Unlearning seems like a daunting task. How willing are any of us – arts practitioner, academic or activist – to peel away received ways of thinking, methodologies, or secure sets of knowledge?
This Learning Lab was led by artist, Eva Sajovic, where she practised the art of ‘unlearning’, whilst posing questions about the politics of representing others in an age of global displacement.
Artists often speak from the position of the privileged. They have the means to move, look, collect and display stories, metaphors, and visuals, often conferring on them an obligation to act. But are the stories artists tell the ones subjects want to tell? Whose voice is being heard? To whom are these stories told and what can they achieve? How can artists support subjects and work to affect change through participatory practice; what are the limitations?
These are urgent questions when engaging with displaced communities through the lens of participatory arts practice.
What is the role of artists using participatory practice when working in areas of displacement?
What methodologies can artists use to create platforms for subjects to represent themselves, acknowledging that artistic work is always a translation and that change of context might change the perception of the work?
What support can artists expect from commissioning organisations when using participatory methodologies, knowing that the boundaries between the artist-as-professional and artist-as-friend in process-based participatory work is fluid, blurred and prone to misinterpretation?
What modes of representation might challenge stereotypes and activate audiences to see the world as an interconnected entity?
Learning Lab took the form of a performed auto-ethnography by Sajovic, together with contributions from critical respondents, rapporteurs, lively open debate and the collective/creative production of a ‘manifesto for unlearning’.
Moderator: Áine O’Brien, Counterpoints Arts
Respondent: Agnes Czajka, The Open University
Rapporteur: Ele Belfiore, Loughborough University
Eva Sajovic is a socially engaged artist photographer. In her work Sajovic explores the drivers of global displacement such as regeneration, poverty, trafficking, culture and climate change.
Her practice includes Participatory social action projects (for example, a skills exchange project, The People’s Bureau, based in Elephant & Castle) and Photographic social portraiture, where she collaborates closely with subjects to construct images.
Sajovic exhibits internationally and has had her work commissioned by the Tate, Whitechapel Gallery, The National Archives, Fotogallery, the Cuming museum, 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning, 47/04, PARC, Siobhan Davies Dance. She has been supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the European Commission, Darat Al Funun Foundation, University of The Arts and the Ministry of Culture Slovenia.
She is an Associate Lecturer at UAL’s Central Saint Martins and Theory Lecturer at Chelsea College of Art.