Monday, April 10, 2017

The Mira Project

The Mira Project ties in art as a means to advocate against Sexual Violence and Violence against Women. Here's a chat with Scherezade Siobhan, the brains behind the project.

Let's start with your story. Could you tell us a bit about your childhood, education, growing years and background?
My story is a bouquet of many different elsewheres! I am a clinical psychologist by way of education and vocation. I have degrees in psychology and pscyhotherapy and am a PhD candidate for the former. I have worked intensively with organizations, communities and individuals for over a decade across various interlinked dimensions including organizational behaviour, group process labs, transformational leadership, emotional wellness, psychological counselling and mental healthcare. My lineage is a combination of Indian, Afghan & Rroma Spanish. Most of my childhood was fairly nomadic owing to an early separation between my parents. I am always a little skittish when I have to specifically talk about myself but for most part this is a good summary of my origin and orbits.

2. You started the Mira Project. What inspired it? Could you share a bit about the journey that went up to its founding? I am a social scientist who makes a living studying, researching and sometimes modifying behaviours in my field of work. In the last few years, I have been specially inclined towards a expanding my practice towards a more feminist form of psychotherapy and counselling.  I come across women from all walks of life and sometimes the unfortunate yet common thread that binds all their/our narratives is frequent exposure and experience with street harassment. When I was 8 or 9, I remember running with my heart gutted in my mouth as a middle-aged lurker followed me from my house to my friends’ where I was originally going. My grandmother had returned home from visiting her eldest son in America and she was loaded with presents for me. I was deathly eager to show off my new summer dress to my playing companions in the neighborhood. I remember that blisteringly hot afternoon of June with damaging accuracy. At 32 years old, I may forget what I wore the day before but I will never forget what I wore that day and how badly I wanted to dissolve into a puddle of sweat, becoming invisible long after I had escaped his tobacco-fueled ambuscade. Nearly 10 years later, I watched my younger sister come home after school and slump into the couch like a deflated parachute. She was panting heavily but refused eye contact and my nerves itched in synaptic misfires. I knew as much as I didn’t want to believe it. The idea that you have to formally or even casually strategize what spaces you want to access or be part of  as you step outside of your house solely because of your gender is a deeply unsettling proposition.  I strongly believe that it is not upto us, women & woman-identified folks, to stop gender based violence in general and street harassment in particular however we do need an open, inclusive and judgment free platform to mobilise our stories and create larger echoes of amplification. That is how The Mira Project came about.  This is a confluence of conversation, community and catharsis. Here, We take space. Without apologies.

3. What were some of the challenges you encountered in your journey? How did you overcome them?
On a daily basis, I tend to invoke Gloria Anzaldua and wrap myself in her mantra that I am not going to persevere in a tradition of silence. This allows me to pivot the axis of our project into a new terrain for newer opportunities. A lot of my work currently involves creating and holding space for collaborative storytelling that is slowly patterning itself into an enduring mosaic of resilience and expressive art. It is a unique and formerly uncharted space for me. My learning curve is evolving on a daily basis. The hardest part is striving for the thoroughness of a prolonged equilibrium in how we curate the stories that are shared with us with a preamble for radical compassion. It is not easy for the participants in this project to invite us into the cloister of their experience without considering the implications. It is definitely not easy reading through a lot of it either but all of it is necessary, needed..

4. What are your key goals / aims / dreams for The Mira Project?
So far, we have curated narratives from over a dozen countries, countless cities and over 100 women in a short span of 4 months. We have had participants from Dublin, Cairo, Edinburgh, Delhi, Chennai, Singapore, Cape Town, Seattle, Los Angeles among many other cities and our age range has been from post-teens to poet laureates in their late 50s. We maintain a closed but very active core group on Facebook that engages in discussions/conversation, resource-sharing and bridges digital-to-irl engagement through actionable opportunities and community-oriented plans. We have actively involved in community catalysis and fostering of better global interaction systems between creatives, academics, scientists, therapists, business women as well as those who choose to take care of homes. We are now in the process of creating a unique support model that allows us to raise funds along with awareness. We will be creating a patron group who can donate to each story we publish and we intend to pool the funds to create educational tools for conducting awareness workshops amongst adolescents in disenfranchised communities particularly in India and South Asia.

5. What keeps you inspired and what keeps you going?
In one word : Duende! In my father’s country, this nearly untranslatable term beseeches an almost primal sense of doing, involvement, submission to the core calling; something that happens through you, turns you into a medium for a larger explosion. Mostly duende affirms the presence of art in any artist but I feel the term is also political and socio-cultural. I sense a puissant, unrelenting outfall of duende on days where I pack in a 10 hrs, full-time job and then knot up my the nest of my unkempt hair and work another 4 hrs on The Mira Project. In Urdu, I am ziddi - stubborn, unfazed, self-willed. Mostly it is the gift and onus of being brought into this world as woman of colour - I must create, I must resist, I must preserve, I must nurture to hilt my kin who are not just those whom I know by the shared rhythms of our blood but also by the shared lineage of our stories. Above all, I think I am trying to do justice to my given name - Scherezade : Shahrahzad - the tireless storyteller. The women who walk with me are fuel for my bones, they allow me to assemble myself into new shapes and structures daily through their words and strength.

6. Have you met with any resistance in the work you're doing? How have you coped with it?
Resistance has been ambiguous, limp and similar to the common chauvinism any feminist activist encounters especially in digital alleyways. We get the odd there-is-no-such-thing-as-street-harassment anonymous chest-beating or the very bromidic and laughable attempts at social media bullying when we collaborate with larger media outlets for sharing of stories. We subscribe to our grandmother’s adages at these junctures, namely - empty vessels spawn maximum din. Ignore, focus, marshall your energies towards building constructive muscle. Above and beyond this, our work has been universally appreciated and supported without any exceptions.

7. How can we help support your initiative?
Engage with the project directly. We allow for each participant who shares their story to leave a wishlist. We encourage our readers to perhaps fulfill some wish from that wishlist. Read us. Talk about us. Write to us.. Share our work with your networks and strengthen the signal. We want to translate the stories we are curating into multi-media, experiential, performative, participatory arrangements for which we want to partner with grassroots activists, artists, filmmakers, musicians, dancers and whole plethora of people who would like to help us make these narratives come to life. If you are a journalist or a writer, please contact us for interviews or possible feature so we can enhance our audience base and reach out to more people.  Participate in our fundraisers in whichever small way you can. We are in the process of setting up educational resources and possibly a digital helpcenter that will allow women to speak about their experiences with gender-based violence without critique or confrontation.