In our continuing series of interviews with ‘People You Need To Know’, we spoke with Bogna Grazyna Jaroslawski – Winner of the Social Art Award 2019. Read the exclusive and inspiring interview of Bogna as she gives insights on her latest projects and her journey in becoming an artist-activist, installation artist, stage designer and dramaturge.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CURRENT BUSINESS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING EXACTLY?
I am an artist-activist, stage designer, installation artist and dramaturge. As a female freelancer in the creative world, you have to be able to assert yourself. I have multiple qualifications in the artistic and scientific fields and therefore, the freedom to pursue different professions: The Social Sculpture program I developed has been in direct cooperation with people with whom I carried out the installations in public spaces. I am now in Indonesia for this purpose, getting in contact with NGOs for possible cooperative projects. My work focuses on real people and integrates their personal stories and experiences into the installations. The authenticity, even though it could be critical or political, produces impact, because it’s inclusive and positive in its outreach. Everybody gets a place within a social structure. In the future, I wish to found an NGO out of this artistic initiative.
I also work as a stage designer in theatre, opera and other performance arenas. This work gives me great pleasure and nourishes my own artistic language, intellectually and on a human level. As a stage designer, you become part of a larger team of different creative people within a complex theatre structure. It is not easy at the beginning, but you grow into it. I am also active in the organizational-theoretical field as an artistic director, where I develop larger projects for public spaces. I like working on the street outside a shelled and controlled theatre, where you get in touch with the pure reactions of the audience.
I work as a freelancer, but I have also been employed as an opera dramaturge – at some point, I had to decide what kind of life I wanted. I chose the risky option. Basically, all my activities are in the creative-artistic realm.
YOU RECENTLY WON THE SOCIAL ART AWARD. CONGRATULATIONS ON THAT. IT’S QUITE THE ACCOMPLISHMENT! CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR PROJECT, “PINK SILENCE”?
Yes, that’s right! I am very overwhelmed by the award, which will be presented in Berlin in June 2020. It is the first time that I have participated in an artistic competition – the response to PINK SILENCE has been phenomenal and also amusing. The project was already created in India in 2015, but is only now receiving attention and recognition. The decision to take part in the competition was based on the criteria of the award, which are very much in tune with my work ethic. Moreover, I actually dreamed I won the competition, which gave me a great motivation to cheer people on to vote for me in the first part.
Pink Silence is a wonderful project! It’s an installation about violence against women and children, which is still a taboo. The story behind it is complex: At Gandhi square at Pondicherry beach in Tamil Nadu state, a mass of 365 free-standing bamboo sticks were publicly displayed. Some sticks carried Tamil or English messages written on mirror foil on which the viewer could observe themselves as they read them. The aesthetics were inspired by the Gulabi Gang – the first feminist movement in Northern India, where women hold huge demonstrations to create more awareness for violence against women. Imagine a critical mass of 20,000 women – all dressed up in pink saris. In South India, where I was active, the Gulabi Gang was completely unknown, but the identification with the woman was present. Because most of the participants of the Gulabi Gang and in Tamil Nadu were Dalit – a social group within the Indian caste system regarded as “untouchables”. When you are born as female Dalit, you encounter many limitations and prejudices within your own society and if something bad happens to you, you receive only a lack of support. We began as five people cutting and polishing the bamboo. But after a few days, the locals became aware of the goal – to express a taboo – and joined us. So we gained 200 participants and became very active.
DID YOU WRITE A BUSINESS PLAN? WAS IT AN EFFECTIVE TOOL FOR YOU?
No, not yet, as I am a freelance artist – I am slowly getting used to setting up my own business. It will be necessary one day when I can build up enough structures to found an NGO and apply for funding. For this purpose, I would like to exchange ideas with people who have experience in the B2G (business to governance) field. I attended a seminar for women who want to start a business last year, but my NGO topic was too specific for this course.
ARE THERE SPECIFIC ADVANTAGES OR DISADVANTAGES OF BEING A WOMAN BUSINESS OWNER?
I think that every owner, male or female, must learn to deal with the risk of uncertainty. For me, it always goes up and down like waves and it took me a few years to learn how to deal with the fact that I don’t know how the project will develop. Since art is not the easiest field in which to earn money. It’s important to recognize which factors you can influence in business and which you can’t, which in my opinion comes with experience and time. This saves a lot of stress and energy. In general, however, I have observed that in my field of social art, the majority of women are involved in executive development and implementation – men, however, are in decision-making positions, deciding where funding is distributed and to whom – that is curious. I think it is important to work on a fair distribution here as well.
I AM INSPIRED BY:
Human creativity, whether within art makes no difference and real encounters and exchanges with people you meet by chance, travel, nature, languages, technology…
YOU’RE ALSO AN ACTIVIST. HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN WORKING FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCACY?
I consider myself an artist who develops their own “handwriting”. Activism came gradually over the years because it became increasingly clear to me what kind of art I consider desirable. Of course, it is also important that there are artists who are looking at form and aesthetic, but this kind of art does not interest me as much.
For me, it is important to understand society at its weak points and to inspire to improve something. I do this with art and thereby transgress the boundaries of the political and social. Art is simply my superpower, through which I can reach people and inspire them to action, that’s why I do it. For me, the focus is on maintaining human creativity, which we quickly forget about in our busy, everyday lives. Women’s rights affect all people because they make up over half the population. Equally important is the empowerment of the weakest in society because I believe that social change and improvement can only be initiated if it grows organically and is not decided from above.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE OF THIS MOVEMENT IN GENERAL?
I aim to secure continuity and financing. The concept has now been “tested” and is working very well on several levels. I even held a TEDx Talkon Social Sculpture and I have been asked more and more to give talks as an expert on this topic – there are some wonderful things happening right now. But since I come from the creative sector, I still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to business models. If you can build this up sustainably, then it is possible to initiate many social impulses with art, to help people to become socially audible and visible again.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES OR SETBACKS THAT HAVE HAPPENED FOR THIS MOVEMENT.
The initiative is initially based on donations, grants and time. My time is not remunerated and I have to find a balance between my own work, which finances me, and the Social sculptures, which are non-profit, but the future I want to create for myself.
Another challenge is that to start the projects themselves, you have to build a relationship and trust with the people you want to work with. The trust is not always present when you experienced too much in life.
THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE I HAVE EVER BEEN GIVEN IS….
Hang in there, don’t give up and keep going. Setbacks are lessons to sharpen your own path and to orient yourself better.
How can we contribute and support your business?
At the moment I am collecting donations for the upcoming social sculpture “Please hold the line” in Lebanon. The idea is to invite people from different religions, ethics and languages to a common meal in order to lead a discourse of approach. Afterwards, the results will be written or painted on the tablecloth underneath. The tablecloth is to be used in different places – from refugee camps to big cities. Lebanon is a melting pot and the last month showed an interesting situation within the population. One could observe that cohesion is possible in the fight against corruption, this is my starting point for the conversations.