The Audacity of the Ocean

The Making of ‘Stirrings of the Earth’ — UAF A&P’s Annual Learning Report 2022

Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific
4 min readJan 25, 2024

Radical Geographies, UAF A&P’s 2021 annual learning report took inspiration from the magnificent, but invisible ecologies of fungi, molluscs and lichens to explore resilience, rebellion, care and interconnectedness of regional feminist communities and movements. We found that these ecologies provide a key to understanding the lands on which we live, and the ways we think, feel, and behave beyond oppressive structures that surround us. This analogy, borrowed from biologist Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures, gave us the language to share UAF A&P’s journey of how feminist grantmaking allowed human rights defence to spawn and fruit even in inhospitable terrains.

Intention

Relying on the knowledge on the ever-shifting cultures of nature to share our learnings on feminist crises in Asia and the Pacific has come closest to the interconnected and interdependent stories of resourcing human rights defense. With that in mind, we situated the theme of our 2022 learning report Stirrings of the Earth: Voyaging Across the Seas of Crises in the knowledge and values of the ecologies of the Pacific ocean.

Inspiration

Ethnographies, poetry, and films, among other oral and visual art forms are powerful tools of recording and sharing histories. When these forms of knowledge-making and expression are woven together with insights from the region, they have the strength to relay narratives of resilience of feminist human rights defense in incredibly moving ways.

The visual narrative and conceptualisation of Stirrings of the Earth too was inspired by knowledge created from the region. Works of anthropologists Sophie Chao and Epeli Hau‘ofa namely In the Shadow of the Palms and We are the Ocean respectively, lent itself to representing how the UAF A&P community voyaged across the seas of feminist crises in 2022 through its titles, theme, and concept.

Illustration by Nadya Noor

Theme

“In our part of the world, where cultural references and symbols are vibrant and abundant, could we redefine and remake them to help us communicate our message? Maybe this could be called ‘cultural advocacy’. How would cultural advocacy complement political and legal advocacy for the support and protection of women and non-binary defenders at risk?”

Kamala Chandrakirana, The Ocean and its Rhythms

In our efforts to create narratives rooted in our region that recognise and legitimise to defenders’ stories and encourage a shared responsibility in supporting them in their struggles, Stirrings of the Earth has grown out of ancestral knowledge of map-making, navigation, and voyaging from the Pacific.

Illustration by Nadya Noor

Its narrative sails through the rising currents of participatory feminist grantmaking that laid out maps of warning signs across the regions and prepared the grounds for human rights defense even in inhospitable terrains in 2022. It shows that, much like the rhythm of the ocean, feminist movements in Asia and the Pacific embody collective care and sisterhood through their lands, bodies, and waters to sustain their resistance and resilience.

Polyensians’ strong ‘double-hulled’ vakas (canoes), katea, nadura, tipairua, kalia or va’a tele were built to withstand the roughest waters of the Pacific. These histories of voyaging, in Stirrings of the Earth symbolise feminist structures that women, non-binary and transgender defenders co-created in 2022 to sail through ongoing crises. The insights, voices, and tremendous power of their movements act as a star compass to navigate through the mountains of strife in the regions, while the vakas help withstand ‘the seas of crises’ in search of ‘islands of hope’.

The themes of our learning report, first in Radical Geographies and then in Stirrings of the Earth intentionally emphasise on the aba, the Kiritbati word for both people and land or country.

Conclusion

In asking what it would take to build strong communities over shared knowledge to better accompany activists and defenders in their journeys of resistance, UAF A&P’s annual learning reports are an act towards creating a public understanding of the risks faced by defenders across multiple contexts. In experimenting with new mediums and storytelling techniques, in collaboration with regional feminist artists like Nadya Noor from Indonesia for Stirrings of the Earth or Thilini Perera from Sri Lanka for Radical Geographies, we continue to make feminist learnings, practices, and stories more accessible. We believe that if we represent the contexts and feminist cultures of activists and defenders with nuance and cultural sensitivity, we can collectively centre voices and stories of diverse feminist movements through these learning reports.

To voyage across the seas of feminist crises in 2022, begin your journey here.

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Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific

A regional women’s human rights and feminist fund that protects, strengthens and sustains women and non-binary human rights defenders in Asia and the Pacific