Director: Annemie Maes
Duration: 00:05:39; Aspect Ratio: 1.738:1; Hue: 21.112; Saturation: 0.152; Lightness: 0.507; Volume: 0.288; Cuts per Minute: 31.768; Words per Minute: 87.186
The research project ‘Politics of Change’ is a collective work in which artists, working women, activists and ecologists, economists, educators and anthropologists want to initiate collaborative dialogues to research ideas and solutions, which support decentralised structures, diversity and community development.
The project involves not only public discussion, but an extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context. Drawing on a wide range of artistic and theoretical fields, the aim is to imagine new and sustainable relationships between humans, their environments and technologies.
As artists, filmmakers, theorists and activists we have to enrich the public debate around sustainable living, the environment and eco-technology. We have to think about the kind of future in which we want to live and work. What social and economic systems can we envisage beyond the regular ones? Is there anything that we can learn from existing (non-western) experiments?
I started with the Politics of Change project when I was in India, visiting the Barefoot project, but it’s about so much more: the main focus is on communities that take positive change into their own hands. On people who decide to get up and act, who organise themselves spontaneously, from the bottom up, and who form networks to realise that change.
My interest in women solar engineers and the Mahila Samiti groups for women’s empowerment in Rajasthan comes out of a personal involvement that links art, women, empowerment, ecology, technology and social engagement.
When I learned about the Barefoot College project (http://www.barefootcollege.org
), I was struck by certain similarities between two practices that seem worlds apart at first sight: my own artistic work environment at Okno in Brussels and the practical trainings/workshops at Barefoot College in Rajasthan.
Okno is an artist-run organisation for media, art and technology. Its focus lies on collective technological research projects. (http://okno.be/
) Current projects use sustainable energies like solar/photovoltaic and wind energy to weave city communities, mesh networks and create public space art projects. Our decentralised DIY workshops are a platform for sharing knowledge to arrive at poignant results.
Barefoot College in Tilonia, Rajasthan, uses a similar structure to train solar engineers. The learning environment is open and decentralised. Knowledge is passed on from the bottom up, using a hands-on approach.
The village community selects which women will be sent on a six-month solar engineering training, and every village family contributes a share in the remuneration of the engineers to set up and maintain the village solar system.
When I went to Barefoot College for the first time in 2008, I discovered that the solar workshops are only a very small part in a much bigger story concerning the empowerment of the participating women. Diving into the matter, I quickly realised that a documentary film had to become the central issue of my project. This clip and the interviews with the women solar engineers of Barefoot College are from the film, Mahila, which can be seen here: http://pad.ma/TL/info
Barefoot College was set up 35 years ago in the district of Tilonia in Rajasthan, one of the poorest states in India. A group of middle-class city intellectuals came to Tilonia, convinced that there was only one solution to eradicate the endemic poverty and powerlessness of 70% of the population ("the barefoot"): putting lost skills and economic self-sufficiency back into their hands.
The Barefoot College campus stands as a model for the regeneration of land and people. The functional buildings and houses, constructed out of local low-cost materials, all have running water and are powered by solar energy. They are designed and built by the 'barefoot architect', an illiterate farmer from Tilonia, and by local masons.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, Barefooters believe power resides with the poor. Poor rural people have dignity but no opportunities. Barefoot College works with this human potential to help the villagers rediscover their traditional skills and to learn some new ones, such as the technology of solar energy.
The solar engineer project has demonstrated that bringing electricity to remote villages through solar energy could also be women's responsibility.
Most of the solar engineers come from traditional and conservative societies and they have struggled to fight for their identity. That's why this new confidence in the potential of women is so important.
Initially, the women participated in the training to fulfill a basic need: getting a job and improving the financial position of the family. The training was first regarded with suspicion, but as the results became visible, it earned the trust of rural communities. Its wider consequences are especially groundbreaking: the women have gained self-respect and have secured a stronger position for themselves in the family structures. These rural women have become symbols of a new partnership within the community and are often used as examples to propagate and elevate women's status.
Questionnaire I :
how do you introduce yourself to someone?
do you provide for other people than yourself?
what did you do at 5 am this morning?
what is your position in your family?
do you consider yourself poor?
do you have a belonging?
what is the most actual problem in your surroundings?
did you ever go to a big city?
to which media do you have access?
how is information flowing?
how do you define your work?
do you work in group?
can you make a living from your profession?
how much do you earn a month?
how do you spend your money?
do you need specific equipment to execute your job?
how do invest in equipment? loan?collective buying? gift?
is it important to work in a women-only group?
are you part of networks?
does technology affect your social environment?
is your work location specific?
what are your sources of inspriration?
describe your relation to your community?
do you encounter gender-specific problems?
do you connect technology and activism?
do you have experience with alternative forms of knowledge production?
how do you deal with ownership?
are you close to nature?
do you care about ecology and sustainable environments?
is there an obstacle which keeps you from pursuing your interests?
what are your ambitions for the future?
what are your most personal prejudices?
do you see yourself as an example?
what do you see yourself doing at the age of 70?
What experimental education processes are you familiar with?
Do you see (expect) a link between education and sustainability?
does the concept of sustainability affect your work?
do you think you are succesful in life?
What are sustainable processes for you?
How do you evaluate yourself?
Which traditions do you see as important for the future?
Are stories and oral tradition (for you) an important tool for learning and communicating?
Are (self) study and research an important tool for your development?
What is your role in you family? Community?
Do you think decentralization is important?
What is the importance of traditional knowledge?
What is the credibility of non formal education for sustainable development?
What do you think about collective decision-making?
Are you involved in politics?
Do you document your work?
Are you concerned about the future of food?
Do you think traditions are valuable for a sustainable development?
How do you approach diversity?
How do you implement the concept of diversity in your life?
Do you believe in the power of organic agriculture?
Do you defend indigenous knowledge?
Are science and technology important to you?
What is the importance of water in your life?
Do you actually go through a stage of transition?
Do you contribute to the debate on social change?
What are the (working) tools you have at your disposition?
Where do you get you information?
What are your tools for communication?
Is spirituality important to you?
What are your economic values?
What changes would you like to embed in your daily life?
What is you job description?
How do you see your children's future?
Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur?
Are you self-supporting?
Is language an important tool to you?
What is your commitment towards your community?
Are storytelling and oral transmission important tools to you?
What means the concept of equality to you?
Can you compose a song about your future?
What is your contribution to a sustainable society?
Can you share your ideas with your community?