Art & Activism: Lessons Learned from The Uprising

Pravini Baboeram

A few years ago I participated in “decolonizing the mind” courses. I remember a sense of shock when I realized how everything I thought I knew, was actually based on what the colonizer wanted me to know. After the shock faded, I remembered all the new information I learned and a feeling of pride arose. It came from knowing I wasn’t alone in this fight against injustice. Through these courses I understood I was part of a 500 year tradition of resistance. It was a feeling of empowerment I have cherished ever since.

What I noticed during these courses was the limited amount of people who participated. Usually a small group of engaged people, either in grassroots organizations or academia. One question that came up often during these courses was: why doesn’t everyone receive this information? How do we get this decolonial perspective to a wider audience?

My answer to this was art. Being a singer/songwriter myself, I was inspired by music and other art forms that carried a political message. The beauty of art is its appeal to a mass audience and its role to provoke thoughts and discussion. Ever since those courses I tried to figure out a way to bring the information that empowered me to the people who are engaged in resistance, but wouldn’t necessarily join these types of courses.

My quest resulted in the idea of The Uprising, a music documentary on the anti-racism movement in western Europe. The Uprising started out as a music project based on 9 songs that reflected my experiences in the anti-racism movement. As I was writing and recording the songs, I saw images in my head of the people I encountered in the movement. People who taught me so many valuable lessons based on their own experiences with and analysis of institutional racism. People who weren’t just individidual activists and academics, but who formed a collective voice of resistance. I realized the songs were more than just an album, they were the main narrator of an actual film that reflected the story of resistance through the eyes of the colonized.

Making your debut film that centers a collective of decolonial voices of color isn’t the most strategic approach when you apply for funding. It wasn’t surprising the funding was denied. But I didn’t let that stop me from moving forward and making the film anyway. To me, this was an opportunity to show self-reliance. To let our communities know that we don’t need financial support from the establishment to make our voices heard and our stories seen. Thanks to support from activists, academics and creatives in the decolonial movement, The Uprising was completed in 2019.

The response after the premier in April 2019 was overwhelming. Despite media silence on this film, over 40 screenings and discussions were organized in the Netherlands, Belgium, England, USA, Italy, Venezuela and Scotland. The venues ranged from higher educational institutions to grassroots organizations to platforms in the cultural sector. Each audience had their own perspective, whether it was the academic dimension, the artistic approach or the analysis of a social movement. Each context had its own dynamics, ranging from conversations with white people who felt really uncomfortable to voices of color who engaged in critical discussions. 

Q&A session on The Uprising at Utrecht University, 2019 (Photo: Ebru Aydin)

With every conversation I learned. I realized the answers we’re looking for in relation to questions on decolonization will differ per context. Depending on your own identity, position of power, professional role or social environment, decolonization can mean different things. This is sometimes difficult to grasp when your world view is based on universalism, on the idea that we need one solution to fix our problems. Engaging in conversations related to The Uprising helped me understand how we can take on a pluralistic approach in this decolonization process. 

With this experience in mind, I think back on the question raised in those decolonizing the mind courses on getting information to the people. I realized the people, even though united in the fight against the same system, are all affected by the system in different ways. So we need a diversity of strategies to fight that system. We need to figure out how to adapt to the circumstances while maintaining a common goal and offer tools and ideas relevant to your audience or community.

My hope is that The Uprising was able to support people in this process. Following up on the film, I am now currently developing an educational toolkit based on the film. It specifically designed for those in the movement who want to engage people with decolonizing the mind and are looking for activities and concepts that can be applied to the local context while staying connected to the global struggle. It is my belief that only by allowing this diversity in approach, will we be able to move forward together.

2 comments

  1. I was inspired and informed by the reflections featured in this article, Pravini. Thank you for taking the time to document this reflexive critique about the genesis and outcomes of your creative and ‘politically aesthetic’ work on The Uprising, as well as conveying the enduring impacts of participating in the ‘decolonisng the mind’ sessions. I whole-heartedly share your assessment that the arts can be a positively catalytic force for change – ontologically, in terms of ones ‘being’ in the world; and collectively (in terms of exteriority) to provoke a movement driven forward by like-minded actants seeking to ameliorate long-standing issues of inequity and injustice. The Uprising is a tangible testament to your decolonial ethos. Moreover, two key ‘take-aways’ (for me) that will now feed into the ‘action plan’ as future foci for discussion via the Decolonial Dialogues shared space are: the issues you highlighted about being denied funding; and also your observations about audience dynamics (i.e. creating spaces where multiple perspectives – including expressions of trauma, discomfort, and other affective/emotional responses – can be acknowledged and addressed). I’m very grateful to my co-editorial colleague Riadh Ghemmour for facilitating this dialogue and uploading this post to the site so swiftly. We will certainly be taking these points forward. In closing, I hope – Pravini – that you will be encouraged to continue sharing your creative achievements and activist experiences via this forum, which will always be most welcome. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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