Convening with Care — Navigating Towards a Feminist Oasis

In late 2021, UAF A&P reached out to us [Kruthika, Ruby and Oni] to help create a nourishing feminist space for an upcoming workshop. The workshop would have participants across Asia and the Pacific, most of whom were unfamiliar to each other, and some of whom we had never met.

When we create feminist spaces, who are we creating them for? When we were faced with this question last year, it could have gone two ways:

  1. A group of participants across the world would be introduced to a new learning tool; OR
  2. A group of co-creators move towards a new feminist reality.

Fortunately, we dared to pick Option 2, thus shifting our initial question from “when we create feminist spaces, who are we creating them for?”, to “when we create feminist spaces, who are we creating them with?”.

By shifting our narrative to one of co-creation, we had no option but to embrace an impending journey through uncharted waters. We had to start by unlearning. Unlearning what it means to be “teaching / learning”. Unlearning jargon, technical know-how, everything that our privilege had gotten us so accustomed to. And unlearning what it means to take and make space. The visual above (of the treasure map and its many steps), is our way of attempting to condense a long, winding journey of hope, doubt, and joy.

Right at the outset (a good few months before the actual event!), we knew that a truly inclusive space would be impossible without consulting with those who were to occupy it. We reached out at each stage to find out what they thought would be their most comfortable course: be it through a meditative grounding exercise, a guide to using language-interpretation, or even a song. The space was co-created, and how! We received a resounding response of loving offerings: some of the participants wanted to bring in their de-stressors of yoga and dance, some introduced us to grain art, and others — personal poetry about their stories of resistance.

Despite this challenge, we knew it would be a place for honesty, idea-exchange, and releasing burdens, which inspired our theme: The Oasis of Reflection.

While we sorted through the suggestions, it was clear that the participants were open to bring their true, whole selves into our space, whatever shape it took. Knowing full well that the space would be separated by Zoom screens, we knew that each offering had a place to make it more personal. Despite this challenge, we knew it would be a place for honesty, idea-exchange, and releasing burdens, which inspired our theme: The Oasis of Reflection. Our intentions were woven with love as we wanted to co-create an oasis away from the stress of the pandemic and continuous backlash.

The ideas gave a theme, and the theme bloomed into a tangible vision. We could now imagine what they truly wanted, and what better way to communicate this than through art? Fairies flew to an oasis onboard the invite that flew to our participants, along with meditative sound-clips, and the learning tool for prior reading (in the form of a comic!) The team curated care packages and a playlist and sent these across the seas, filled with offerings to stimulate the senses. This ensured that when people entered our co-created space, we would be ready, mind and soul.

When together we honored language justice and inclusion, and experimented with new tools people were unfamiliar with and embraced the messiness and the learning. We rolled with the unexpected and let the energy and the group be our compass.

The discussions ranged from somber reflections to honest needs, expressions of loneliness in grassroots feminist movements, and the gravity of the pandemic’s damage. Sharing of structural violence and backlash they faced as women’s human rights defenders, and practices they embraced to support their safety and care.

The power of convening was embodied in our time together. Through guided collective drawing, the participants produced gorgeous art (look at this joyful co-created masterpiece below!), music, and dance to mark the moment. Laughter sandwiched tears, and nothing felt forced because those who laughed and cried did so knowing full well that this space was wholly theirs.

The treasure map is a journey, yes. But unlike most others, it is cyclical. It shows that feminist solidarity isn’t a one-off goal. Instead, it is regenerative and reached after questions, doubts, two steps back for each step forward. And if navigated each time with new learnings and unlearned pasts, we can reap its gifts a thousand times over.

The treasure map is a journey, yes. But unlike most others, it is cyclical. It shows that feminist solidarity isn’t a one-off goal. Instead, it is regenerative and reached after questions, doubts, two steps back for each step forward. And if navigated each time with new learnings and unlearned pasts, we can reap its gifts a thousand times over.

The learning and reflections from this space continue to shape how we convene and co-create space with different constituencies. Our next blog will share more about the emerging Kintsugi Sessions, an experiment bringing together artists across Asia and the Pacific to explore shifting and reclaiming narratives through south-south engagement through art.

A set of illustrations in various styles and by varying artists combined as a collage. The collage depicts a central oasis under a full moon. The backdrop is dark, and the palette is black, blue and white. The oasis occupies the top half of the art. Its reflection is composed by similar but non-identical mirror images.

Written By Kruthika NS (@theworkplacedoodler), Mereoni Chung and Ruby Johnson

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