The final presentations

As a final presentation to conclude Meza, the food group created a recipe book, the music group performed their compositions and the theatre group performed a series of overlapping monologues talking about our journey. For the monologues, we were all sitting in different spots among the audience in darkness, and used flashlights to dramatize the space and focus on the person talking. We performed in different languages- English, Hindi, Hebrew. I had trouble writing my monologue in English, while on switching to Spanish it flowed easily, so I decided to perform mine in Spanish, as many other people were also performing in English despite it not being their first language.

I want to share my monologue as a reflection…

Me voy con mucho que aprender.
En Meza, cuando estamos trabajando y jugando con los demás, hay veces que olvido los temas y las técnicas que usamos. Creo que es importante estar presente y comprometerme con los demás, pero al mismo tiempo, recordar constantemente los temas. No porque los temas sean más importantes que las personas, sino porque los temas marcan nuestros cuerpos y mentes. Creo que cuestionar estas marcas es muy importante para comunicar realmente, y además, qué es arte sin comunicar?
Por mucho tiempo, creí que mi arte era sólo para mí, y pensé que no me gustaba compartirlo o comunicarlo. Pero, recientamente, me di cuenta que aún asi yo creo algo por mí misma, siempre hay un deseo de expresarlo a alguien más, para saber que piensa.
Con Meza, esto cambió, junto con el hecho de darme cuenta que tal vez, puedo ser creativa. Este año, en Meza, me encontré con muchas posibilidades, diferentes maneras de combinar las artes y las cuestiones sociales. Esta experiencia y todo lo que he aprendido de la gente que conocimos, y de los participantes y mentores dirigirá mis decisiones en mi viaje.
Quizas, en este viaje, I will have peeled the onion, o al menos, I will have begun.

The English translation:

I leave with a lot to learn.
In Meza, when we are working and playing with people, sometimes I forget the themes and techniques that we are to employ. I think it is important to be present in the moment, and engage with people, but at the same time, remember constantly the themes. Not because the themes are more important than the people, but because the themes imprint and mark our bodies and minds. It is important to question and subvert these marks in order to truly communicate, and what is art without communication?
For a long time, I thought that my art was only for me, and that I didn’t like to share or communicate it to other people. But, recently, I realized that even when I create something for myself, there’s always a desire to express it to someone else, to know what they think.
With Meza last year, this changed, along with the realization that perhaps, I could be creative. This year in Meza, I found many possibilities, different ways to combine arts and social issues. This experience and all that I have learnt from the people we met, and from participants and mentors will guide my choices in my journey.
Maybe, in this journey, I will have peeled the onion, or at least, I will have begun.

Ahmedabad: different ways to marry the arts and social issues..

In Ahmedabad, the theatre and music groups worked together, as a performance group. In one part, we visited Bhudan Theatre and in another, Darpana Art Academy, to look at two different ways to combine arts and social issues.

Bhudan Theatre was started 15 years ago by a group of people from the Chara community, in Charanagar, Ahmedabad. The Chara community were originally spies for kings in India. However, after British colonization, they lost their livelihood and adopted a nomadic life. The Charas used to be one of the 191 tribes classified as the criminal tribes by the British on account of their nomadic lives. The criminal tribes were then kept in “open jails” which was enclosed pieces of land, they couldn’t leave without permission. While India became Independent in 1947, the criminal tribes were given their independence only 5 years later, during which “India was busy celebrating its Independence” as one of the founders of Bhudan theatre said. Since 1952, these communities are called the de-notified tribes. Since there wasn’t any rehabilitation, many Charas had to resort to thieving in order to survive. Bhudan theatre was founded to fight the stigma still associated with the Chara community. It uses theatre as a medium to express that Charas are artists too and to talk about stigma, discrimination in jobs, child marriage and other issues relevant to their lives. Their plays are based on improvisation by the actors. In addition, they have a library, and help students with academics and theatre using activity based learning.

Darpana Art Academy is a very prestigious art academy in India. It is 60 years old. We learned about one wing of Darpana, called Darpana for Development. This wing works with funding organizations like the UNICEF and travels to villages across Gujarat, and sometimes India to communicate issues of health, hygiene and girl’s education. Their model usually involves working with very specific issues like diabetes or cervical cancer, and then creating a play that talks about the issue, remodeling popular songs and games to incorporate new meanings. They also work with people from the community to create this play, and in doing so try to learn the dialect of the people, in order to communicate better.

Bhudan and Darpana have similar, yet quite different approaches. Both Bhudan and Darpana seek to work as mediators through theatre- Bhudan as a mediator between the Charas and mainstream India, and Darpana as a mediator between UNICEF and the villages. On the other hand, while Bhudan is an organic group of people from the Chara community (although as is expected, not all appreciate their work), Darpana brings issues from the UNICEF which definitely is an outsider for the people in the villages. They also come from different backgrounds- Bhudan theatre has to fight against stigma for the Charas, while Darpana is an established and respected institute. Also, as Darpana is a much older organization, it would be interesting to see Bhudan theatre when it has been around for 60 years and then compare and contrast them.

That is an update from our week in Ahmedabad, which has given me a lot to think about. About which choices I would be comfortable making in the shoes of Bhudan and Darpana…

Experiments from the first half

Over the past few days in Meza, we have been exploring different ways to engage with people through art. The first day, the mentors of food, theatre and music introduced their approaches towards art and community. The same day the participants chose one of the three approaches to learn and play with for the two weeks. I am part of the theatre group with nine participants.

Recognizing that the word “community” can bring to mind many different ideas and associations, Meza begins with our community of participants, and then slowly expands to the communtiy at MUWCI, the villages and  towns around, Pune city and finally Ahmedabad. 

So, we began by exploring the community within the theatre group by preparing monologues/performances with the prompt “What would I do with my performance skills in an ideal world… ” Through this activity we got to know the people in our group better.

The next day, we moved to the community on campus- Meza participants and the people who work on campus. Each of the groups played with different groups of people- food group with chefs and kitchen staff, music group with construction workers and theatre group with drivers and guards. The idea in the theatre group was to experiment, to find inspiration in the people that surround us. So, we split into groups and talked to and played some games with various people on campus. In the evening, we discussed the dynamics of the interaction, which are complex on account of class and an institutional divide between students and people who work on campus. For instance, the campus land used to be owned by people who now work here and are in uniform while the students aren’t.

The next day, we explored the approaches used by three theatre groups- Yuyachkani inPeru, SAFE (Sponsored Arts For Education) inKenyaand Janasanskriti in Kolkata. Keeping in mind their approaches, we then expanded community to include a small town near campus, Kolavan. We walked around the town, talking to people, observing potential spaces to perform. The following day, we went back to Kolavan and the music and theatre groups formed a procession in the town. The intention was to simply have fun, since we did not have enough time to create an issue based performance that would be relevant to the area. During the procession, the local government head and a principal asked us if we were doing social work and what message we wanted to deliver. On finding out that we didn’t have a message and just wanted to sing and dance they were taken aback as the expectation now is that if outsiders come to perform, they would have an agenda. So, in not having a social agenda or message, we inadvertently made a political statement.

Yesterday, all the groups visited Pune city. The theatre group teamed up with the food group to perform issue based invisible theatre on themes discussed in the food group. We split up into groups of 3-4 people and performed invisible theatre on themes like the freshness of “fresh” juices served in restaurants that are actually canned juice, or   how food travels around the world to reach the markets we buy it from, or how the chicken in most commercial food chains in Pune is poultry chicken with hormones.

Today we leave for Ahmedabad,Gujaratto explore these themes further, to see how many people are doing interesting work in and around these themes.

While this is an update from my perspective of the theatre group, there is a Meza blog where every night a couple of participants blog. Mezauwcindia.wordpress.com is a great way to get a holistic sense of our experiments and projects.

Meza – Beginning

Meza starts in less than a week, on June 26th. Along with the student facilitators, I will reach a couple days earlier to help set up. I am really excited now that this is starting up. In total there are about 25 participants from India, USA, Israel, Cambodia, Mexico, Ireland, Colombia, China…

In the run up to Meza, all participants have been encouraged to think about the personal diversity each of us brings to the group and the program. In keeping with the themes of Meza, the participants are encouraged to bring our artistic creations, music from our communities, a myth from our country, our national costume, favourite recipes, photographs of important people and places in our lives. All these would help to introduce ourselves and also participate in the workshops the first few days.

Looking forward to blogging more often as MEZA gets going!

Possibilities

Reflecting on service and learning, I realized how natural it has become to think of projects in these terms: as involving both service and learning, or more learning and less service, or otherwise. For instance, giving charity might be seen as service, not learning, whereas reading a book about an issue is learning, not service.

However, in the context of MEZA – Resetting the Table, the sometimes natural distinction between service and learning becomes muddled. Meza is a summer program that seeks to explore ways to interact responsibly with people using cultural forms through community based projects. The name Meza is similar to the word for table in Hindi (mez), Spanish (mesa) and Swahili (meza), reflecting the program’s focus on the Global South. From my experience with Meza last year, I cannot distinguish service and learning. They happened through three weeks of a participatory process of exploring. This summer, Meza will take shape during two weeks with many participants including five artists in residence with backgrounds in visual art, theatre, music, food and film. After a week of exploring one of these media in greater detail, we will travel to Ahmedabad for four days and collaborate with organizations there. On returning, we will imagine ways to take these ideas and projects further. Going into Meza for the second time with a new format, the expectation I carry is the expectation to participate.

Just as service isn’t giving and learning isn’t taking, I think the possibilities of any interaction get reduced when measured in these categories. Beyond the classification into service and/or learning, it might be interesting to re-think and re-imagine the possibilities of an experience, and of global citizenship.