Including women’s account of body experiences in health innovations
(Abstract of paper submitted to Conference/ DDEI/ March 2013)
This paper is about a project that works upon getting women to reflect upon their bodily experiences and to draw and paint their experiences as a way to communicate-out their journeys of childbearing. I arrived at this project of visual narratives because of the dissatisfaction I felt upon reading the solutions within texts on the subject of Maternal deaths in poorly serviced contexts. Words are a great vehicle for the urban educated but as ‘technical vocabulary’, through demanding a medicalization of local knowledge of childbearing practices, they also become the very instruments that disenfranchise the lived experience of pregnant women. The research question then was – how can these women speak so that they are heard, so that their voices are heard in all their complexity and not in a simplified way that fits into current medical and public health theory? My answer has been to use the gallery, the exhibition space in urban centres as the stage where these voices are expressed. The first hand-drawn cloth was a cultural probe that was used in field work encounters with women in remote communities in Assam, India. The experience of using the ‘painted cloth’ as a vehicle to incite an outpouring of experiences from affected women and hurt families led to the development of 5 themes of narration. These themes were illustrated for exhibition by a Melbourne based artist where she reflectively drew upon her personal experiences to draw-out her narratives. I have since been working with a New Delhi based Textile artist to set up a project to get remote-rural-poor craftswomen to do similar paintings. These paintings are their stories – telling of their experiences of their childbirth experiences and of incidents in their community. These works are a way for the “voices” of these women, and the stories from remote rural communities, to be heard in urban centres through exhibitions of their works. The aesthetics and form of the story will go a long way in retaining the details in the narratives. By becoming images these narrative works are not reducible, as words often are, to being bracketed as “formulaic problems”. This format (gallery) and this location (urban) is one part of the project focussed upon contributing a unique dimension that of the perspective of remote-rural-poor women, to the policy discourse surrounding maternal deaths in communities distant from urban centres. Once the pieces are produced the next activity is the performance. The project envisages a travelling exhibition that stops at key places to conduct a conversation as a workshop, a provocation or a symposium. This event is envisaged to be a reading of the stories from the cloths as a conversation that aims to look at maternal health from the perspective of the women. The amplifying of the voices of remote-rural-poor woman is intended to give health innovators access to the lived experiences of pregnant women and to consider the women as partners and components of the solution ecosystems being developed.