The kinaesthetic process entitled “Images and Stories”, is rooted in the Aesthetics of the Oppressed as envisioned by Augusto Boal. It follows on the footstep of Boal’s earlier work with Newspaper Theatre “Images and Stories” to facilitate transformative reflective process of collective sense-making.
The process emerges from the action research of ImaginAction’s artist-facilitators, Ilaria Olimpico and Uri Noy Meir, as the explore weaving Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) with other methods, exploring the limits and borders of the practice.
This article was initially published at Ensayando el Despertar – Miradas Movilizadoras Desde el Pluriverso del Teatro del Oprimido”* (rough translation: “Rehearsing our Awakening – Mobilizing Perspectives from the Pluriverse of the Theatre of the Oppressed”).
“We are in a war, a war of images, and we are losing” – Augusto Boal*
Mainstream conventional media channels (such as TV channels and cinema) have been overthrown by digital media channels such as websites, Facebook and Youtube. Yet, “Free information” has, unfortunately, does not guarantee freedom, and if anything the cultural resilience within communities and individuals has been dramatically compromised through the attention economy.
In Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), Brazilian theatre director and playwright, Augusto Boal, calls to move from the “monologue” of traditional performance into a “dialogue”. Transforming and liberating the passive “audience/public” by giving it the means of producing their own images— tell their own stories, and change their conditions.
In 2010 I was inspired to explore ways to and TO and Photography. I was encouraged to it by A. Boal’s account of a participatory photography project in Peru when he was introducing Image Theatre in his first book The Theatre of the Oppressed. I found further inspiration in his last book The Aesthetics of the Oppressed, where he proposes photography games which “dialogue about the images provided, the ways each image is perceived”. It was then through the collaboration with Ilaria Olimpico, writing short stories, exploring participatory storytelling and facilitating workshops that the “Images and Stories” process, came to be.
A NEW LANGUAGE
“We have become passive spectators and consumers of visual imagery that we did not create and that we do not necessarily understand. We must become creators of the imagery that tells our own story, the untold story. To re-engage ourselves as creators, we need to return to the playful, imaginative, creative approach of children.” – Uri Noy Meir (ZoomOut)
Participatory photography and TO invite us to transform ourselves from consumers to creators of visual imagery, participatory storytelling invites us to transform ourselves from “stories” into storytellers. “Images and Stories” is essentially a process in which participants become storytellers, through the creation of images, collages, sounds, stories, scenes and performances. Storytelling is an essential human skill and stories are a powerful way to create and recreate meaning for individuals, groups, communities and society. Becoming better storytellers and “owning” our story is essential in the process of conscientização (becoming conscious of social constructs) and empowerment of “oppressed” groups and individuals.
You are not YOUR STORY. You are the Storyteller of YOUR STORY!
When John Croft, the co-creator of Dragon Dreaming, said that in my first Dragon Dreaming participatory project design workshop, it vibrated into my very being. John invited us to remember our very first memory and try to remember what happened the day after… Usually, the answer is no, this is because the way we tell and organize reality is not a straight line; it is a series of jumps from memory to memory, story to story, time to time.
It was an “Aha” moment, a deep insight, something I did not know not to know. It was as if something clicked; I could see how the creator force lays asleep inside me, inside all of us. We can not go back to the past, but we can change how we tell it, and in that sense, and so it changed. We can not travel to the future, but we can improve our choices and actions that will define it, and thus change it. If we choose to see the world as a constant battle of good and evil, poor and rich, white and black, it becomes that. When we realize we are not our “story”, but the storytellers of that story, we become empowered and realize our gifts and potential to create and change our reality.
Past global events like the fall of the Berlin wall can show us the hidden dynamic of how the “stories” we tell ourselves can change overnight. Cultural revolutions happen as both a personal and collective change of awareness/consciousness, through reflection/contemplation on the interiority of the social conditions. We neither “objects” nor “subjects” of history we are interconnected to it and co-creating it together with the “natural world. Neoliberal capitalism is both a structural pattern of many social realities as it is a collective story. It is a story which feeds on and feeds into an ego-centric thought pattern, and a dualistic worldview which separates us from nature. For this collapse, we need to make space for new possibilities.
Storytelling is an essential human skill, and when we train ourselves in being the storytellers of our lives, we can find strength in moments of weakness and meaning in the times of complete desperation.
On the “social-political” or structural level, we can make a difference through the stories tell, hearing the unheard, giving voice to the voiceless, and empower communities and individuals to find their place in history by creating their own stories through the arts and theatre. If we consider the individual to be inseparable from what and who is around them, we could see the collective story of our humanity as a whole. Connect to the sources of our freedom and power we hold, see beyond the veil of having only “one” story and co-evolve together, knowingly.
The individual and collective subconscious are being brainwashed every day through images and stories that manipulate and distort our attention to serve the “limitless growth” story/economy in a finite planet, training our psyche to be a passive consumer.
To protect the living ecosystem which sustains our lives and future, we must liberate our individual and collective psyche from that story “Images and Stories” is seeking to adapt TO into the changing times and context weaving into new methodologies while maintaining a connection to its roots solidarity, creativity, humanity.
The TO tree, like all trees, must be able to grow new branches and new roots. We innovative and creative processes, through the soil and roots rhizome, connect to the living system around. My hope is for images and Stories be a way to connect, men and women, communities and earth, self and nature.
*Ensayando el Despertar – Miradas Movilizadoras desde el Pluriverso del Teatro del Oprimido (Joffre-Eichhorn (ed.), KickAss Books 2019) is a compilation of articles (45 texts from 66 contributors) by Theatre of the Oppressed practitioners from all over the world. You can order the book in Spanish from Hjalmar at firstname.lastname@example.org
Uri Noy Meir
*The quote of Augusto Boal: “We are in a war, a war of images, and we are losing” was cited by Brent Blair in the closing circle of a workshop in the 4th Muktadhara Festival in, India, 2010.