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User 4

Susan Mensah

Visual artist - gender, education and human rights activist

I'm a visual artist based in the UK of Ghanaian parentage. I'm a self-taught artist with an academic background in human rights and social anthropology and Education, Gender and International Development. I'm currently working as an independent consultant and project manager for Art Works for Change.

Art Works for Change (AWFC) www.artworksforchange.org is a nonprofit organization that produces traveling contemporary art exhibitions and games addressing pressing issues such as social justice, human rights, gender equity and environmental sustainability and stewardship. Through its partnerships with museums, advocacy and educational organizations, AWFC utilizes the transformative power of art to foster social change by promoting awareness and promoting dialogue and action in communities.

Overall, our key organizational programmes include multimedia contemporary exhibitions:

1. The “Off the Beaten Path: Violence, Women & Art” exhibition. The impact of violence against women is now well documented. It denies women their most basic human rights, such as the right to health and a safe and secure life, and is a major threat to the social and economic development of communities and countries globally. OTBP aims to raise awareness on the root causes of violence and invite communities to discuss and debate the issue empowering them with knowledge and information in order to bring about transformative change.

2. Our newest exhibition, Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art & Invention raises awareness on the ways our everyday activities are linked to loss of species and biodiversity and examine how biodiversity contributes to the quality of our lives and the importance in building a future in which human needs are met in harmony with nature.

3. The Aware/Oware: A Game for Female Empowerment is an interactive and innovative aesthetic pubic artwork and digital game which enables communities to explore various issues on the journey towards empowerment. Art Works for Change looks for ways to create opportunities for low-income audiences to attend and participate in activities through our community outreach and programming partners at each venue where our exhibition runs.

AWFC have created the AWARE/OWARE: A Game for Female Empowerment an innovative and large-scale art project which also serves as an interactive forum for the community to explore the issue of empowerment. The Aware/Oware: A Game for Female Empowerment was adapted from the ancient African board game, possibly the oldest board game in the world, dating back 7,000 years. While it varies from country to country, even from tribe to tribe, it is played in many African countries and around the world and is alleged to have originated from West Africa. Often people play with pebbles using hollow scooped into the earth or specially carved wooden boards with seeds.

The traditionally played ‘Oware’ game focuses on two central principles “to reap you must sow” and “to receive, you must learn to give.” As such, this game is not only played for enjoyment but has been passed down from generation to generation as a useful educational and empowerment tool. Furthermore, researchers are discovering that we can learn valuable lessons through games for social change or ‘games for good’. Qualities come forth that often exemplify our best selves as we become motivated, optimistic, focused, collaborative, and heroic in the face of ‘empowerment and success’ as well as ‘failure’ thereby cultivating strength and resilience, qualities which can affect how we live in the real world.

In November 2011, AWFC launched the Aware / Oware: A Game for Female Empowerment to Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town and then toured the game to the United Nations COP 17 Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. With funding from Freedom To Create, AWFC invited participation from six artist collectives in South Africa, including Woza Moya-Hillcrest Aids Trust; Ardmore Ceramics; Keiskamma Arts Trust; Hlabisa Basket Weavers; Greatmore Studios; and Artist Proof Studio.

GOALS OF THE INITIATIVE

The AWARE/OWARE: A Game for Empowerment will tour to Senegal, Guinea and Burkina Faso in December 2012 in collaboration with Sister Fa – the inspirational Senegalese hip-hop artist and human rights activist - to raise awareness on harmful traditional practices e.g. Female Genital Cutting (FGC) and to promote human rights and gender equality and empowerment. This project will bring together various organizations including AWFC, Sister Fa and her band, Orchid Project, UNFPA, World Vision, Tostan. The goal of the tour is to provide entertainment education that engages and inspires children to affect change in their communities. The tour will bring together music performance, educational workshops and art in schools around Senegal in order to raise awareness on human rights and promote positive health practices.

The tour will be documented and a web series created that will be viewable around the world highlighting the day to day experiences of a musician/activist and the activities conducted within communities during the tour. The videos will be entertaining and episodic capturing how creative strategies can be used effectively to educate and inspire activism in order to bring about positive social change.

The Campaign will carry out a sensitization programmes throughout schools to raise awareness on the very sensitive topic of FGC. The aim of this programme is to sensitize communities, particularly children, drawing their attention to the negative consequences of FGC. Previous tours have been received with great enthusiasm by audiences and thousands have attended these concerts. One of Sister Fa’s greatest success has been her collaboration with the NGO Tostan and with Senegalese communities e.g. her home village of Thionck Essyl – where FGC is prevalent. Through the sensitization programme this village has now officially abandoned the practice.

Our initiatives bridge the gap that exists between local communities, civil society organizations, the media, science and technology and the arts. By bringing together stakeholders and engaging them in activities which encourage dialogue, debate, storytelling and awareness raising activities, we believe it is possible to make an impact and bring about positive social change. We have also noted from previous exhibitions that such exhibitions can yield extremely positive results thereby creating new possibilities, identifying necessities and bring about sustainable change in communities and the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalised.

Previous exhibitions curated and touring by Art Works for Change include:

• Nature of Cities
• Melting Ice/A Hot Topic
• Moving Towards a Balanced Earth
• Making the Choice - Bringing Forth an Environmental Renaissance
• Unlearning Intolerance
• The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama
• Millions of Pieces, Only One Puzzle

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