Review: The Rise and Future of Heroism Science 2016 Conference

Last week I took part in The Rise and Future of Heroism Science conference at Murdoch University. I have presented my first paper coming out of my PhD Research there. My presentation was titled “The Evolving Visual Representation Of Palestinian Heroes Since Year 2000”.

Let me start by talking more about the conference. It is the first conference of its kind to be dedicated to Heroism Science worldwide. There was participants from Australia and USA. You can read more about it here.
The conference is interdisciplinary as the presentations varied from discipline to discipline which made the conference more dynamic and engaging.

For me the highlights were the following presentations which mainly relate to areas of research that I’m interested in and intrigued by:

Keynote speaker: Dr. Peter le Breton, Transdisciplinarity, transformative inquiry and heroic scholarship

In his presentation Dr. le Breton explained the rise of transdisciplinarity in academic research. He used a very useful analogy. He said if we shed a red light on an object we see differently than when we shed a blue light. Certain aspects reveal themselves while others disappear. But then if we put the object under sunlight  we can get a better fuller image. And that is how transdisciplianrity can inform and improve research.
Another important thing he said was that what drives the inquiry is the inquiry itself. And you can’t separate the researcher from the research. This resonated a lot with me. As my PhD research involves the Palestinian issue. And I’m a Palestinian I find myself always having to struggle with how I should be positioning myself and my voice within my “objective” research. But now I understand better how I can consolidate my research and myself. Indeed my research is informed by who I am and how I understand the world inside and outside of academic research. And it is not about being objective or subjective but it is about being honest and truthful with my inquiry, findings and my conclusions.
Dr. le Breton also talked about the concept of “Heroic Scholarship” and he gave an example of David Bohm. The concept is simple; scholars should pursue the truth, stand for what they believe in and be welling to risk it all. Of course nowadays this is a trickier stand as Academia became a career for many and thus a source of income. However the concept has it’s appeal on me and as a budding researcher I hope that the heroine within me will be able to shine.

Christopher Comerford, The first duty: Heroism and the personal truth of whistle blowing

This presentation caught my attention because I’m interested in whistle blowing as an act of defiance in the face of greedy power and tyranny. The presentation drew comparison between whistle blowing and especially the Snowden case and Star Trek. I found Comerford’s reading from pop culture to be interesting and intriguing and it made sense.

Audrey Fernandes Satar, Listening to the Sound of One Hand clapping: The depiction of moral characters in colonial graphics

Fernandes Satar presenting style was theatrical, given how her research stems from her passion and her position as an Indian. The subject matter of her research is something I’m interested in. Visual culture and colonialism are bound to produce an intriguing discussion especially through a critical lens. And that is what Fernandes Satar did in her presentation by commenting on characters in colonial graphics.
I would say that the essence of what she talked about has been happening to different races and in different settings for a long time. A quick look at today’s pop culture and mainstream media and we can see how characters of “the other” is being portrayed and misrepresented. This is a topic that I can talk on for ever so I will leave it here and maybe tackle it in another post.

Samiha Olwan, De/romanticizing heroism in Palestinian women bloggers narrative
I know Samiha personally but listening to her in a professional setting is different. The subject is close to my own research, though her inquiry is through literature and specifically the blog sphere.  Her presentation talked about heroism through the eyes of one Palestinian female blogger. Her presentation outlines Samiha’s critical reading of the blog posts  through feminism, post colonialism and nationalism lenses. I was really moved by Samiha’s response to one of the questions whether these blogger think of publishing their work through different media. Samiha said she doesn’t know (I read she doesn’t care) and that she is only interested in their voices. Two things popped into my head. First, how sometimes as scholars we can get caught up by the technical (method, medium, deliverables,…). And the other thing the importance of counter narrative voices and “listening” to the voices which need/want to be heard.

Bronwyn Lovell, Writing diverse science fiction heroes, and the heroism of the science fiction writer

 Lovell’s presentation started by looking at various hero images in science fiction culture especially movies. She identified a lack of  proper diverse imagery especially when it comes to female characters. Her research will be informing a science fiction novel that she is writing where she is trying to subvert the typical hero archetypes and include more divers characters in a none tokenistic way. I’m looking forward to reading her novel.

Patrick Jones, Mindfulness and heroism: Clear mind / open heart

 Mindfullness is a meditation technique that I have once used and I can say it worked for me. Thus drawing this correlation between mindfulness and heroism got me intrigued. The most exciting part of Jones presentation was him opening up the buttons of his shirt to reveal a superman t-shirt underneath. You can see this and actually watch his presentation  including my question at 21:57.

Layla Al Hameed, Faking heroism: A mechanism of ‘Mafia Offer’

While all the presentation varied in their scopes and perspectives on Heroism. Al Hameed’s is the only one that looked at a negative heroic imagery or the faked heroism. I found her voice as a researcher very clear and I liked her use of the term “Mafia Offer” within the context of faked heroism.

Two presentations worth mentioning are Sylvia Gray,Democratising heroism: Effects of heroism training on individual heroic action and Shawn Furey, Heroic living, human ecosystem management, and psychological wellbeing. Both Gray and Furey shared personal accounts of how they have survived domestic violence and abuse and became heroes in their own ways. They both represented applied examples of the Heroism science. Which for me grounded the whole conference. They both talked about their respective organizations; Hero Town Geelong and The Hero Training School.

As for my presentation, I examined how the hero image has evolved in Palestinian visual arts, films and digital/social media scenes since the year 2000.
Through examining examples of Palestinian artworks, installations, films, graffiti, pop culture and social media (including Internet memes); I argue that three distinct archetypes of heroes have emerged. The first archetype is the political icon. Images related to these icons are usually celebratory
in nature and often romanticised. The second archetype is the anonymous rebels. Most of the imagery depicting them especially in social media is romanticising them yet artists have been challenging these images either by contextualizing the heroes’ behaviours or questioning the media depictions of them. The third archetype is the samidoun; the everyday people whose heroism lies in their attempts to lead a normal life. Images of these heroes have increased with the accelerated use of social media and micorblogging by Palestinians especially at times of military operations.
Each of these archetypes has their own particular audience and reach, raising the question as to which of these three archetypes create the most powerful empathetic connections with a Western audience. An answer to this question would be of immediate usefulness to activist artists and designers working within a Western context.

In fact the reason why I conducted this research as part of my bigger PhD research is due to that. How Western audience react to Palestinian hero images and who arguably can induce more empathetic connections.

In conclusion I have to say that I have enjoyed my time at the conference. Olivia Efthimiou has done a great job organizing this conference by bringing different scholarly voices but also having the logistics of the conference run seemingly smoothly.

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.