the final exhibition include numerous portraits of people from around the community. The works select for the Faces of the Kimberley exhibition (September 2005) were mounted and framed, and displayed in a recently renovated house on the Burrinunga Aboriginal Community, Aboriginal land that was part of the old Aboriginal Reserve on Panton St in Derby.
Over 100 people attended the Faces of the Kimberley Exhibition in Derby, WA; approximately 60 of these were Aboriginal people. As far as we know it was the first exhibition of photographs taken by Aboriginal people held on Aboriginal land in Derby. The feedback from the community was very positive, people particularly commented on the positive representations of Aboriginal young people that were portrayed in the exhibition, many of the older visitors to the exhibition said it was good to see their children and grandchildren looking so beautiful, as that was not the usual image portrayed of Aboriginal people in the community by the local and national media.
In 2008 this institute opened a centre in San Cristobal De Las Casas, Chipas, in collaboration with Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya (FOMMA), a Mayan women’s theater collective. Perhaps one day such a creative collaboration will be established between an Australian university and a remote community or town in the Kimberley…
Through the websites (follow links above) you can access a vast digital library of artist profiles and video footage of performances across the Americas. Hours of interesting reading, viewing and contemplation…
The primary purpose of my current trip to Southern Mexico is to spend some time working with the Chiapas Indigenous Photography Project, and their spin off project the Archivo Fotografico Indigena in San Cristobal De Las Casas. This is one of the longest running participatory photography projects that I know of (do you know of others? if so, let me know!), and has now been running for 17 years here in Chiapas.
I met with the coordinator and founder of the project, Carlota Duarte today and heard about what the project is up to this year and to discuss how I might be useful to them over the coming months. Their website is a bit out of date, but has some beautiful images, which provide an alternative to the common images of Chiapas, which, like where I have been working in the Kimberley (Western Australia), has been heavily photographed since the arrival of camera carrying travelers and anthropologists.
Over the past 17 years the CCP and AFI have worked with over 260 Indigenous people from around the San Cristobal de las Casas region and have produced books, exhibitions, and other educational and cultural materials resulting from participatory photography workshops. There has been some good profiles written on this project and its photographers. If you are interested check out this one called The Mayan Photo Album
We arrived in San Diego as our first stop on our grand tour in North America, to spend 10 days in Southern California. The San Diego visit was mainly chance to get over the jetlag and get my bearings before heading to Mexico, but California is also home to a number of organisations dedicated to collaborative visual media practice, such as the Center for Digital Story Telling at Berkley, and the Institute for Photographic Empowerment at Venice Arts Centre in LA. You can find out a lot of info about these projects from their websites and I didn’t get time to visit them unfortunately, however there are lots of other projects with less profile happening around the region and I managed to catch up with a couple.
Eve Tulbert is facilitating one such project, with street kids in Los Angeles making collaborative media for health promotion and HIV prevention. The project is multi-disciplinary – using collaborative media (primarily digital media, including some great uses of the Comic Life software) as an engagement tool with young people and public health education and promotion around issues effecting the young people in community around the youth centre where the project is happening. She is collaborating with Prof. Eric Rice from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work on the intervention. Eve has a background in community arts (google her to find out more). She’s worked in community theatre and in recent years has been developing an interest in the uses of digital media for engaged community development practice. Eve’s heading to Australia later this year to attend CAEPRs Youth Learning Symposium in Darwin (by invitation only, September 2009) so folks there may get a chance to meet her, or even work with her down the track. Continue reading →
Sophie Haviland is my sister and she has a great new website, www.sophiehaviland.com! Such a plug might be seen as shameless nepotism, but this site is a window into a whole world of collaborative art projects which most people will not know about, and is well worth a visit for anyone interested in international collaborative art practice and contemporary visual art. Sophies current projects span film, music, theatre and international exchange.
The Bridge Project, a collaboration between Sophie, and Richard Foreman, has run workshops in 10 countries over the past 5 years. The two week intensive workshops bring together professionals and students interested in performance, film, art and production in an art practice , a pedagogical and creative practice developed out of Haviland and Foreman’s many years of collaboration. Each participating country has created an archive of collaboratively made video material that is available for use in art works by all Bridge Project participants. So far ongoing processes of making, dialogue and exhibitions have seeded in Japan, Portugal and England.
Side by Side Project Galleries feature works made in collaborative art and ethnography projects around the world. These are projects that work with individuals and communities to tell stories – of their lives, places, histories and cultures – using creative tools, such as photography, film, creative writing, visual arts…
The aim of this gallery is to showcase works to a wider audience, to support artists and practitioners to share their practices, and to inspire ongoing collaborative and creative practice locally and internationally
The gallery feature creative works, as well as some documentary material about the projects. Over time you will be able to find more information on projects featured in the gallery on the Side by Side blog, including interviews, discussion and links to additional material about these, and other, projects.
Why establish this gallery?
The idea for an online gallery grew from Maya’s research into practices of collaborative ethnography using creative arts, and her experience as a facilitator of collaborative digital media projects in the Kimberley (Western Australia). Continue reading →
Side by Side Project Galleries is an on-line gallery space featuring works from collaborative art and ethnography projects from around the world, and it has just been launched! Click on the Project Galleries link above to check it out.
The first two projects featured are the Photo Me Derby project and the Mowanjum TAFE Youth Projects ‘Faces of Mowanjum’ exhibition. Both of these projects were participatory digital photography projects run in the Derby region of the West Kimberley, in North Western Australia and worked with Indigenous people to make photographic exhibitions about their local communities.