An exhibition on the relationship between politicians and people! Taking place in the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, 9am to 5pm, 13 January to 16 March 2024, it features research findings from six countries: Brazil, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, the UK and the US. Living Democracy – Frayed entanglements offers films, photography, installations, audio and text that reveal riffs, rhythms and rituals in Parliaments. It is an explosion of creativity by a team of researchers and film-makers from Brazil, Ethiopia, Fiji and the UK. The wider programme has been funded by a £2m ‘advanced grant’, awarded by the European Research Council, and another from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. For details about visits and film showings see the Global Research Network on Parliaments and People.
My part in creating film, photos, audio, installations etc, has been less than most of the rest of the team. Within the core team, Richard Axelby and Shirley Van de Maarel have curated the whole process and advised on the making of four major full-length documentaries, while cajoling the rest of us to produce all the other exhibits with increasing desperation as the deadline for final edits loomed closer and closer. Shirley turned some of our video into a 3 screen immersive experience that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Cristiane Brum Bernardes, Mitiku Tesafye Gabrehitwot and Jas Kaur were centrally involved in making films in Brazil, Sheffield and Fiji respectively and produced various exhibits, requiring photos and text from all of us. Mitiku hasn’t only commissioned a painfully moving animation about Tigray, but made videos about the Ethiopian diaspora. Telma Hoyler made several amazing installations without which the exhibition would have been two-dimensional. Amir Massoumian was critical to co-ordination but also created animated histories of all the parliaments. Giulia Fontes gathered together the items from our six sites for our unique parliamentary gift shop. Each worked with various partners across the world in collaborative configurations that meant that the labour to produce the exhibits was spread even further beyond our team. The satisfaction of admiring the work of others is so much more enduring that appraising my own efforts. I am never satisfied with my own work, but when I am associated with the achievements of others, the pleasure resonates with a sense of purpose. I thank these talented colleagues for this incredible festival of knowledge and creativity about politics.
This exhibition is a response to chronic political uncertainty. Even finding out what is going on in political worlds has become extremely difficult. As citizens we expect to be represented by an elected politician – as individuals or as a territory, constituency or wider group – but if this entails promoting the interests and views of all of us, which is not literally possible in a given moment. A temporal perspective is needed. Symbolic representation by elected politicians is not enough either. Citizens around the world voice frustration at not being represented in tangible ways. What is missing is an understanding about how politicians get into relationships with various groups and with each other and what then happens. This exhibition is about those relationships and how they are both similar and different across the world.