GAPA meets… Magda Fabianczyk

We are starting this 2017 with an interview with artist and activist Magda Fabianczyk. Living in London but originally from Poland, she has been working with socially engaged practice – from food performances, direct actions, collaborations with local artists whom she met during international residencies to engagement with minorities.

She has worked with Roma and local authorities in Bytom, Poland; Chechen refugees and their Polish neighbours in Lublin, Poland and her Bengali neighbours in London. Her work explored the artist – non-artist relationship through We were trying to make sense… , a publication she co-authored. She previously worked with people who found themselves in a situation of conflict that emerged from the lack of openness to difference and also with those struggling with internal conflict as part of their recovery from substance abuse. Her work often engages people whose rights are under threat, such as Roma who experienced racism in Poland or Polish women fighting for reproductive rights. Magda’s projects are multi-layered, manifesting in video installation, sound, film, performance, direct action or publication.

Magda, how do you choose what to engage with and who to involve in your projects? It seems that a lot of your work came about spontaneously – by exploring the area you are residing in.

M: I’m interested in situations of conflict that come out of misunderstanding of social and cultural behaviours, so when invited to take a potential residency I take research in that direction.  I used to work on collaborative projects in India, after which I initiated a project on a social housing estate in East London, where I ‘inserted’ myself as a neighbour into the local community, which was mostly of Bengali origin. I stayed there for several years. Through creating shared experiences in an intimate space of my flat, where my Bengali neighbours and my artists’ friends (who were mostly from Western Europe) met, I tried to blur mutually present stereotypes.

You used narrative mediation in Not black and white book project? Can you tell us more about the concept of narrative mediator?

M: Narrative mediation is a very particular form of mediation, which proposes that people perceive reality through the prism of their culture and previous experiences, assigning particular meanings to what they see and creating narratives, the exclusiveness of which may lead to conflict. It derives from social constructionist theory and it’s a way of resolving conflict (and understanding it as a natural element of social relations) without assigning blame, and where both sides work together to create new narratives, free from conflict. One of the main techniques used is to externalise conflict, which allows attention to be moved from people in a conflict to the situation of conflict and helps to pave a way towards mutual understanding. I used it a lot when working on Not black and white book to understand what were the real reasons behind the racist behaviours against the Chechen refugees in Lublin, Poland.

Exclusion was the core of the problem in that area– there was an exclusion of the Chechen minority by their neighbours, even though the neighbours themselves were excluded by the local authorities from other parts of the city, placed in the terribly maintained social estate and then stigmatised as lazy criminals. Initially I worked with Poles and Chechens separately, but the project slowly created space for communication. I believed that it was the lack of exposure to ‘otherness’ in Poland that was partly responsible for the resentment or even hate towards the ‘other’. I thought that I needed to lead the work to a point where people could actually meet and discuss their positions with each other. When we all finally sat together at the table, during a meeting organised in a friendly local restaurant, emotional confrontation emerged. It was a turning point in the project that led to other events and finally to a friendship between a Polish family and a Chechen man. I was however not interested in forcing friendships, as it was also clear that the two communities came from very different social backgrounds. The project was more about creating a space of acceptance.

It seems that you are very interested in lives of ordinary people you meet on the way – you find meaning in every new encounter. Do you care more about the process of your artwork or the result?

M: The main outcome of my work is always aimed at bringing new understanding to, and shifting, existing social relations. Dialogical processes that I engage my collaborators in are crucial for that shift to happen – this is where a lot of negotiations take place and the result, the physical object we create as part of the process, is an outcome of this negotiation. What form it takes is important, because it maps whether the process was successful or not. It also needs to speak to the art audience.

How do you comment on the relationship between art and politics?

M: I was definitely influenced by the concept of agonistic pluralism, that Chantal Mouffe writes about and as part of my practice I try to create space where ‘differences can be confronted’ and discussed but not eliminated. I recently reread one of Kester’s texts, he writes that ‘It’s necessary to begin again to understand the nature of the political through a practical return to the most basic relationships and questions; of self to other, of individual to collective, of autonomy and solidarity, and conflict and consensus…’ which is exactly what I’m hoping to do through We Hybrids projects that I’m currently working on with Ioli Tzanetaki, curator and my ex-classmate from Goldsmiths University. I wish my projects could invite people to reflect on the political choices they make every day and how these decisions affect others. Is it really the way they anticipated? What would it mean to behave differently?  Here I also think of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s work, who I learned a lot from. They talked about the act of withdrawal. What does refusal to participate mean? It could become an  act of resistance, but when it turns to silence it can also become consent towards injustice. The project we are working on with Ioli examines these positions.

In Premise-There is no end to the story about the artists from America and India, women in the video sing the following words: Together as artists, we are brothers. Does that mean change is possible through art? Do people need to be united in order to change something?

M: As artists we need to constantly ask questions, such as: ‘is the change needed?’; ‘what sort of change do we want to initiate?’; ‘who will be affected?’; ‘how do we understand community?’ and so on. Engagement can happen in many different ways and artists can address problems that exist on a variety of social or political levels, but I believe it’s necessary to always doubt our capability to comprehend the complexity of the situation we are working within and keep questioning ourselves. This means operating on a slippery ground – dealing with feelings of insecurity, stretching our perception and a lot of negotiations. If we want to create sustainable projects, where initiated by the artist processes continue, we often need to work closely with local institutions, local activists and so on… They all need to be committed and work ethically, self critical… self reflective…

I work very closely with people who are not artists, who have often found themselves in an economically vulnerable position, and might have been misrepresented, stigmatised or had their rights or body violated. Many of them have had a bad experience of social services and think of art only as figurative painting or sculpture, so I need to allow a lot of time to build trust and to find a mutually comfortable way of working.

The project you mentioned took place in India, over two separate visits. It was very complex, because of the postcolonial context we were working in and also because we came from two different creative backgrounds – contemporary art and folk art. We set about challenging the hierarchies that these differences produced. It was that process of ‘pushing against’ that opened for all of us new possibilities of making art together and shifted the dynamic of the group.

You are currently studying the MA Art and Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. How did the academic experience affect your work?

M: I needed to take some distance and reflect on my practice, which academia gave me. The course I took was within the Politics department, I was not interested in an MA in the Arts. At Goldsmiths I met people who had long histories of activism, international relations, performance, which helped me to renegotiate my position as artist.

In the project Arrival / Departure / Return you are discussing what the UK border meant to coastguards, lifeguards, café owners, lorry drivers, hotel receptionists, all living in Folkstone, Kent, as well as tourists. Do you find similarities to the perception of the border of the current situation in UK after Brexit?

M: In some cases, the power dynamic shifted. I remember talking to a young man from one of the EU countries, when looking out into the sea.  As an EU citizen he was allowed to live and work in the UK. He felt safe. On the opposite side of the English Channel the refugee camp was being demolished. He didn’t think refugees should be allowed to enter the UK, he thought of them as illegal and not wanted. Today, after Brexit, his own position in the UK is under threat, and he might become ‘illegal’ himself.

To  end, can you reveal to us a small curiosity from one of your performances- in Edible Interventions you and other artists cooked a ‘democratic soup’- what did it look like and most importantly, how did it taste- sweet? Bitter?

M: (laughing) It tasted like a typical Italian lentil soup! Edible Interventions were a series of interventions into existing residencies or exhibitions. Democratic Soup was a ‘failed’ attempt at democracy in the kitchen, as the artist, whose residency I interrupted and who also happen to be a good friend of mine and an exceptional cook, shut down almost every attempt to modify his family recipe. We had a lot of negotiations going on at that table. I later discovered an act of conspiracy.

Find out more about Magda and her work on her website:

Picture credits (in order of appearance)

 – ‘Different Weathers of my Body’, 2013-2014, London, UK. The question was asked as an invitation to participate in the collaborative project. Fot. Magda Fabianczyk

– ‘Not Black and White Book’, 2013 – 2014, Lublin, Poland. One of the workshops with Polish and Chechen children from Wrońska street in Lublin. Fot. Magda Fabianczyk

– ‘Premise – There is no end to the story about the artists from America and India (x3)’, 2010, Kolkata, India. Still from the film, collaboration between Patachitra artists (West Bengal) and Transiton Collective (UK). 

– Where I Was Not’  2013 – 2014, Bytom, Poland. The table was used to host a meeting between Roma representatives and the local authorities at CSW Kronika in Bytom.  English translation of the  text – words of a young Roma woman: ‘ I have a dream to go where I have not yet been. Fot. Magda Fabianczyk

Audio we love: podcast recommendations of the month

Every month, Executive Committee member Sadie rounds up the best podcasts she’s found with activist, social change or artistic content.

Adam Zaretsky

Love + Radio – Doing the No No

“I think I was meant to be an artist … now I just play with life as an art form. I am a child of Rocky Horror,” So tells bioartist Adam Zaretsky on a recent episode of Love + Radio. Exploring the concept of deviant art, genetic engineering, and the ethical boundaries exposed by what is known as “bioart”, this radio hour blurs the boundaries of art, science, consent, and playing God. “Art that shocks is achieving as aesthetic goal,” Zarestsky says. “If a mouse has an ear on its back, I can appreciate that. I was raised to appreciate surrealism.”


BBC The Cultural Frontline – Fidel Castro’s Cultural Legacy

After the death of Cuba’s infamous leader, a multitude of voices emerged extolling Castro’s achievements or branding him an oppressive dictator. This episode of The Cultural Frontline explores Castro’s cultural legacy with two artists from the country. It also takes a look at how Musicians Without Borders are overcoming sectarian divides in Kosovo, and gets the story behind a cancelled Iranian art exhibition in Berlin.

BBC Desert Island Discs – Bruce Springsteen

Guests on the long-standing favourite BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs are always well-known and fascinating. The premise is that said guest is stuck on a desert island, able to choose only 10 songs to take with them – lending the interviews a unique angle and intimacy. People’s music choices can tell us a lot about them, which is why this programme is so intriguing.

Yet this week’s offering, released one week before Christmas, felt like an especially good treat to many. The legendary Bruce Springsteen tells Kirsty Young about his childhood, his rented guitar, and his struggles with depression. He also talks about his records, which are frequently a political commentary on the struggles of ordinary Americans.

Author David Swan on writing, art and defeating totalitarianism

By David Swan

I must confess my guilty secret. I’ve never protested. I feel fake when I shout out about an indignation or a societal wrong that should be put right. Even though I lean towards the left and dream of truly fair wages and work practices across the world I have yet to galvanise myself into action.

While studying for a degree at the age of 42 (a protest in itself), I could see that many of my ideas, dreams, arguments and dissatisfaction towards the world were channelled into my writing. I always admired the staples; Brave New World, 1984 and Animal Farm, but could see how these books were now antiques of the past. They were books to be read, closed, discussed and then forgotten. “Big Brother” was a term taken from 1984 and turned into the title of a glitzy celebrity programme heralding the arrival of a sexy surveillance society. I wondered if I could write another book that mirrored the changing world around me and that would make the reader look up from the page and realise how close we were to losing our cherished freedoms.

Once When We Were Human is part homage to the aforementioned classics and part warning of the world that is quickly approaching – with Britain after Brexit now leaning towards the right and alt-right and Trump in the White House, leaning in a direction we have yet to imagine. The so-called “liberal army” might ask themselves how we can defeat an aggressive ideology hell-bent on destroying freedoms only recently established?

How much would you put up with before you act?

Once When we Were Human is an animal allegorical tale. The world has been divided between the wolves our masters and the rest of us the dogs. Justin, the protagonist, is relaxed as totalitarian measures are voted in, in exchange for an easy working week and free food. Any dissent is immediately crushed and people are “voluntarily” sent to re-education camps or summer camps. Karl is the antagonist who, as a conceptual artist, upsets the status quo with his challenging art now deemed illegal by the state.

The book takes parallel themes from the rise of fascism before and during Word War II and asks  how these things could occur in modern times. Justin is the book’s apathetic character who asks the question, “How much would you put up with before you act?” The education camp Sunshine Valley acts as a microcosm in a world where we can have all our material goods if we surrender our creativity.  This allows the story look at the importance of creativity in the human spirit through the eyes of Karl. There is the experience of the surveillance society and education lessons designed to brainwash its citizens, and also a mock funeral for those deemed too elderly, that asks further questions about the dangers of euthanasia. The way we can dress up a horror to appear as an act of compassion.

In a totalitarian society, its people can never truly be free, and therefore can never truly create.

As I reflect on this story months later. I see deeper meaning in the roles of Justin and Karl. The latter a fearless creator. The other fearful of his own power subdued by the oppressive environment around him. Karl is the God-like creator much like the artist prior to the creative act. An artist sits poised with a blank mind waiting for an idea to form. The idea forms and takes shape on the canvas.  The formless moving into the formed. The other characters while less in presence provide food to the varying arguments in the story.

In a totalitarian society, its people can never truly be free, and therefore can never truly create. This means a totalitarian society will only ever reach a fraction of its true potential. So China can never fully be China, as long people are oppressed, and the same goes with Russia. Fundamentally these systems are closed systems and closed minds. The West is also in danger of losing its creativity as it imposes draconian spying measures it has to bring in to protect itself from its own aggressive measures abroad.

With the death of creativity read the death of business, of art, of economies, of the Facebooks and Googles; and as we speak the death of the human spirit. The future may look bright and shiny but we will be dead inside without our creativity.

David Swan worked in technology for 15 years before deciding to pursue a Creative Writing degree at Bangor University. He has travelled to many different countries such as Nepal and India and he has worked in Holland and China. He also has an interest in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, but has taken a break in the “need-to-believe-in-things” for now. David has had one of his short stories published in Philosophy Now magazine and is now looking for a home for Once When We Were Human. He hopes that, in addition to making a living from his writing, he can make people think, feel, and commit to action.

Visit David’s blog here or download his e-book here.

Why street art isn’t as revolutionary as you think

By Laurie Wdowiak

“Bobos… Colonizers! Enslavers! Capitalists! I’m going to punch them. Hard!” – I am listening to this man talking and laughing to himself while I am shopping in the African neighbourhood of the Parisian 18th district. While his sayings may have come across as crazy talk to the spectators of the scene, the grudge he bore was real and it could find some justification.

“Bobos” are often at stake when discussing gentrification – sometimes, the term gets replaced by its near-synonym, hipster. Though it lacks precision in its meaning and has a politically-orientated content, it seems to represent a blurry group of young, urban, middle class subjects, who keep a close eye on their look and consumer’s choices. Looking for cheap rents and diverse neighbourhoods, they settle in former working-class areas. The underground artistic scenes endemic to these places often form another incentive for the young middle class to move there.

However, sudden transformations in the urban landscape leave their mark on the local artistic scenes; so much so that the change in its aesthetic expression and its main stakeholders is widely notable.

In the last decade, Northern Paris has seen the erection of tall glass buildings and the opening of design furniture and hip clothing shops, as well as cafes and craft beer bars. These are all effects of the gentrification process and are similar to the ones observed in other major cities. One that often goes unnoticed is the transformation of the graffiti scene.


Map of gentrification in Paris

(Blue: Rich neighbourhoods; Red: Concentration of foreign populations; Brown: Social housing)

Graffiti has been associated with Northern Paris and the Northern suburbs for decades; it is where hip hop culture has stemmed from historically. While the arrival of a middle class population in working class areas of Northern Paris did not cause the disappearance of the hip hop scene, it has altered its codes and its artists radically.

Graffiti has long been the underdog of art. It used to be despised as much as its artists, and graffiti was considered to be soiling the walls of cities. However, it has recently gained recognition from the artistic community and more widely, from the educated urban population. The acceptance of graffiti has led authorities to select spaces designed for street artists to paint.

Symbolic violence, according to Bourdieu and Wacquant, happens when social subjects who hold more symbolic power than others because of their social prestige

However, the street artists chosen to paint these walls are not identical to the ones who used to get arrested for drawing graffitis on the same walls. They are not the youth of these neighbourhoods, who have learned to express themselves in their own way and to appropriate the places where they lived through street art. The people accredited to paint the walls of gentrified neighbourhoods are trained artists, who come from around the world to paint a unique piece of art. Their training gives them the opportunity to use the pictorial codes of classical art, instead of replicating the modes of expression at the origin of graffiti. Their work is revered by the young, middle class population that is new to the neighbourhood, as it uses codes that are valuable in their eyes.


Above: Rue Ordener in Paris (Picture courtesy of Below: Montmartre area, Paris Which do you like most? Are they both “street art”?

Therefore, the legitimation of street art works hand in hand with a process of spatial and symbolic dispossession and a small dose of hypocrisy. While the walls of gentrified neighbourhoods used to be the local population’s to manage, their look is now defined by strangers to their community who have much more social power than them, and whose work is valued more than local forms of expression. “Street art” is claiming the space of oppressed communities, while alleging to make art accessible to all.

The issue of dispossession may sound trivial when it comes to graffiti, if it is only considered for its aesthetic value. However, it would obliterate the fact that graffiti is a graphic means of political expression for oppressed communities. Indeed, graffiti is central to the attitude of defiance for young urban working class communities across the world. To them, it means the freedom not to abide by the rules defined by the oppressor and to express themselves in their own way. But the street art that is revered by the new middle class population and authorized by councils has lost its political meaning, and above all, its meaning as a cry against oppression. Therefore, this can be associated with symbolic violence, as defined by Bourdieu. Indeed, symbolic violence, according to Bourdieu and Wacquant, happens when social subjects who hold more symbolic power than others because of their social prestige, alter the categories of thought and the actions of those who have less symbolic power than them.

Street art can be an interesting form of expression under certain conditions. In Northern France, in a poor area near where I was born and where I have done sociological research, the sight of graffiti is common. It is often done by locals and, most of the time, is limited to a few words rapidly painted on naked walls, in a single colour. Recently, however, a few legitimate “street artists” have come to paint a few walls, and they have been welcomed with pride by the neighbourhood dwellers as a sign of prestige. But they have not staked claims on any space: they have worked with locals and they have not invaded every naked wall of the city with their paintings. Exchange, community work, and parsimony should be primordial in street art. And street artists should always keep one thing in mind: underground artistic scenes are, unfortunately, a factor leading to the gentrification of working class neighbourhoods (among many others).

Then, in gentrified neighbourhoods, resisting the pervasion of local culture means deviating from the rules imposed upon it. It means drawing graffitis outside accepted zones, fighting back against gentrification through artistic means, and re-establishing graffiti as a tool of social protest.


Paris, Rue Ordener (Picture courtesy of

Soiling local small businesses, or resisting gentrification through artistic means?

Main image via Steffi Reichert at Flickr Creative Commons

Laurie Wdowiak is Secretary General at GAPA. Read more about the Executive Committee here.

GAPA meets … Leo Sav, artist and educator in Hong Kong

Each month, we bring you an interview with an art activist who’s caught our eye. This month we talked to Leo Sav, a social artist based in Hong Kong with a background in arts and education. Her work usually touches on themes of female identity, mythology and eastern philosophy, and she takes a multifaceted approach to creating art in relation to other disciplines such as film, writing and performance. In recent years she has begun to expand her practice to further explore the role of aesthetics in relation to political culture and the role of art within social renewal.

Throughout her creative life, Leo has maintained a belief in the healing nature of art and in the altruistic use of art for positive personal and social change. She therefore recently began the ‘Social Arts Cooperative Hong Kong,’ a voluntary project for individuals interested in expanding the field of art and social responsibility through cooperative action and visual communication. She also runs the ‘Global Arts Outreach Project,’ a project providing free therapeutic workshops in the arts for young learners whose communities have suffered trauma from political conflict and socioeconomic instability, resulting in issues such as forced displacement, human trafficking and neglect.

Read our interview below.


Hi, Leo! Thank you for talking to us. Please tell us a bit about your work – where do you work, and why did you choose that place/medium?

I live and work in Hong Kong. I have been inspired by the far east and eastern philosophy for many years now, so to live and create in this part of the world is a great source of inspiration. In terms of painting, I have been transitioning from a more controlled, decorative style, influenced by the tones and flat perspectives of Japanese prints and Korean illustration – to a style that is looser, more dynamic, incorporating spray paint and text. I have also been broadening the scope of what it means to be an artist, and the artist’s role within society, through developing social projects.

The Umbrella Revolution here in Hong Kong was a real turning point for me, as I had the opportunity to experience pro-democracy allegiance- through free artistic expression, practicality, and co-operative action. It was at this time that I felt particularly inspired to shift my role as an artist to one of a more integrated and active role in society, and to expand my practice to become more active in social settings. I like the idea of spectacle, the unexpected and the rare or peculiar, the potential for wonder, and the encouragement of developing new relationships towards the environment. I also like to feed creative ideas into the community and into the environments I find myself within. Now it’s all about the merging of materials, and media and performance elements to build conversation and co-operative practices within the spaces I inhabit.

In the new year I will be working in a centre for special needs children developing a 3D arts curriculum. It will be in a six story building and so I will have a lot of space to help create some large scale projects. But even more exciting, is the fact that I will be able to be a part of something unique, offering a healing and creative space for those children who struggle in mainstream education here in Hong Kong. Part of my creative work also involves travelling to nearby countries such as The Philippines to work with minority group, refugee, orphaned or child victims of trafficking, through art, as a means of empowerment and rehabilitation.


What drives you to create?

My creative drive comes from a desire for balance, within myself and within the outer world. For example, I like sharing free resources, as it is for me, another way to balance out the predominant attitude we often face in society of equating time and resources with monetary gain. What I learnt at Occupy Central is that what is often absent within an environment can begin to emerge quite spontaneously given the chance, and this creates a balancing out process, a natural emergence of what is most lacking. I think the creative drive is a natural drive for balance. For example, images and sculptures appeared spontaneously at Occupy Central for the sake of enhancement and general expression. But what was interesting, was that these art works placed for the purpose of reflection with no obvious political message or meaning, gained an aspect of influence none the less; whether intentional or not, they were part of the political framework.

The Umbrella Revolution here in Hong Kong was a real turning point for me

I think my drive also comes from the desire to engage with possibilities and to ask questions, which may not need conclusions, but rather- exploration. I view life as a creative process; generating new ideas, restorative projects and creative ways of thinking.

Tell us about the political component of your work.

I have recently adopted ideas from Occupy Central; the importance of focus of attention and how a certain political stance can be demonstrated through cooperation; an active demonstration of an overarching ideology. This is a powerful counter force to any opposition because problems are solved through actions driven from the force they are aligned with- everyone expressing their allegiance through their actions and participation.


I guess you could say that the Global Arts Outreach Project is a creative response to the impact that political instability has on communities, focusing on the traumatic consequences of this. I felt that this would make the most practical impact as an artist, and is the greatest political component of my work as a social artist, so to speak. It is not about using art to shape society from the perspective of public dialogue, or as a tool to expose economic and political injustices, but more about offering a healing component, a way to practically and creatively deal with the impact of socio-political instability, the corruption of political culture and the devastating impact and consequences it has on the future health of individuals living within such chaos. It is about using art as a catalyst for positive change and transformation, for empowerment. A space of mutual support for creative expression, can give communities a sense that creative power can rest with the individual.

In my more performative work I have started simple actions that challenge the status quo and through approaching social interaction as art. For example, by holding up a sign in a social environment that acts outside of the narrative, so to speak, there is an opportunity offered to change perceptions, to create a rupture within the accepted narrative. We are seeing this kind of public spectacle emerging more and more. It helps us to recognize the nature of consciousness in the public realm and the need for more spontaneity and less rigidity.

Of course we all know that artists and those participating in art of any political or controversial nature in China, face more fears and opposition due to government censorship and brutality

When I have completed my latest work, it will be exhibited in one of Hong Kong’s MTR Stations. The MTR’s community art galleries display work by artists from non-profit organisations and by students from local schools, bringing a part of the creative community to the MTR. I like the idea of being reminded that the MTR is a community, that someone coming home after work may see a painting that inspires them and makes them see life differently for a moment. These may only be fleeting moments, but I don’t think we should underestimate the power of that. The importance of such moments within our dulling routines are potentially transformative, because they encourage us to examine life in a different way. The effects are gradual but have the potential to become widespread.


Where does your interest in eastern philosophy come from?

My interest in eastern philosophy also comes from a need for balance. A lot of eastern principles are about wholeness and finding peace, living in harmony with the divine, with nature, and with yourself. There are so many states of being and emotions that we must navigate our way through in this life, that the fundamental principle of everything being manifest from a oneness, an ultimate reality, has not only helped me to develop an awareness of the interconnected nature of life, but has also helped me to gain perspective by maintaining a broad vision. I am always trying to evolve my thinking and creativity, so I have found these to be useful and expansive philosophies. Eastern philosophical principles will often be at the heart of my work in some form or another.

In my more performative work I have started simple actions that challenge the status quo

I am also interested in Japanese aesthetics, the interplay and incorporation of philosophical ideas within art, the rational and the emotional understanding, the bold and luminous expressions. I also like Wabi-sabi, an aesthetic approach that emerged out of Zen Buddhism, but it can also be considered a way of life; living simply, finding beauty in simplicity and in impermanence. I have always felt drawn to understand the east, the culture, society and the underpinning principles of the societies here.


Tell us what you think about the role of art in healing processes.

The role of art in healing processes is in my view, very effective. Art gives us the opportunity to grow and develop self-awareness through self-expression. I feel that art can help us to play, to be curious again. I have worked with children who, at the beginning of a painting session, are unsure of how to express themselves but through an environment of trust and encouragement become totally absorbed and engaged in the creative process as they begin to safely make contact with their emotions, expressing those internal states that they could not previously access through words. Collective creative exploration raises awareness of such states, building a sense of safety and trust as self-assurance gradually grows through the process of sharing and expressing thoughts and feelings.

I believe that art can restore and develop a sense of self but in a broader sense I believe that art and artists play an important role in the healing and restoration of society. By creating community, uplifting and empowering and by nurturing a sense of identity, artists and their work can help us to look at our institutions of power in different ways and help us to construct new systems. If we view our systems more as works of art we might be able to help society move beyond competitive consciousness too (which is another aspect of society that needs healing). We can move from a consciousness of separation to that of the collaborative, this can be useful to model new restorative and healing behaviors on both the individual and collective level. Art can help us to envision not only new aesthetic formations but social formations, community can become a work of art that serves as a participatory public platform with the potential to heal and reshape aspects of our society.

I will be part of something unique, offering a healing and creative space for those children who struggle in mainstream education here in Hong Kong


Which Asian artists/activists should we know about?    

Ai Weiwei is one of the most well known and influential Chinese political artists currently working to raise awareness on the refugee crisis, human rights and many social issues. He is an open critic of the communist government and has thus been threatened, beaten, arrested and had his studio raided by the authorities. He has risked his life for freedom of expression. He could well be one of the most important contemporary Chinese artists of our time.

Kong Ning is a performance artist in Beijing who raises awareness on air pollution issues in China. She paints and creates vivid elaborate dresses using materials such as face masks as a form of performance protest- she does this in the hope that she can make a positive impact on anti-pollution laws.

An interesting photographer who I recently met in Hong Kong at her exhibition Girls is Luo Yang. She has come up against opposition in attempting to show her work in China as the images are considered indecent. Themes such as femininity and strength are presented like fashion images or film stills, and at other times in a more raw, honest aesthetic. The images present a generation of Chinese girls that seem to be ahead of their time and beyond traditional society, breaking away from the conformity of Chinese culture. She has said that she hopes to help women in a more practical way in the future, through setting up a centre for women in need.

Of course we all know that artists and those participating in art of any political or controversial nature in China, face more fears and opposition due to government censorship and brutality. I have the greatest admiration for such artists who are willing to take a risk in their expression, and stand up for what they believe in.

Follow Leo Sav on Twitter and visit her website.

Audio we love: podcast recommendations of the month

Every month, Executive Committee member Sadie rounds up the best podcasts she’s found with activist, social change or artistic content.

BBC World Service, the Conversation: Graffiti artists Lady Pink & Olga Alexopoulou

Graffiti artist. When we hear this phrase, most people automatically think of male figures. Here, the BBC World Service talks to two wome, from Ecuador and Greece respectively, whose political graffiti has attracted a lot of attention – and criticism.

The Irish Times Women’s Podcast – Waking the Feminists

#WakingTheFeminists is a grassroots campaign calling for equality for women across the Irish theatre sector that ran from November 2015 to November 2016. In this episode of the Women’s Podcast, its founder talks about what inspired that hashtag and subsequent movement.


BBC Analysis – Trusting Inmates

The prison population of the UK stands at over 80,000, and re-offending rates are high. Looking at a different model of prison reform from the Netherlands, this programme investigates the ways in which trusting inmates with tasks, such as cooking with knives, can be part of a humanisation process which can lead to more positive, long-term behavioural change.

“What we’re seeing is an empirical version of moral philosophy and political philosophy in action,” says one guest. “Values are good for human flourishing.”

Abstract art and the urban poor in Metro Manila, Philippines

By Nicolas Ciarlone

During one week in June 2016, French artist Nicolas Ciarlone painted several abstract murals in different places of San Roque, an urban poor aera of Metro Manila, the Philippines.

This project was conducted with the help of nongovernmental and nonprofit Filipino cultural organizations Peoples’ Solidarity and Education Tours (PSET) and Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), the largest alliance of urban poor organizations in the Philippines. It aims to support the inhabitants of the San Roque in their struggle against the scheduled demolition of their neighbourhood, due to a private and governmental project which aims to turn the place in a new business and commuting centre.


San Roque is one of numerous urban poor areas located in Quezon City, a part of Metro Manila. Like most of the urban poor areas of Manila, San Roque has no legal status. Hundreds of poor Filipino families are living there, trying to make a living in very precarious living conditions. Migrants from all over the Philippines are piling in cubocubo, small houses made of everything, mirroring the patchwork of languages, culinary and religious habits of the San Roque inhabitants.

They are precarious workers, as tricycle drivers, construction workers or street vendors; they represent an abundant and cheap workforce. Thus, San Roque symbolizes both wealth inequalities and internal migration flows to the city, resulting from the huge urbanisation process which is happening in the Philippines. As many other urban poor areas of Metro Manila, San Roque represents the growing poverty resulting from neoliberalist policies and corruption problems which are undermining the Filipino society.



People living in San Roque are now facing a major threat: demolition warlords. The land on which they live, originally the property of the municipality of Quezon City, has been sold to one of the richest and most politically influential families of the Philippines. Their project is to build a business centre, a commuting centre and towers of condominiums instead of San Roque. A relocation plan has been set up which allows the volunteers families to leave San Roque in exchange for some money. But the place where they are relocated is far away in the northern periphery of Metro Manila, without any educational, social and healthcare facilities. A struggle is on now and people of San Roque are getting organised to protect their livelihood against violence, corruption and demolition warlords.

The goal of the art project conducted by Nicolas Ciarlone was to use painting as a political and an educational tool, in order to support the struggle for the inhabitants of San Roque in their legitimate fight for a livelihood. It also entails a reflection on the way that our city politics deal with the lives of thousands of urban poor people and their relegation to peripheral areas of the city, chased away by the development of the city infrastructure and commuting systems.




The abstract design of the paintings echoes the physicality of railway and motorway networks, and it is a nod to migration and to the excessive urbanisation process by which our cities grow, live, occupy space and generate poverty, inequalities and discrimination. By showing geometrical shapes saturated by commuting networks, Nicolas Ciarlone’s work entails a reflection on the interactions between the flow and the movement of our megalopolis and their inhabitants, and especially the poorest ones who are directly facing the consequences of these processes, and whose voice has been so far unheard.

More information and contact:

Nicolas Ciarlone :

Peoples’ Solidarity and Education Tours :

Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap :

GAPA meets … Alice de Soultrait of Al Rowwad, Palestine

Interview by Emilie Labourey

This month, GAPA meets Alice de Soultrait, a young French woman who worked with Al Rowwad, an arts and cultural society based in a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem, West Bank. Aida camp is shielded on one side by the separation wall, and contains 6,000 Palestinians, two thirds of them under 20 years old.

Abdelfattah Abusrour created Al Rowwad in 1998 for young people to escape the everyday ugliness of their surroundings. Using theatre as its main medium, but also providing classes of dance, painting, photography and digital, Al Rowwad is standing for a ‘Beautiful Resistance’. Its purpose is to prevent violence and terrorism acts in the camp through art as an educational tool. The ‘Beautiful Resistance’ is a non-violent movement that aims to stand against the oppressive occupation by preserving Palestinian culture and heritage. For three months, Alice ran a theatre course composed of eight teenagers aged 10 to 14 which led to the creation of the piece ‘La Reine des Visages’ (‘The Queen of Faces’).


How did you hear about Al Rowwad and what were the reasons that drove you to work with them?

I heard about Al Rowwad through Bridge My World. It is a start-up that connects students who wish to get involved in humanitarian organisations to societies throughout the world which lack visibility and in need for volunteers. I had a three month internship to do for my business degree with the following instructions: ‘to implement an entrepreneurial project for social purpose involving local actors in a foreign country’.

With my Bachelor in Fine Art, I wanted to get to work for a cultural society. The social purpose was of particular importance to me as my wish was to go to a place where people would need arts the most. When I heard about the artistic mission sustained by Al Rowwad, in a country torn apart by violence, I found a sense to my project.


How did your background in painting help you devise the piece ‘La Reine des Visages’?

Devising a piece of theatre even though I had no previous experience in this field was obviously one of the tricky points of this project. There are luckily some interrelations that link the different art mediums. I think that no matter the artistic background, artists always have some tools to apprehend other genres with a particular sensibility. I would actually say that my practice is quite multifaceted. Apprehending this piece from a painter’s point of view led to a peculiar result, crossing borders of different genres: there was some painting, some music, and also some rap songs that we wrote together with the group of teenagers.

I did not want our piece to be political, I was rather aiming for it to offer a time for a pause. How could I better speak than Palestinians about a story that was not mine?

Would you say that the piece you devised was political?

It was actually a real nightmare to find an answer to this question as I struggled myself in defining my position. When I first started, my aim was to create a space for these oppressed refugees to freeing their mind for the time of the piece. Arts have a strong healing power and enhance self-fulfilment. I was willing to work on this idea with any population, and in any country, I did not have any strong opinion concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I realised only once there that it is impossible to avoid having a political involvement in a country afflicted by war and where everyone’s identity is defined on the nation’s one. The daily life is all surrounded by the conflict, which is made permanently tangible by the wall, and which is a topic in all conversations.


Al Rowwad’s pieces are usually activists and revolve around the conflict in order to raise public awareness. However, I did not want our piece to be political, I was rather aiming for it to offer a time for a pause. How could I better speak than Palestinians about a story that was not mine? This piece had for main goal to enable these teenagers to grow up and dream.

How have people reacted to your work?

People liked our work. The room was so packed that we even had people sat on the floor. It was great to see so many kids and teenagers: a piece made by young people for young people. I think that the general experience was light-hearted. It was a great time of happiness and pride for the performers punctuated by lots of laugh coming from the audience.

What was really striking is that despite my efforts to avoid speaking about the conflict, the piece was actually very political. People who followed this project and were aware of my own doubts in regards to my position, underlined the way the theme of oppression was tackled through metaphors and images. Without any violence or aggressiveness, the conflict appeared as a philosophical tale. The creative process was based on these teenagers’ imagination, we wrote the script together from their fears, concerns and aspirations. Naturally this created a beautiful yet unsettling story, which reflected their everyday lives.

What are the next steps for Al Rowwad?

The next step for Al Rowwad is to expand their structure with a new building opening soon. There are going to be more rooms for dance, theatre, music, photography and digital classes. They are always looking for more funding to carry out this project of bringing peace through art, as well as volunteers. It could be for any length of time, for any kind of project!

If you enjoyed this interview, check out the Alrowwad website and Facebook page. And if you know someone like Alice doing great work in the fields of political art, arts activism, or creativity, tell us!


Audio we love: podcast recommendations of the month

Each month our Head of Communications, Sadie, rounds up some of her favourite podcasts and compiles them in a post. Happy listening!


Love + Radio – A Girl of Ivory

Davecat and Sidore have a relationship that many would consider unconventional. They are happily married, when one day they decide to let a third person, Lenka, into their lives – and their relationship. This is the story of their connection. Prepare to be surprised.


BBC Radio 4 The Briefing Room – the Alt-Right

“alt-right”. Embodied by figures such as Donald Trump and characterised by white nationalism and anti-political correctness, among other things, this programme from the BBC attempts to understand its root causes.


Death, Sex and Money – Ellen Burstyn and Gloria Steinem in conversation

“Today, I’m talking to one of my heroes, Gloria Steinem.” So begins this recent episode of Death, Sex and Money, the podcast which aims to tackle some of the subjects we typically find difficult to discuss. Actress Ellen Burstyn isn’t alone in her admiration of Gloria Steinem, the feminist icon, writer and activist who founded Ms. magazine in 1972. In this episode the two women, now in their 80s, discuss their childhoods, getting older, and the changing face of feminism.

6 Essential Books on Graffiti and Street Art

It’s hard to think of the time when the popular and critical presence of street art was not naturally included in discussions about the operations of today’s visual culture. Today, urban art has reached nearly every corner of the globe, shifting and morphing into a highly complex and ornate art form.

Most of us haven’t the opportunity to see the best street art created live, but everyone can flip through the pages filled with art at home or a local library. From the exploration of the art galvanized by Palestinian Resistance movement to global street art of His Majesty Banksy, this list presents the books that showcase urban art of all scales. These are the books that manage to represent the ephemeral street art, put the movement into historical perspective and follow the story behind each of the artworks featured.


  1. Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art by Carlo McCormick

A visually-striking piece of work that examines various forms of public/urban art such as graffiti of course but also other types of urban reclamation, such as protest interventions in public space and illicit performances as a social phenomenon and a fundamental element of modern self-expression, grass roots politics, protest and youth culture.

Trespass is not only visually pleasant – the text that accompanies each section is highly thought provoking. The book explores the intersection of space, art, and ideas and challenges the reader to reconsider their perception of public art urban space, and the creative individuals.


  1. The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti by Dr. Rafael Schacter

The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti features more than 100 of the most influential and significant urban artists across the world and over 700 artworks photographed on 5 continents.

The book is organized geographically and focuses on the individual artists within each country or region and provides historical context to their works. This book strives toward a more nuanced understanding of what has become a widespread art practice. The book explores artists and the messages behind street art as well as provides an intimate understanding of the cities.



  1. Before I Die by Candy Chang

Inspiring story of the world-known art project that invited members of the public to contemplate one of life’s biggest questions – “Before I die I want to ________”.  The story of this community art project that has taken over the world started when artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned building in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and the incomplete statement above to find it filled with responses full of hope, fear, humor, heartbreak and everything in between just 24 hours later.

The book features the pictures of about 50 walls from around the globe and some practical guidance on creating your own “Before I die I want to ________” wall.


  1. Against the Wall: The Art of Resistance in Palestine

This beautifully produced book captures the graffiti and art that has transformed Jerusalem’s ‘security wall’ into a living canvas of resistance and solidarity and has its value as both a political and aesthetic document. Through the works of Banksy, Ron English, Blu as well as Palestinian artists and activists, shine outrage, compassion, and touching humor.



  1. Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution by Don STONE Karl Basma Hamdy

Walls of Freedom is both an art book and an act of resistance a comprehensive record of the Revolution’s street art, created in collaboration with some of the street artists and activists on the frontlines of the battle to liberate Egypt, who responded to the street confrontations through their artwork; and academic writers from various disciplines such as literature, art history, and media studies. The book combines a powerful mix of scholarly work, essays of artists, maps, illustrations, photographs and charts. All of these create a broad yet detailed image of the revolution and showcases the role that street art played in the Arab spring of

  1. Banksy: You Are an Acceptable Level of Threat

Despite the fact his artworks might seem to be over simplistic and naïve, we all can agree that they are just brilliant – witty, thought-provoking, contentious, cheeky, insightful, big and clever. You Are An Acceptable Level of Threat is a collection of photographs of Banksy’s street work.

The book features Banksy’s iconic artworks, from 1998 up until the end of 2011. This book is probably the best physical representation the artwork that is now the most identifiable street art in the world and has influenced many parts of our culture.