My Three Minute Thesis

So I decided this year to give the Three Minute Thesis at my university a go. It was a really great experience.
For those of you unfamiliar with 3MT. Basically it is a competition for PhD students where they have to do an oral presentation explaining their research in 3 minutes maximum for a non specialized audience. You can learn more about its history and rationale here.

When I first sat to write my presentation, I wanted to quit. How could I organize my thoughts? How would I engage the audience with such a difficult subject? How can I make sense to none specialist audience? And.. And… And?!

But I did it. I was among the finalists but didn’t win the thing. However it was a good learning experience and I’m happy I did it.

I’m not sure if I will get a link for a video of my presentation. But for those who might be interested to know more about my PhD research here is the written version.

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I visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. some years ago. And I still remember how I felt and  what I experienced going from one space to another. I also remember a question that started burning inside my head since then.

You see, Horrific events have happened and continue to happen to people worldwide. People who don’t have the means or the capabilities to document and share their histories on such large scales. In particular I thought of the Palestinians. I am Palestinian. My father was born in Jerusalem in 1948. Palestinians since that year have been subjected to forced removal, massacres, occupation and apartheid policies. Yet their narratives have been mis- or under represented.

So the question was; How can Palestinians create spaces that allow people to understand their plight? But there are some considerations to be taken. It has to be low cost as a stateless nation and still under occupation financial resources are limited. And it must be adaptable and dynamic, because though the conflict has a long history, it hasn’t ended yet.

As a designer I’m interested in alternative uses of interactive and digital media as tools for design activism, a field relatively new in design.

And that is how my research question was formulated. I wanted to explore whether using digital and interactive media we can create spatial experiences that carry complex political narratives. To do so, I’m designing a prototype of an interactive installation that shares narratives about Palestine.

In my prototype I’m using low-cost technology like projections on walls and input devices gamers use and buy online for under $100. Using free software I’m building a virtual environment where people can “walk” through and explore. And most of the videos that I’m using; are created and shared online by various activist groups and Palestinians using their mobile phones and cameras.
Ultimately this interactive environment will create the spatial experience of living under occupation.

In my research, my focus is on the design process rather than the end product and thus my main evaluation methods are self-reflections and feedback from experts in the field.
Hopefully my design process can provide a guiding example for other political narratives, which have been contested, over-shadowed, neglected or silenced by better-resourced narratives.

Arundhati Roy, the Indian author and activist said “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” I hope that my research will help in raising the voice of those people. So what remains is the question are you willing to listen? Thank you.

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Along side the oration we are allowed one slide with no animation or transition. And my slide was this:

3MT34

So what do you think of my research? If you have any questions or would like to connect with me please do.

 

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Here & Now 16 / GENYM Forum

This weekend I was asked to be part of a panel discussing (Curating “Muslim Art”: in between Islamic and Contemporary Art).
This is part of Here & Now 16 / GENYM Forum which is a public program accompanying an art exhibition with the same title. The exhibition features work by young Muslim Australian artists and curated by Hamida Novakovich who is also a young Muslim Australian curator.
The day had three sessions.

  • The first session: Curating “Muslim Art”: in between Islamic and Contemporary Art.
  • The second session: The Lost Art of Story-Telling: From the Personal to the Political.
  • The third session: Issues of Censorship: Gender, Sexuality and Artistic Expression.
Idil Abdullahi during her presentation at Here&Biw16/ GenYM Forum
Idil Abdullahi during her presentation

The speakers mainly featured some of the artists from the exhibition.

Some of the highlights were:

  • Abdul Abdulallah who spoke on the same panel with me said something that resonated deeply with me. He said: “I don’t speak on behalf of Muslims. I speak as ‘a’ Muslim”. This is a statement that I found many Muslim artists say over and again. We as artists don’t speak on the collective identity because there is no such thing as one unified Islamic identity. Yet somehow we always find ourselves having to speak on behalf of all Muslims.
  • During her presentation Idil Abdullahi broke into tears. I found that very moving. Not because I know her and we are friends. But because that is what art is all about. Stripping yourself down to your own fears, challenges and dreams. It is raw. Her work always fascinated me as they contain more layers of meaning and social commentaries than meet the eye.
  • Fatima Mawas hit another sensitive core when she said that in the West they prefer to see Muslim women in front of cameras instead of behind cameras. And this was and still is her biggest challenge as a filmmaker.

I think that the real agency for us as Muslim artists comes down to this point. Listening to us on our own terms.

Following the last session I had to pose a question, which caused a bit of unease among the audience. My question was directed to Fatima and artist Nadia Fargaab. Both of these artists once wore the Hijab. Fatima identifies as queer.So I said that the West would love them, that this is the kind of stories white feminists would endorse. So how do they make sure that their voices through their artworks are actually their own and not playing to that preconceived sensationalized expectations. They both understood my use of white feminism and how they and I as women of color are critical of the wider feminist movement. But that is a whole different subject that I hope to write about in another post.
One lady from the audience however didn’t like our suggestion that there is a divide in the feminist movement.

During this intense day of discussions and reflections it was clear that Muslim artists are critical, aware and free-minded. They have loads of new perspectives that challenge even the preconceptions of those with progressive ideas.
The last slide in my presentation read: “Make art that matters”. And after seeing the artworks and listening to the artists involved I can see that these Muslim artists are doing that already. They are producing art that matters to them and should matter to everyone sincerely wanting to have better understanding by listening to Muslims.

The exhibition is held at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery at University of Western Australia. And is still on till 16th July. Do visit it if you are in Western Australia.