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Embodied Lines exhibition ;

Using art to put marginalised communities at the centre of research

Translating research
Ivana Bevilacqua, Hana Riazuddin and Rosa dos Ventos Lopes Heimer

26 September 2022

Despite being geographically diverse, the ‘Embodied Lines’ exhibition brought together the experience of communities from Latin America, Palestine and South London by using art to explore violence and resistance. The PhD researchers behind the project, Ivana Bevilacqua, Hana Riazuddin and Rosa dos Ventos Lopes Heimer, discuss why focussing on art and co-design was essential to their research.

Can you give some background to each of your projects which made up the ‘Embodied Lines’ exhibition?

Rosa: My project is basically exploring how Latin American migrant women in England experience intimate and state forms of violence, in particular, what I call intimate border violence. So how the immigration system at the national level is perpetrating violence, but also creating a conducive context for intimate partners to perpetrate further forms of violence by producing an unbalance in power that allows them to abuse migrant women.

But I also explore how women have resisted this violence in communities, across spaces and also through the borders, by crossing them and by staying in this country, by sometimes having to stay in abusive relationships, surviving until they have the resources to leave.

As part of this, I worked with the Latin American Women's Aid and invited survivors to map their bodies. In feminist geography, especially in decolonial feminist geography, we talk about the body as the first scale. It is a territory of dispute, but also one which we can self-determine and where we can resist.

Ivana: My project, ‘Puzzling: The Sensory Politics of Infrastructure’, seeks to recompose the voices, and geographies of Indigenous “1948-Palestinians” ­­– descendants of those who stayed on their lands in 1948 with the establishment of Israel. It looks at how their lives have been fragmented by high-level infrastructures developed close to their towns.

Using a multi-sensory approach, which includes participatory photography and collaborative filmmaking, it examines the coloniality of infrastructure in relation to capitalism, race, gender and mobility.

The struggles over infrastructural development plans have fostered collective forms of service provision and communal arrangements of property, but historically these have been neglected by the categorisations and mapping of colonial powers. As such it’s opened up forms of self-recognition and Indigenous sovereignty.

Hana: ‘Endz n’ Out’ explores the impacts of urban regeneration and gentrification on young people’s mental health and wellbeing in South London.

A lot of people are now talking about how gentrification is affecting Black and Brown people across London. These communities are being physically, psychologically and culturally displaced and erased through regeneration programmes.

Even in these conversations, young people are rarely heard despite the fact they not only have to grow up in these neighbourhoods but have also had to live through a decade of austerity that has actively disinvested and undermined all the support and services they need.

The project centres the experiences of eight young researchers, as well as their own social analysis to challenge the story behind regeneration and to re-think how space can be re-designed.


Embodied Lines exhibition - body mapping 1

Choosing to conduct arts-based research may not seem like an obvious choice for Geography PhD students. Was using art always going to be part of your research?

Hana: I’ve been running a community-based arts organisation for almost ten years now and I’m a fiction writer by night! So, I included participatory photography and zine-making in my project from the onset.

It was really important for me to create a project that challenged traditional forms of academic knowledge. Using an arts-based method was key because it helps with an alternative form of storying and can capture people’s experiences on their own terms. – Hana Riazuddin

But it was also a more fun and engaging way to get young people involved too. A lot of the team really enjoyed using 35mm cameras and it offered us a powerful way to connect and reflect together.

Rosa: For Ivana and I, the art is tied into our research, but the ideas were further developed as part of the Visual and Embodied Methodologies (VEM) network. Through the network, we were given small grants as part of a project that looked at the image in social justice.

For me, that meant that whilst my project already had the body territory methodology in the design, I was given the opportunity to collaborate with an artist to amplify my research and explore a different format.

Ivana: In terms of my research, it allowed me to experiment and practice feminist and Indigenous methodologies that have the potential of turning disciplines like geography - historically, the beating heart of imperial rule – against themselves.

The disruption of traditional ways of researching, dominated by cis-white male researchers, has allowed me to explore research questions and produce projects that could address the priorities and goals of the Palestinians I was working with.

It was something I was already exploring throughout my own PhD project. But the collaboration and friendship with Hana and Rosa allowed us to develop our projects more collectively - finding commonalities to contextualize our case studies in the wider global picture of marginalisation produced by capitalism and colonialism.

Crucially, it also allowed us to connect scattered struggles and everyday forms of resistance that demonstrate that another feminist, Indigenous, decolonial future is not only possible, but is already happening.


Embodied Lines exhibition - body mapping 2

Has using art in your research and producing an exhibition allowed you to explore things that you maybe wouldn’t have done otherwise?

Rosa: I think it allowed me to address some of my frustrations with the traditional format of academic research. I really wanted to uphold my commitment to my research participants, with survivors, to produce something that was accessible and could be shared with the community.

It also meant I could explore my research in a way that I can’t necessarily do when writing a thesis. It allowed me to explore my artistic side, but it also let my collaborators, who were artists, to explore their researcher side. Alternating these positions meant it was really collaborative.

I realised we all have some certain subjective lenses that we imprint onto our research and onto arts too. We tend to think that these subjective lenses are not positive, that in research we should be neutral and objective, but in feminist and decolonial research we are actually acknowledging that we all have this subjective positionality through which we're doing both research and art.– Rosa dos Ventos Lopes Heimer

Ivana: For me, it allowed me to materialise my research in a more concrete form. It not only helped me to visualise findings, but it encouraged the creation of material relationships.

In academia, and especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, research became a somewhat aerial and alienating endeavour, simply occurring in the mind of the researcher and at best stretching through connections often technologically mediated at distance.

But organising an exhibition meant that Rosa, Hana and I needed to meet up regularly – not only with each other, but with the staff at the Science Gallery, and our participants and collaborators, often coming all the way from Palestine and Italy to the UK.

In other words, it allowed us to create a small sense of community that can often be missing from traditional research.

Hana: I’d actually done a lot of public engagement throughout my project and a few exhibitions. But I think what was most exciting about putting an exhibition together was the chance to collaborate with others who have been exploring similar approaches and issues. I think the work in dialogue with the other projects strengthens its message and is a chance to co-create new ones with our collaborators and visitors in a meaningful way.

For people who view the artwork that’s been created from your research, what would you want their main takeaway to be?

We’d like it to inspire the use of art-based methodologies for researchers as a way to recentre political agency in the body of historically marginalised groups.– Ivana Bevilacqua

Rosa: I also want people to embrace it in an embodied and open way. You don't need to be a Latin American woman, a Palestinian or live in South London for these experiences to speak to you. So, it's just about trying to open up to understand how these experiences speak to yours.

And then for people to think about what to do with that. How do we move in an embodied way, what do we do with this collective understanding? What’s our collective responsibility once we’ve built this understanding?

Embodied Lines exhibition - body mapping 3

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Translating research

Speaking to academics from across the School of Global Affairs about how they're translating their work and research in art and policy.

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