Using Music

Recently, we critiqued and parodied Invisible Children’s use of uncritical, pat and peppy music campaigns. Their numerous musical interludes which raise awareness (though sometimes it’s unclear as to what we’re meant to be aware of), and they hardly ever critically address the issue. While the video of our parody, sung to Justin Bieber’s “Baby” seems to have disappeared into the blogosphere, IC’s most recent video serves as a pretty good example of their “well-known song + dancing+ bright colours – info and/or critique = inspiring video” methodology .  “Do You Whip Your Hair?” (which, incidently, can be found on our classmate’s incredibly awesome blog: http://visiblepeople.blogspot.com/ ) has a lot to do with inspiring hair whipping, but provides limited information regarding the Invisible Children’s work and mandate.

Music is such an important medium that we began to wonder if we could reclaim it’s power for “real good” instead of “feel good.” Could we use it to  engage in a critical analysis of advocacy work and it’s inherent power differentials?

Enter, the magnificent Lucinda! Check out her spectacular rap about humanitarian workand critical thinking:


Excuse the poor quality, Transcript after the jump*

Continue reading

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David Campbell On “Visualizing Africa,” And The Need To Engage Critically

David Campbell has an insightful post on visualizing ‘Africa’, and the need for thinking about representations in terms other than the positive/negative binary.  From the blog:

However, we have to refrain from seeing Akena’s photograph as ‘negative/wrong/false’ while Bardeletti’s are ‘positive/right/true’. These are tired forms of critique that overlook the fact that all photographers make aesthetic choices in the construction of imagery. In terms of what ‘we’ outside of ‘Africa’ see, the overriding concern needs to be less the presence of particular pictures than the absence of all the alternative possibilities.

I think that Campbell’s call to direct our concern from the “presence of particular pictures” towards the “absence of all the alternative possibilities” can be applied to work aside from visual representations.  Recall my earlier post on the history of humanitarian discourse, and the task of re-imagining the ways in which we are connected to those who suffer…

New Visuals of Africa, via David Campbell

For more about taking photographs of ‘Africa,’ see also Asim Rafiqui’s post at The Spinning Head; David Campbell’s ‘Back Catalogue’ of his writing on representing Africa; and Duncan McNicholl’s Perspectives on Poverty (for a more playful and humorous take).

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Eliza Gregory and the Messiness of Organizing

I wish to point you to an entry that Eliza Gregory wrote over at A Developing Story.  She begins with the question, “should photographers be paid to work for NGOs?” and ends with a personal reflection of her approach to working with NGOs, as a photographer.

I repeatedly speak of not taking our role as advocates for granted.  I do this so much that even I find my case tedious.  So imagine how excited I get when I find others to do the preaching for me, and in more subtle ways at that!  What I appreciate about Gregory’s piece is its honesty, namely, about the messiness of organizing.   It captures the moments where a photographer’s opportunities, needs and interests meet their aspirations for advocacy and humanitarian work, or for fairer, more diffuse and innovative forms of media…but also where they differ, diverge, and clash.  She doesn’t have a stake in her work—she has many.  Gregory ends the post by giving us a glimpse of her experience in negotiating them, describing her approach and what she gains from taking it:

In my own photography, I take a different approach all together. As someone who fits in no conventional categories as a photographer, I actually create long-term partnerships with nonprofit organizations, and I fundraise on behalf of myself and the organization.

The benefit to me is that the organization doesn’t control me, or my images, or how I tell the story I want to tell. However, I do want their collaboration, so part of our relationship or partnership agreement is to allow them to influence the project. That ends up benefiting me as well—I learn about the issue I’m covering by communicating effectively with the organization, and I’m forced to think more carefully about the impact my work has on the individuals I photograph.

Of course, NGOs have their own set of needs, interests, and aspirations that may not align with those of the photographers.  Gregory has discussed the nuances of the collaboration in depth here.

Although Gregory writes from her position as a photographer, I think her experience reflects those of ours as humanitarian workers.  Because after all, being a humanitarian does not exempt us from the messiness of being human.

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The Limits and Possibilities For Humanitarian Narratives

In advocacy work, often the attention is focused on those on behalf of whom we advocate for.  Part of my work here at Believers in Advocacy is to draw the gaze back to us, the advocates.  I bring our role under scrutiny not merely for scrutiny’s sake, but in the hopes of introducing a kind of self-awareness into our work, one that will inform our work with purpose.

Iconography of Famine, via David Campbell

As an undergraduate in the liberal arts, I am obliged to read many scholarly articles (whether I do is something I’d rather not acknowledge in this very public space of a blog).  Once in a while, an article will find its way into the mundane happenings of my everyday life.  And recently it has been Alan Lester’s “Geographies of Colonial Humanitarianism”.  Lester’s argument noted how the “human imperative” for intervention was made familiar through new narrative forms such as the novel, medical report, and autopsy that emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  According to Lester, these narratives rely on bodies not only as a locus of pain, but also as a common bond between those who suffer and those who provide help.  I pick up my copy of They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan, and find that Lester’s words have found their way on them.  It is interesting to see how much of the narrative is old, in the sense of how it functions in broader humanitarian discourse; and how much of the book is new, in terms of its place as a commodity, meant to be consumed and circulated in the market.  Of course, in doing so I am not invalidating the experience of the authors; diminishing the scale of violence suffered; or conflating the contexts in which conflict is waged across the world.

Hartman once asked, “Why is pain the conduit of identification?”  It may also be fitting to ask, “Why does pain continue to be the conduit of identification?”, or even “Why does pain seem to be the only conduit of identification?”

It is worthwhile to look at how we identify with those who suffer from realities far removed from our own.  Likely, it will be the outcome of certain discourses. Humanitarian and advocacy groups will inevitably privilege certain narratives, thereby having the power to influence how we make that identification.  How do we talk about our advocacy work?  Does it preclude other possibilities for connecting to others?

The possibilities? Granny Football Fever, via A24 Media

(Read more about Granny Football Fever here.)

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Stay tuned…

… we’re launching our blog the first week of April!

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