One of the focuses on my research project was to look at ways that artists are using their work to respond to and to challenge violence. With a specific focus on my home country of Jamaica, along with South Africa and Brazil, I have been interested in exploring the ways that musicians, painters, writers, photographers and videographers try to capture, represent and dismantle violent oppression. For my IdeaFest presentation I introduced the work of three visual artists from Jamaica who have completed projects on the Tivoli Incursion, an event that saw to the police killing over 70 people in the small community of Tivoli. For my CapStone project I turned my focus to videographers and musicians and the ways that they have used their art as a space for political contestation.
To do so, I put together a film series featuring 4 films that have had some impact on my research, and that I believed opened up a conversation about institutional violence and how we all aid in its in cessation. The following films were featured: (i) Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, on South Africa; (ii) Favela Rising on Brazil; (iii) Trench Town: The Forgotten Land on Jamaica; (iv) The Battle of Algiers on The French-Algerian War. The films were presented over a one-week span, with each showing being followed by a discussion. The attendees were generally UVIC students who had been accompanied by friends or colleagues but there were a few attendees who had come from the Victoria community to see a film based in their home country.
These documentaries were selected because they were not only geographically appropriate but the struggles being represented were stories that needed to be told. Much of the responses to violent repression captured throughout the film show how music and art can be spaces of escape and empowerment. The imagery and the stories in all these films were jarring, like watching high school students in Trench Town talk about not being able to leave home for fear of being murdered on their way to school or listening to stories about the Meadowlands in South Africa. As much as these images and stories are upsetting, the most troubling part is that much of what is discussed continues to this day.
Art can be such an important medium for resistance and these film show that. None of the films in this series shows that more than Battle of Algiers. It shows the toll of war and the destructiveness of imperial oppression and this film is visual reminder of what unchecked power is truly capable of. This art form is an expression of lived experiences of those most affected by violence and who are using this medium to tell their own stories and I was so grateful to be able to share that with everyone through my CapStone Project.
Finding spaces of optimism in my research can be difficult. My research focuses on violence, unchecked power and targeted violations, which can mean my spending months combing through cases that are emotionally exhausting. I keep at it though, hoping that one day my work will help those most affected, but the process is draining. I had never noticed the toll it had been taking until this year. Focusing entirely on completing my research project has meant, committing fully to studying cases of institutional violence. The stories are heartbreaking and staying present and grateful for the opportunity to hear those stories is far from easy. But my ultimate goal is to do justice to the people who have shared their experiences; it is my job to stayed plugged in so that I respect the access I have been given.
Gratitude and optimism are not the same thing though. Being grateful for the chance to do research and for the chance to do some good, does not necessarily translate into my feeling any kind of real hope for change. I think it is nonetheless important that I make it a priority to find those spaces of optimism wherever and whenever I do work. One such space is finding real joy and hope for the people affected by institutional violence. As much as systems may be broken, not irretrievably though, people prove to be far more resilient than we give them credit.
I have found spaces of optimism in my research and I will continue to find others. Seeing protests in support of social justice and the protection of others gives me hope. Watching young minds critically engage with questions of privilege and accountability gives me hope. And watching the great work community members and colleagues and friends do, makes me feel such profound optimism for the work that I am engaged in. The stories I hear are ugly because the world can be an ugly place. Being able to see beauty and potential, though, is how I honor those who have to face these ugly spaces. Giving up is not an option and believing that all is lost is even less so, so I keep trying to find the possibilities in each case that I come across.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to do research. I never want to take the chances I have been given for granted. I recognize my privilege in being able to choose to study at the University of Victoria and being able to choose the project I am now working on. I hope that I have done good so far and that going forward I can keep helping where I can.