Dedicated to all the others

Dedicated to All the Others is my new life story project. I’ve been working towards it for a while, with little faith it would actually turn into a thing. However, now the pieces are falling into place I’m proud to have made such progress, but scared of the enormity of the task. Finding the words to explain this project is hard (perhaps because so much of it is beyond words), but it’s rooted in my first graphic novel Becoming Unbecoming. When I started drawing and writing this book, I simply wanted to see if a graphic novel could communicate the things that were so hard to talk about, and apparently so difficult for others to listen to. It turned out not to be simple at all.

Since Becoming Unbecoming was published by Myriad Editions in 2015 so many people have reached out to me to tell their stories, and I’ve tried to be worthy of their trust in me and my work. It’s just a little book, but it has a big heart, like me 🙂 Now, through my new not-for-profit company Red Dress Collective and my new project Dedicated to All the Others, I hope to build on these encounters, what I’ve learned from them, and formalise the process of helping others find creative ways to tell their life stories. I’m at the start of this adventure and it is still quite fragile – I have funding till April 2022 after which I will need to find a way to make this more permanent and sustainable – but I have support. I have friends and colleagues, a team of Trustees (Anna Mazzola, Sara Allkins, Tamara Turner Moore) and I have all of you.

When I wrote Becoming Unbecoming I had no idea how much it would mean to so many people. So, so many.

As a literature student, I’d wanted words to fix me. But it was images that pieced me back together. For months I’d been stumbling under the weight of my own silence. Sometimes it buried me. An alternating lack or intensity of emotion isolated me from everything but my own trauma. Becoming Unbecoming offered me a model to live by, a way to feel less alone without speaking and without turning rape into spectacle. Una’s images of dark forests and of her own body—lying supine, sometimes literally rooted to the earth—captured my own feelings of being both trapped and vulnerable…

Una’s discretion in regards to her own experiences—and even her identity—made me realize that my story is not for someone else’s entertainment, and that even in silence I can find solidarity. She dedicates her book “to all the others.” It’s the first book I ever read that was dedicated to me.

Sarah Hildebrand, Public Books (2018)

I always thought I should use Becoming Unbecoming as a resource, I just wasn’t clear how that would work. But my readers showed me how. They emailed, they hung around after talks, they befriended me and I befriended them. Like Sarah Hildebrand, quoted above, they showed me how the themes and aesthetic of Becoming Unbecoming can help others find their voice, which is nice, because I dedicated it to them.

On 24th November, 2021, I had the pleasure and privilege of gathering by zoom for a book club, based around Becoming Unbecoming, with a small, brilliant group of women who have trusted me with their life-stories. The ‘book club’ is the first stage in a six week activity that explores a range of approaches to writing lives that have been touched by violence. I’m being very cautious and have spent a long time preparing and learning for this ethically challenging scenario. I’m hoping to learn as much from my participants as they do from me and I’m so grateful for their contributions.

The video below is made from an ambient recording at Slung Low theatre, without a microphone, and was meant just for our own records, but it came out so well we decided to share it. Written by Participant 9, it was inspired by our first telephone conversation, when I mentioned that I felt if I’d had exposure to feminism, I might have been better protected as a child and young adult. Performed by Sara Allkins, dramaturge for Red Dress Collective, who specialises in ‘forum theatre’, a strategy in which participants test their creative writing as performance. The dramaturge/actor helps participants engage with their own writing and that of other group members with the distance afforded by it being spoken in a voice other than their own. Participants influence the work by ‘directing’ the performance from the safety of the group, utilising the actor as both proxy and mirror. In this case, the group wanted Sarah to read the work in the style of a preacher.

The six week pilot project was funded by Leeds Inspired. Just a little pot of money to do big work. After the pilot, I’ll take what I’ve learned into a period of research and development funded by Arts Council England, and after that, a major project that I hope will build into an international, mass participation legacy for Una and her little, red dress.

Here are some amazing images made by Participant 5. In pencil and burn marks on paper.

Here are some samples of writing, made during the creative writing activity.

First up, Participant 2, who is a prolific writer and made these two striking, powerful works on the themes of silence and noise, after a discussion on Una’s silence in Becoming Unbecoming and about survivors finding their voice.

Here’s participant 5 again, in writing. ‘My Bed’

My company was registered on Thursday 25th November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day designated by the United nations to raise awareness of rape, domestic violence and other forms of male violence against women. A good omen for my project, I hope. One of the aims of IDEVAW is to highlight that the scale and true nature of this violence is often hidden. We have only just begun to learn to speak about these issues (though perhaps we have not yet learned to listen). Like toddlers learning a new language, we need to practice, and we may get it wrong at first, but we mustn’t give up until we can express ourselves freely.

We have to change the culture. To do that we have to create culture. We need stories, told in ways that help.

The work helped to awaken a subject that should not be swept under the carpet. The young women began to talk about the issue. The group grew stronger and an enormous bond was forged.

Felipe Vieira Gallisteo, theatre director, Mauá, São Paulo State
Dedicado a todas as outras – Coletivo Rubra (2019)

This blog post was updated on 11th March, 2022

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