Apr 30 2021. views 101
Creating a safe space for experiences, thoughts, fears and dreams, ‘Tales From The Crypt’ is a collection of Tamil and English stories, poems and photographs on the personal recounts of life, love, courage and healing. The 135 paged Zine recently released and made available online, is the effort of the Women and Media Collective (WMC) as part and parcel of their ‘Expanding the Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the Internet’ network project in collaboration with the Association For Progressive Communications (APC).
WMC is a feminist organisation formed in 1984 with the mission of heralding transformative change based on feminist principles within a framework of rights through the use of media, advocacy, research and coalition building. Their work, while organised and carried out under several domains, is implemented intersectionally across varied issues such as Gender, Politics, Sexuality, Labour and Media.
The APC collaborated project is developed on the navigation of digital spaces, exploring themes such as digital rights, digital security and digital storytelling. While a large component of the project focused on raising awareness on digital security and social media and the precautions and resources available to combat different forms of cyber violence and cybercrime; the second limb of the project was to encourage and facilitate digital storytelling as a tool of healing, visibility, advocacy, awareness-raising and community building.
The concept of utilizing digital storytelling as a tool was expanded through two facets; firstly, by conducting bilingual (Tamil and Sinhala) digital security workshops for young activists using storytelling components and how to use it as a tool in their advocacy and secondly, through an open call sent to WMC’s network of feminists and activists with a series of prompts to inspire storytelling – the result of which was the newly released Zine and the subject of this article - ‘Tales from the Crypt’.
Initiating and encouraging submissions for the Zine, WMC released a set of prompts, exploring the body and self, that allowed storytellers to share their personal experiences on gender, sexuality, body image, consent, pleasure, stigma, relationships, sexual rights and sexual education among others. “There are so many conversations that are considered taboo; trauma, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), mental illness, bodies, ways of presenting, pleasure, relationships, intimacy, exercising agency, breaking free of outdated norms and questioning the status quo. These are all topics that are met with resistance or backlash. We are so often bombarded with damaging social norms, traditional gender roles and shamed for wanting to aspire to be different, through mainstream media, societal discourse, educators, familial pressures, discriminatory laws, practices and regulations. The criticism and policing of our bodies runs so deep that such views are validated by discriminatory legislature, laws and practices,” comments Harry Fernando, Project Officer - WMC and Co-Facilitator of Tales From The Crypt. “The purpose of the storytelling component and the Zine was to invite people with insight and reflection to express their thoughts, fears, dreams, trauma, autonomy and sense of self in their own words and on their own terms. The pieces remaining uncensored without further explanation on our ends.”
Tales From The Crypt includes 26 thought-provoking bilingual short poems and stories that highlight the nuances, the discriminations, the double standards, the stigma and the discourse of society today. The stories, multifarious in their themes, shares intimate experiences of depression, sexual abuse, consent, relationships, sex work, liberation, love and mindfulness. “Tales from the Crypt is a modern-day take on that storytelling. It is evocative and precious as it seeks to make visible the hidden and often unspoken realm of sexuality, love and life in a creative and poetic manner and in the telling and the re-telling, the stories invoke a brave new agency and sharing and activism that is relatable to experiences many of us can or can't admit to having” shared Kumudini Samuel, Director Programs - State, Politics and Sexuality, WMC.
Animating these stories are the powerful illustrations that breathe life into these events. Five handpicked illustrators (Sharya Wickramesooriya, Kinara Dissanayake, Gabrielle Philips, Shenuka Corea and Akiel Surajdeen) known for their exceptionally inclusive and diverse works, were asked to draw their own interpretations of the submissions. Co-Facilitator Dharini Priscilla of Bakamoono.lk added that this collection of poems, stories and illustrations, was a thought-provoking response to the alarming lack of safe spaces in society. “In Sri Lanka, we’ve deeply overlooked the importance of having someone to talk to. During the pandemic, it became painfully obvious that safety was not a given. For many, it was a luxury. For some, it was a commodity for which they had to pay a price. We wanted to do something about it. So, we used the internet - which sometimes seems like the world’s biggest refugee camp. Through our online conversations and collaborations, we tried to make people a little safer and a little less lost.”
Adding to the conversation, Fernando concludes storytelling is ‘healing’ allowing one to acknowledge their own experiences, feelings, desires, fears and circumstances and provides an opportunity to read stories that are similar to their own. “It was WMC’s ultimate privilege to be able to facilitate the telling of stories that will have an impact and create much-needed dialogues. Visibility creates a ripple of change. The greatest differences it makes is in advocating for change, starting what can be a difficult conversation, being an act of resistance to oppressive forces as well as the strength it gives to those of us whose stories mirror theirs.”