Category Archives: Gendered Violence

Unique Voices, Shared Visions: Meena Nanji and GlobalGirl Media


“GlobalGirls (L-R) Ariana Seymore, Andrea Reyes, Wendy Garcia, Yasmeen Abdullah, Imani Crenshaw

GlobalGirls (L-R) Ariana Seymore, Andrea Reyes, Wendy Garcia, Yasmeen Abdullah, Imani Crenshaw

The idea that we cannot trust the images that saturate our everyday lives is cliché. We suspect the delectable vanilla ice cream in that commercial is really mashed potatoes; we know the actress making eyes at us from the cover of that magazine in the checkout lane is radiant with the grace of Photoshop. Bitter footage delivered to our screens by the news media seems to be a welcome antidote to the cloying wine of those other, clearly misleading, images. At times we still forget that the camera lens ceases to be neutral the moment someone decides where to point it, even as we rely countlessly on such decisions to give us a faithful picture of the most significant issues and events in our communities and beyond.

In the U.S., that “someone,” the average journalist, is white and male. Women and minorities continue to be vastly underrepresented in the media, especially in managerial positions, and there has been little progress toward greater diversity since the 1990s; indeed, there has even been a decline in some categories over the past few years. This incongruity hardly guarantees a panoramic view of the world. Enter GlobalGirl Media.

GlobalGirl Media is a non-profit organization working to put cameras, along with other tools of the journalistic trade, into the hands of young women from underserved communities in the U.S. and around the globe. While still in high school, program participants receive training in new media journalism, learning to speak out about the issues that affect them and their communities, and preparing to be leaders in a world that is changing rapidly with the proliferation of digital technology and social media.

One of the founders of GlobalGirl Media, award-winning filmmaker Meena Nanji, spoke to The Lamp Project about the organization, as well as her work as an artist with a commitment to finding common ground wherever she goes. Nanji has directed a number of short films, including Voices of the Morning, an experimental telling of a young woman’s coming-of-age under Islamic law, and the award-winning full-length documentary View from a Grain of Sand, which follows three Afghani women who fled the violence in their homeland to live as refugees in Pakistan. These personal stories are presented as part of the larger narrative of the violence and injustices suffered by Afghani women over the past several decades and even to this day. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) gradually becomes a fourth character in the documentary.

“Afghani girls in a Pakistan refugee camp in 2001

Afghani girls in a Pakistan refugee camp in 2001

“Still from View from a Grain of Sand

Still from View from a Grain of Sand

According to Nanji, the best part of traveling and engaging with people of different backgrounds is “finding shared visions in places or people where you least expect them.” In her most recent film, Here and Away, Nanji draws inspiration from different, and diverse, sources. She made the film “on a whim” while in India, after reading “Children on a Country Road,” a short story by Franz Kafka. “I was inspired by that story to transpose it into an Indian setting, and make a short film, that is shot in documentary style, though it is fiction,” Nanji explained. “I feel it captures a certain mood of a village in India, the pace of life perhaps… the many sounds that make up an environment.” However, despite the variety of projects that she pursues, Nanji’s work is unified by her ethical and intellectual commitments, her artistic vision. “I think my works are pieces of a larger, coherent ethical project, even though they may not appear that way,” Nanji said. “For the last little while I have been more open to doing projects that were not originally conceived by me, or doing work-for-hire, but I have found that if I don’t agree with their basic concept or ethics, or values, I just cannot do them. I do sometimes pursue ventures that might be sudden leads, but these always fit into my larger conceptual/ethical framework.”

Nanji’s work with Global Girl Media is an extension of the filmmaker’s ethical project; indeed, Nanji came to co-found the organization in part as a response to her experiences while making View from a Grain of Sand. “Amie Williams, who originally conceived of this idea, had actually just been in Kenya during the 2007 elections and had witnessed some horrifying violence and a girl she had been sponsoring for years was a victim to this violence,” Nanji recounted. “And so she came back wanting very much to empower girls somehow to tell their own stories. I too, after Afghanistan, felt that instead of taking people’s stories away, why not give them the tools to tell their own stories. So these ideas coincided and GGM was formed, with the idea to train girls in digital media and other low cost methods of storytelling, of so that they could have a direct voice to digital global platforms. We decided on girls as they are the most marginalized in terms of creating digital content, or even having their perspectives listened to in any way, so we thought it was a great place to start.”

At the moment, GGM has branches in Los Angeles, Chicago, South Africa, and Morocco, but the organization hopes to expand to Kenya, Mozambique, and Brazil, as well as other countries in Latin America and the Middle East. On the GGM website, one finds young women sharing their experiences and reporting on a variety of topics, including women’s rights, sexual violence, street drugs, and living with HIV. One also sees how excited they are to discover their voices and be part of the global conversations on these and other issues.

In the few short years since its founding, GGM has built an impressive record of achievements. A series on reproductive health created by the GGM participants in LA last year was distributed by PBS online. This year, GGM held its first world summit in Chicago. A number of the young women who have been a part of GGM have won prestigious awards, gone on to study film and journalism in college, and have been hired by NGOs to continue pursuing their passion. Over the summer, the LA participants worked on a series of webisodes tackling the issue of food justice, which aired in September. Meanwhile, the Moroccan branch of GGM recently produced a documentary on sexual harassment, which premiered on November 25th. These videos and many others created by GGM participants are available on the organization’s YouTube channel.

“GGM LA 2011 training: Nanji with GlobalGirls Denise Peralta and Imani Crenshaw

GGM LA 2011 training: Nanji with GlobalGirls Denise Peralta and Imani Crenshaw1

​Without diverse and unique voices, we cannot get the whole story. At the same time, we cannot understand the whole story without an appreciation for how interconnected all the parts of it really are. This makes a program like GGM indispensable, not only for the participants, but for all of us, as we try to learn the truth and make sense of this world we share.

Published January 23, 2014

Giving Form to Invisible Connections: visual artist Lisa Carroll


Investigating the intricate relationship between human beings and their surroundings has been a lifelong passion for artist and designer Lisa Carroll. Carroll brings this passion to bear on her artistic practice, incorporating a variety of media to create abstract pieces that evoke the organic world, probing the boundaries between the manmade and the natural, the individual and the world at large. Her work discloses just how imperfect and provisional such categories are: our sense of opposition or belonging to a broader context can shift dramatically when we are placed in situations—or before works of art—that preclude or, conversely, encourage our contemplation and participation.

"Western Sector" by Lisa Carroll. Mixed media installation.

“Western Sector” by Lisa Carroll. Mixed media installation.

Carroll grew up on the coast of Massachusetts, in a place that she describes as “full of cranberry bogs, marshes, pine forests.”

“For my brother, sister and I these were our playgrounds,” Carroll said. “We would run and explore for miles and lose all sense of time until someone would hear someone’s mother calling to come in for dinner.”

Eventually, Carroll relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she has been living for 22 years. An avid runner and camper, she spends much of her time in the remote places of California.

“My understanding of the West is that of both place and spirit,” she explained. “It is my ideal vacation to get myself to a remote lake in the mountains, hike to a hot spring, set myself down on a mesa in the desert, tuck away into a pocket in a canyon and feel myself in the middle of everywhere out there in the middle of nowhere. There is a perfect spot at 8,000 feet in the White Mountains (Eastern CA) where you can look across Owen’s Valley toward the Eastern slope of the Sierras; it is a pleasure to sit there for hours watching the light change and shape that endless space. That is the West in an external sense. There is also the West in an internal sense, the mode of quest, engaging one’s curiosity.”

It is the landscape of California that has had the most decisive influence on Carroll’s artistic sensibility, suggesting materials and motifs for her gorgeous paintings, sculptures, and installations. One of the recurring forms in Carroll’s work is lichen, which she became interested in over time, through her repeated encounters with it in her athletic practice.

“For years I had been running the trails in Redwood Regional Park finding my eye drawn to the lichen encrusting the Bay Laurels,” Carroll said, “And then it just built to a point where the only possible next thing to do was to make that connection and create artwork that expressed my sensorial ritual experience of taking in that lichen for all those years.”

This motif was featured prominently in Western Sector, an installation Carroll created as part of a group exhibition at Inhabit Gallery in Oakland. Walking into the room, viewers found themselves surrounded by clusters of large, delicate lichen-like shapes framing the room’s functional elements and spilling onto the floor, their organic exuberance not so much at odds with the simple geometry of right angles as complementing it, transforming the gallery space so that it might be experienced with the body as well as with the eye. Inviting the viewer to explore and inhabit a temporary space, the work functioned as a reminder of the continuity between nature and human activity, and the simultaneous ephemerality and repetitiveness of their processes.

“It is an acknowledgement that our impact on our environment is a pattern,” Carroll explained. “The action of making each individual part is a repetitive act, a meditation, an act of devotion, embracing the merging of the divine with the mundane. The action of installing and de-installing continues the process. We are nature.”

Carroll has also carried her sense of belonging to a broader context beyond her creative engagement with the mountains, forests, and coastlines of the West. Among other things, she has channeled her love of running into an effort to aid some of the most vulnerable members of the global community. In 2010, Carroll joined her longtime running partner Deidre (Dee) Williams on a 40-mile run to benefit Run For Congo Women.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a humanitarian crisis for years, and women have paid the heaviest toll for the unending war. Many have lost homes, friends, and family members—including children, many of whom perish before the age of five from inadequate nutrition and medical care. Moreover, the bodies of women have long been treated as part of the battlefield. Horror stories of torture and gang rape abound, and survivors have to live with the physical and psychological trauma, as well as the stigma that rape inevitably carries, usually subsisting below the poverty line and without access to resources that might help them start over.

Run for Congo Women is a grassroots effort to raise awareness and funds for women affected by the continuing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through running and walking events. According to Carroll, her running partner had been inspired by Lisa Shannon, the organization’s founder. When Williams first discussed the idea with her, Carroll recalled in a phone interview, “It brought tears to my eyes… I had no idea that there was something like this out there and that I could be involved.”

They called their run the 40-40-40 Project, dedicating each mile to a specific Congolese woman. Carroll worked out the logistics and designed their route. On the day of the run, they took part in a drumming ritual, establishing a connection with the women to whom the run was dedicated. The grueling nature of a forty-mile run deepened this connection.

“[When you run for long distances], you tap into interesting places in your mind,” said Carroll. “By mile eighteen I was in pain, but the thought of stopping was not possible because these women were on our minds… We have a refrain: ‘Pain is just a sensation.’”

To date, Run for Congo Women has raised over $1 million for Women for Women International, an organization which enrolls women in war-torn regions of the world in yearlong programs that offer counseling, education, and job training. The goal of the program is to provide women with skills and confidence they can put to use in starting businesses and building better lives for themselves and their children.

So far, over 58,000 women have benefitted from the organization’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Almost all of the participants in the region have first-hand knowledge of the miseries and deprivations of war, whether through seeing their homes destroyed, surviving rape or the loss of loved ones, or being unable to receive necessary healthcare. Graduates of the program report an increase in confidence, and most are able to find jobs or even start businesses of their own, contributing to the growth of their economy and the healing of their nation. The Women for Women International website reports that “[o]n average, graduates nearly double their income over the course of the yearlong program.” Additionally, 98% of the women who finish the program report knowing their rights, compared to 5% of those who are just entering the program. These are encouraging statistics. Amidst the wreckage of war, the strong, courageous women who can support themselves, their children, and one another may be the surest sign of hope for the future.

Drawing Powerful Women: graphic novelist Maureen Burdock


Pastel from "Maisa & the Bad Muslim Girls." By Maureen Burdock.

Pastel from “Maisa & the Bad Muslim Girls.” By Maureen Burdock.

When one thinks about comic books, images of muscle-bound heroes, supernatural villains and busty damsels-in-distress are among the expected visual tropes that come to mind. In the graphic novels of artist Maureen Burdock, however, battles between men bent on destroying the world and the adventures of those who fight to defend it are replaced with stories of women who overcome real-life issues of sexual violence, domestic abuse and murder, among others. In the brightly colored world of comics, themes drawn so directly from the world around us are a rare encounter and, most certainly, those of gendered violence have yet to find their way into the hyper-masculine spaces of the graphic novel. Burdock has created a compelling alternative, however, in her series of comic books entitled The F Word Project: Five Feminist Fables for the 21st Century. These women are both victims and their own heroes in their encounters with various forms of gender-based violence.

Born in Germany in 1970, Burdock emigrated to the U.S. with her mother at the age of seven. The two fled to escape domestic violence but Maureen continued to endure various forms of abuse and, from an early age, used art as a way to navigate these painful experiences. While she was working in New Mexico, Burdock was introduced to the world of comic books by members of Seis Cinco Seis Comics Collective. When asked why she turned to this particular medium, Burdock replied that she wanted to “make work that is accessible to a broad public and can be disseminated in venues including-but also beyond-galleries and museums. … The juxtaposition between images and text,” she continues, “can also be particularly potent and evocative.”

Burdock began work on The F Word Project in 2006 and, thus far, three of the five books have been completed: Maisa and the Bad Muslim Girls, Marta and the Missing, and Mona and the Little Smile. Each tells the story of a woman facing the threat of violence who, through bravery, intellect, and the use of a bit of magic, is able to defeat the evil characters and dark forces perpetrating that violence. Burdock has described her superheroines as “extraordinary/ordinary women” whose “bodies are not idealized or sexualized.” It is important to the artist that these women defy the usual stereotypes not only of comic book lore but within society more broadly. They manage this by refusing to be victims and, instead, they take control over their own bodies and destinies. They also provide a much needed forum in which the difficult issues of the femicides in Juarez, child molestation and honor killings can each be grappled with. “Far from depicting victims or people being defined by their unfortunate circumstances,” Burdock explains, “my stories are snapshots of powerful women in motion. Real women and men who I collaborate with to create these stories are my inspiration.”

Artwork from "Maisa & the Bad Muslim Girls." By Maureen Burdock.

Artwork from “Maisa & the Bad Muslim Girls.” By Maureen Burdock.

This mission to create dialogue, community building, and awareness constitute the “F” in The F Word Project as, according to the artist, being a feminist simply means believing in equality and in creating coalitions that help to ”combat inequality, colonialism, the military industrial complex, et cetera.” Creating the possibility for healing and collectivity, according to Burdock, takes both recognizing that men are also affected by gendered violence and that “galvanizing communities to act in solidarity means overcoming gender binaries as well as other phobias and generalizations.” So far, Burdock’s goal to reach as diverse an audience as possible seems to be within reach as the novellas have already been exhibited in thirteen cities internationally and the books themselves have been used in several universities as part of gender studies classes. Although it would seem that the art world is far from accepting comic books as a form of “high art,” Burdock makes it clear that she “cares more about making work that LIVES, moves, affects people than making work that tickles reviewer’s fancies or looks mysteriously and compellingly incomprehensible in the fetishized white cube environment.”

Burdock is currently working on the final two books of the series, the next of which will address the subject of female genital mutilation. Although the topics Burdock chooses to address are dark and at times very difficult to face, her beautiful illustrations and courageous narratives manage to bring hope and even humor to these terrible realities. As she describes, “None of the women in my fables are ‘fixed’ within the context of the problems they face. Instead, they galvanize their families and communities to collaboratively create change. These stories are hopeful and the heroines actively shape and reform their communities with their intelligence, humor, kindness, and with a bit of magical realism.”

Oil from "Mona & the Little Smile." By Maureen Burdock.

Oil from “Mona & the Little Smile.” By Maureen Burdock.

Maureen Burdock currently resides in Berkeley, California where she is a student at California College of the Arts in San Francisco working on completing MA degrees in visual and critical studies as well as studio art. She is also the founding director of the first US/San Francisco chapter of the London-based comics forum Laydeez do Comics, the first women-led graphic novel forum in the UK. Burdock also continues an independent freelance illustration practice and can be contacted via her website. Her her work is also included in the feminist art database of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center of the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

If you want to make a difference on these issues, follow the links below to purchase Maureen’s art and support her career, or to donate time or money to three organizations that are engaged in combatting violence against women.

So Much to Tell: playwright Raúl Dorantes


On a September evening in one of Chicago’s oldest but least gentrified neighborhoods, two actors step onto a small platform stage and assume character. A hand-painted mural, a map of the US-Mexico border, provides the set. Above it a black and white video begins, with English super-titles. The play is De Camino al Ahorita (the way to the present moment), by Raúl Dorantes. It is presented in Spanish, in a community gallery named Calles y Suenos, in the Mexican-American neighborhood called Pilsen.

Two characters encounter each other here, in a remote desert and intense August heat. One is a young man on his way into the U.S. to find work and realize his ambitions, while the other is an older man retracing his steps back to Mexico after losing nearly all he valued in pursuit of success. One believes in the promise of America, the other is fleeing its dystopian backstory. Together, they are like a dog chasing its own tail. The absurdity is clear but amplified by the simultaneous, almost hallucinatory video segments of souls crossing over from life to death.

Near the end of the play, a third character enters the scene. He is an overly-aggressive border patrol agent with unapparent Latino heritage. His arrival induces confrontation between characters, just as it amplifies the questions: Who is illegal? What is asylum? In answer, the play exposes the ultimate dictator, hunger, and the ultimate lesson, that apparently disparate lives are deeply interconnected.

This play was written for people in this Mexican-American community and beyond, for anyone who knows or cares to know about the immigrant’s struggle between economics (survival and success) and identity. After its closing in Pilsen, it was presented to an audience of 170 at Northeastern Illinois University. It is so like Dorantes to begin at the center and expand.

Actor, JJ Romero in De Camino al Ahorita

In 1992, playwright and author Raúl Dorantes began publishing literary journals in Chicago. His focus was on poetry that explored internal consciousness and experience. That journal continued for three years while Dorantes conducted literary workshops for youth and began a career teaching Spanish. He continues to teach Spanish Language and Hispanic Literature in two Chicago-area colleges.

Dorantes’ own writing has long explored immigration and identity. He reflects deeply on the process of his own changing identity, the identity carried from his native country as it has undergone adaptation and transformation. As he explains, “There is a moment when the identity of the immigrant takes the first row and the Mexican identity moves to the second row. When we want to probe that we are still Mexican, that establishes the moment in which immigrant identity moves to the front. Probably we are not conscious about that shift.”

He has also embraced the shared experiences of immigration as co-founder of the literary journals, Zorros y Erizos (Foxes and Hedgehogs) and Tropel (Herd of Wild Horses). Dorantes has also co-written a book of essays with Febronio Zatarain, titled, Y Nos Vinimos de Mojados: Cultura Mexicana en Chicago (And We Came in Wet: Mexican Culture in Chicago). His continuing journalistic work on the national magazine, Contratiempo, concerns broader Latino culture.

In 2007, Dorantes accepted a pivotal challenge–to write for the Chicago theater company, Aguilon. The resulting play was so successful that it was also presented at the prestigious Goodman Theater. Dorantes’ work as a playwright had gained momentum and he went on to write plays for the theater group, Colectivo el Pozo. The Chicago Reader designated his most recent play a “Critic’s Choice” on its short list of recommendations.

Teacher, cultural activist, and writer, Dorantes’ work itself serves the purposes of several local organizations, but the proceeds from his work as a playwright often go to directly support them. Colectivo el Pozo, Calles y Suenos, Casa Aztlan, Contratiempo–all four are non-profits to which he has made a significant contribution of time, creativity, or proceeds. All are small non-profit organizations with a mission to cultivate and disseminate Latino arts to a broad spectrum of Latino communities.

Speaking of his dedication to these causes, he explained, “Art is probably one of the best ways to become aware of many things, including being aware of our constantly-changing identity.”

Dorantes says his next work will be a play called Incas, about gay culture in the Latino communities of Chicago. Still, he says, “I want to be writing and producing plays about immigrants (not just Mexicans) living in the United States. I think there is so much to tell.”


Pictured above: Actor, Marco Polo Soto; Director, Ignacio Guevara; Playwright, Raúl Dorantes.


more about Raul Dorantes | profile by Arte Y Vida Chicago

Calles y Suenos-Chicago | MySpace Page | Facebook Page
Calles y Suenos-Chicago provides an alternative arts space for exhibition, performing arts, music, film and cultural workshops for the Latino community. A Latino Internationalist community, it works to sustain collaboration and cultural exchange among the diverse Latino communities in Chicago with its sister organizatons in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Casa Aztlan is an educational and social center that offers cultural activities, community service opportunities, leadership development services for youth, adult education, citizenship assistance, emergency services, and community organizing. Casa Aztlan is also on the vanguard of the human rights movement and immigrants’ civil rights.

The mission of Contratiempo is to inform and educate, while creating awareness among Latino communities about the culture, literature, politics and other topics relevant to their daily lives as immigrants in the United States. Its programs include a publishing house, cultural events, literary workshops, a Narrative in Spanish prize, and the publication that gave rise to the organization, the journal, Revista Contratiempo.

Collectivo el Pozo | Facebook Page
Colectivo el Pozo (The Well) is composed of a group of storytellers, poets, and other artists. Together, they produce theatre works written by local authors who write in Spanish. El Pozo promotes the diverse themes of Latin-American immigrants living in the United States.