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Decolonising Feminist Knowledge Through Art

Kamya Choudhary (University of Edinburgh)

The Decolonising Feminist Knowledge workshop which took place on 22 May 2019 at the University of Edinburgh was an event that I really looked forward to – it formed the culmination of such wonderful work taking place on campus. It emerged from a research and reading group, and a larger North-South research project, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives (TFTL). Being a part of the organising team, our vision was to inculcate an arts-based element to our academically intensive day-long line up. Upon doing some research, we came across Raquel Durán’s work: Raquel, as a London-based artist, specialises in graphic recording and live illustration. From the moment we reached out to her, our association was one based on coming together to find an innovative way to communicate complex ideas – the result was a detailed hand-painted mural capturing the day’s events.

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Credit: Raquel Durán

The mural was conceptualised as a way to subvert how knowledge creation usually takes place. It was motivated by the conviction that the artist medium has the potential to challenge mainstream ideas of what constitutes knowledge, how it is produced, and whose knowledge counts. Raquel working with the workshop content and attendees to co-create an art piece meant an accessible artform was used to capture the urgency of decolonising knowledge within University spaces and the relevance of intersectionality in this process. ‘Decolonising’ here means disrupting the way that knowledge is currently valued and created: contributing to a movement that challenges eurocentrism and a colonial legacy in which knowledge production privileges white, male scholarship. By ‘intersectionality’, we mean a mechanism for understanding that gender does not exist in isolation from race, caste, class, religion and ability among others, that these identities are multiple and intersecting impacting experiences of resultant power, privilege, inequalities and/or exclusion. We believe that this artwork will have a lasting impact by kickstarting conversations and consequently learning by engaging senses and emotions too on this topical theme.

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Planning an event is one thing, watching something unfold in unexpected and magical ways is when one finds intent truly manifest. Amongst our participants, Raquel set up her corner at the venue and began documenting the day’s proceedings, debates and discussions. Watching Raquel work was an experience in itself – speakers and attendees all took the time to walk over and observe the artwork unfold. There were small gasps of joy when someone recognised a reflection of themselves in the figures coming alive in paint or when they noticed something they had said make its way into some corner of the mural. Just as we had envisioned, workshop participants were equally involved in wanting to engage with the development of the mural, regularly providing inputs, asking Raquel questions or making suggestions about how to best do justice to a moment that for them captured the zeitgeist of the day.

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Getting a chance to discuss the mural with a few participants as they left the venue on the day, I was told that the mural was quite a ‘surprise,’ “We’ve never seen so many people come together to discuss decolonisation on campus before, and, the mural was something so unexpected – what a great way to summarise such a powerful day!” Currently, we are working to develop the mural into an exhibit to display the artwork along with explanatory panels to further share the proceedings of the day. This unique initiative was conceptualised and delivered by doctoral candidates Cat Wayland, Kamya Choudhary and Megan Harrington, with mentorship provided by Dr Radhika Govinda. It was made possible with the support of the Principal’s Office Fund and the Student Experience Grant. To explore more of Raquel’s work visit: https://raquelcronopia.wordpress.com/.

To find out more about the Decolonising Feminist Knowledge workshop, read Cat Wayland and Marta Kowalewska’s blogpost

About the contributor

Kamya Choudhary is a PhD researcher in International Development at the University of Edinburgh, her research focuses on the impacts and the sustainability of renewable energy applications within agriculture in rural India. @KamyaChoudhary