Awaken Dreams: Reimagining Civic Space
My practice-based doctoral research engages people from London communities in participatory art workshops so as to conceive an imaginary society and produce artworks around themes exploring civic space. My doctoral research is anchored in my existing interest and expertise in participatory art projects and community wellbeing. The work I have been doing has made me aware of the lack of understanding that surrounds the interaction between art and social spheres and also their conflicting aims. Addressing this lack, my PhD will investigate how participatory art projects that reimagine civic space may provide innovative and sustainable ways of promoting dialogue in local communities of the Global North.
Over the last few decades participatory art has developed varied forms and objectives, including social, relational and community-based art (Finkelpearl 2013). Recently participatory art committed to rethinking social and public spaces has become increasingly central within contemporary art practice in societies of the Global North, stimulating critical theory to investigate its potential (Bishop 2012; Kester 2011). Some prominent examples have succeeded in opening up a space for public expression, participation and recognition from the art world (Assemble 2015; Hirschhorn 2014). My PhD research project will build from a tradition of artist-led initiatives, which reimagine civic space in the social sphere on a local level (Alternative 2016; Public 2016).
During my first year doctoral program, I will organize a participatory art workshop program in the Bromley by Bow Community Centre in London. I will work both independently and in collaboration with core teams of community researchers from Public Health England and scholars from various departments at Goldsmiths (anthropology, politics and sociology) to develop the workshop. Each output, from the archival materials to the interviews with the scholars and the collaborative artworks, will generate material for the final presentation of my thesis.
My research will be inspired by theoretical frameworks such as Utopia as Method (Levitas 2013), which conceives of utopian thinking as a means for imagining alternative possible futures against the oppressive elements in one's life; existing community initiatives such as Auroville, an intentional community in India where the purpose is to realise human unity (Mother 1968); and a “radical pedagogical” approach from the Global South, which reinvents teaching and learning processes by developing awareness of freedom and the ability to take constructive action. This last method emerges from Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire 2007), Participatory Action Research (Fals 2006) and Theatre of the Oppressed (Boal 2000).