Harnessing creativity - when can the arts change hearts and minds on controversial topics?


20 January 2012

This month I attended Mike Leigh’s play ‘Grief’ – where a 1950’s war widow ‘survives’ through smoking and alcohol; her brother becomes depressed upon ‘retirement’ after 45 years of work and the 16 year old daughter commits suicide upon failing her exams with no hope for the future.

The play could have equally been set any in any of the last five decades as these same issues – of grief, addiction, depression, isolation and suicide – are with us whilst being further complicated with ‘newer’ challenges, such as gangs, teenage sexual exploitation and FGM in the UK. So how can art help cast light on these challenging issues that wear us down with daily doses of depressing news?

The Baron’s Court theatre recently showcased a physical theatre production including song, music and poetry of ‘The birds, only the birds can see’. Directed by playwright Zenia Orphanides and Catherine Lemmon, it covers two intertwined stories – of a young girl who ends up trafficked into prostitution and a girl survivor who finds freedom through telling her story. As the tales are told we see how one is intertwined with the other.

Daily, men, women and children are trafficked into and within the UK, experiencing slavery, rape, desperation and fear. Although some victims get help, untold numbers are improperly detained in prisons and detention centres.

Over 95% of Poppy Project clients lost their freedom because a trafficker gave them a false passport or for stealing food to survive. Sign the petition to help end unfair incarceration. Juliet Lyon, Director of Prison Reform states ‘Too many foreign national women are languishing in British jails having been coerced or trafficked into offending’. ‘Many of the women brought into the UK are deceived or exploited’, says Olga Heaven, Director of Hibiscus.

There are widespread concerns in this sector that fragmented government policies fail to adequately address girls’ safety, particularly those from ethnic communities. Recent actions to tackle sexualisation and sexual exploitation help, but do not link with violence against women. Personal Social Health and Economic (PHSE) guidance is still not statutory in schools.

The gang and youth violence work needs to tackle sexual violence and harmful notions of masculinity. Restored’s campaign, First Man Standing, encourages all men to stand up and stop violence against women in their workplaces, communities, schools, families and churches. Sign up here.
Increasingly, film is also a useful medium to portray controversial issues and that is true for our campaigning work to stand against FGM or violence against women and issues such as fistula caused by rape in DRC. Recent events include film screenings Abandon the Knife. See our ‘Useful Links’ on this site for useful anti-FGM resources.

We are shortly hosting a discussion on the links between porn and labiaplasty (female genital cosmetic surgery) following our last blog. See details on our Facebook page and please ‘like us’, while you are there!