Friday, March 21, 2014

A Voice for the Voiceless - On community art & empowerment

Written by: Fenna Vlekke

Yesterday I was part of a truly inspiring meeting with people who work in the field of community art. I already knew art could be a way to feel empowered, but after yesterday's events I came to realise how life-changing it can be. Community art gives a voice to people we don't usually hear. That's why I think it can also be a very powerful tool for survivors of sexual and/or domestic violence.

I've been working for ZID Theater - a community theatre group in Amsterdam, the Netherlands - for about eight months now. ZID Theater works with people from the neighbourhood to create performances related to their lives. As a director's assistant I mostly just followed instructions, but I never really thought about what I was a part of. Only months later, after I got well-acquainted with most of the actors - who are often amateurs from the neighbourhood - I came to realise that this theatre company really has a positive impact on them. For example, a lot of them found out they had talents they didn't know they had. 

But I didn't feel the effect as much as I did yesterday. In the upcoming week, ZID Theater is collaborating with community art experts from abroad; guest from Cornerstone Theater Company (the United States) and Cultural Centre Dár Amsterdam (Morocco). Yesterday they presented the projects they initiated, and the impact their work has had on the lives of the people participating. Cornerstone often focuses on groups from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, or minority groups, for example people from the LGBTQ community. They give a voice to them we rarely hear. A play is written about their stories, and they perform them on stage. Dár Amsterdam works in one of the poorest areas of the city Larache. They offer a wide range of cultural activities to children who've, for example, never seen a guitar before. Those children are unbelievably eager to learn. They also empower women, teaching them about their rights, and they teach children to have a voice and let that voice be heard.

I was inpired by this meeting, to say the least. As an aspiring sexual and domestic violence advocate, I think community art can be a very powerful tool for people who have experienced these types of violence. Because it's all about giving a voice to the voiceless, speaking the unspoken. About your story being told, or about standing there on a stage and taking your power back. I empowered myself by writing a play, a poetry collection, this blog. Those were ways for me to stand up for myself and let my voice be heard. I would love for other survivors to do the same, and I think community art can be a very powerful tool to achieve that.

Right now, I'm working on a community theatre project of my own. Based on true stories of courageous survivors who dared to share their pain with me. With this project, I hope to trigger a discussion, and to let people see that, yes, this is what it means to go through such a trauma. But most of all, I want to empower.  And that's what - to me - community art is all about.

For more information about above-mentioned organisations:
Website ZID Theater
Website Cornerstone Theater Company
Information about Dár Amsterdam

Written by: Fenna Vlekke

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