Between 2020- 2021 I worked with a team of refugees, photographer and Living Refugee Archives on a Photo Voices in Kuala Lumpur project. Ultimately, due to COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in Malaysia, we changed this from a Photovoice to a co-written Special Issue: In their Own Voices with the Journal of Displaced Voices. This special issue is a collection of papers written by and with refugee women based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The photography elements we were chosen by participants where possible to find ways to represent spaces, actions or portraits of refugees in ways that worked against the victimhood narratives.
Click the image to see the LRA's website
Drawing on PAR values, I co-wrote with my participants and taught them academic skills to help them articulate their own experiences. As a team, we worked together to explore the best way to utilise the Living Refugee Archives as a supportive platform for the voices of the refugee participants.
This [special issue has been] a journey of storytelling through which an alternative archive for marginalised narratives can be created. Through community participation we open the door to challenge traditional notions of archival structures and documentation, hoping to constitute a living history of refugeehood.
Paul Dudman, Living Archives Built with Communities
Supporting Voices, Narratives and Creativities
20/20 Virtual Gallery
Click the image to read the Special Issue
Together with the Living Refugee Archives, I worked with Amin Kamrani to host his 20/20 virtual exhibition last year. I had previously worked with Amin as a translator in my research project in 2018.
This exhibition is an intimate portrayal of life, people and landscapes. 20 copies of 20 photographs. The Living Refugee Archive is hosting the virtual exhibition with an option to buy the limited edition prints. The photos are on sale with 60% of the proceeds to go to refugee and vulnerable communities in Malaysia.
The 20/20 limited-edition photo print project began in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Malaysia.
Working on this project to host the gallery and organise the webshop, was an important part of how I view my role as a researcher. Researchers and activists cannot give a voice. But we can act to provide space for and support new voices, narratives and creativities. Amin's work highlights what it means to be a migrant, living and working across borders, in both contexts of plenty and of lack. Without ever victimising the people in his photos, placing a simple focus on their lived realities, hopes and dreams.
As part of a series of 4 short web sessions related to Sustainability Dialogues, I organised a dialogue on Action Research with Refugees in Kuala Lumpur web event. Here I reconnected with my participants to discuss what participation and action research means for them. We discussed how researchers and practitioners may be able to be more inclusive. After the dialogue, we had a Q&A from other practitioners in the field of sustainability more generally. The outcome of this dialogue was to stress community inclusion in all aspects of research: allowing space for making decisions and taking initiative in what might best impact their lives. Ultimately, we returned to notions of participation and inclusive when connecting with refugee voices.
You can hear the dialogue at the following link.
In the video, we have hidden the images of the people who spoke about their experiences of asylum. For this reason, there is no visual from the actual session in the recording only the slides of the talk and a photovoice I previously conducted in the Netherlands.
Working with Photovoices
Forced migrants are not able to control how they are represented by journalists nor by researchers. They have little control of their own image. The idea of photovoice is to allow some of that control back and can enhance community-based participatory research.
However, capturing photo voices is not simply handing over a camera and asking participants to take photos. Participants get together and discuss the topics that matter to them, and reflect their own reality within the research themes. The outputs can be discussed with the community and disseminated as appropriate - through a gallery show, at an academic conference, or online. Communities are able to take ownership of their image and outputs of research, as well as document their lived realities.
In previous projects and my own research, photovoice has provided a way to connect with communities and discover how they themselves would like to be represented, show their lived experiences and speak directly on the changes they wish to have in their lives.
With storytelling at the centre of the process, the role of the research is that of listener and facilitator, simply providing a safe space for dialogue. Photovoice is used at all levels as a technique for sharing stories, for development, raising critical awareness, advocacy or part of monitoring aspects of a project.
Exhibited in Valorising Voices; Refugee Lives and Voices Exhibition,
In September 2017 at the COST Action IS1306 conference New Speakers in A Multilingual Europe: Policies and Practices in Coimbra University, Portugal
I was a dentist in my country, I now use a toothbrush to clean electronics in this country
from Valorising Voices Photo Exhibition Coimbra University
Further references and useful websites on photovoices: