Inclusiveness as a continuous process of learning and unlearning
What kind of society would you like to live in? How would you like people to relate to each other? And… how many friends do you have who are not like you? Inclusiveness is not something you do while working and then go home again in your own bubble, says Shay Raviv, curator of the Embassy of Inclusive Society. “The question is if you are willing to really get involved as a person”. During Dutch Design Week 2022, Raviv and the Embassy want to demonstrate that inclusiveness is a process of learning and unlearning.
“Inclusiveness can be seen as an invitation to shape our society together. What matters, according to Raviv, is that we are open to that invitation again and again. “We should continue to practice that. If not, we may fall back into deeply entrenched patterns of thinking”.
Room for action
Raviv has been the curator of the Embassy of Inclusive Society since the beginning of this year, which started last year. “Last year it was mainly about inclusiveness; this year, with the Embassy and our partners, we want to create space for action”.
Raviv graduated from the Design Academy in 2015. Until 2020, she worked at various studios, such as Studio Irene Fortuyn and STBY. She refers to herself as a design researcher. “That means you start a design or innovation process from the experience of the people you are designing for”. In 2020, she moved on as an independent and autonomous design researcher. Together with Pim van der Mijl, she founded De Voorkamer in 2015, an inclusive meeting place located in the heart of Utrecht’s multicultural neighbourhood, Lombok. It is a place where different cultures meet. “Hands-on work”, says Raviv.
Experts by experience
Raviv combines this explorative and hands-on approach in the Embassy. During the past six months, she and the Embassy team conducted thorough research to arrive at the story of the Embassy. For this, they invited different people from different communities and the creative industry for three lunch dialogues and four design sessions.
De Voorkamer, the Afrikaanderwijk Coöperatie Rotterdam Zuid and Bureau Ruimtekoers in Arnhem were the setting for those lunchtime dialogues. ”Each lunch dialogue had a different theme, for example, about what you need to feel welcome in a room and about your own thinking patterns and stigmas. During lunch, there was room for everyone to speak from their own perspective. Everyone has their own story to tell, and everyone is an expert of their own experience”.
‘We learn by actively participating in inclusive initiatives. We resolve to better facilitate the needs of the other. But then, maybe three months later, we fall back into our old thinking patterns. They are so deeply ingrained in us. The learning and unlearning is a process that we can continuously choose’
For Raviv, it became clear that you are never done with inclusiveness. “It requires a never-ending process of learning and unlearning. How do we deal with patterns of exclusion that are ingrained in ourselves and in our social relationships? How do we learn new skills, new words, new ways of relating to each other?”
Raviv uses ‘The Gym’ metaphor: “You are never done with exercise. Regular training puts your body in a position where you are very flexible, or muscular, or where your cardio is very good. If you haven’t done anything for a year, your body will forget about it. Then you have to start practising again or do something else”.
“We learn by actively participating in inclusive initiatives. We resolve to better facilitate the needs of the other. But then, maybe three months later, we fall back into our old thinking patterns. They are so deeply ingrained in us. The learning and unlearning is a process that we can continuously choose”.
The Embassy chose the Van Abbemuseum as the location for the exhibition during DDW22. An important and conscious choice, says Raviv. “An exhibition about inclusiveness has to be built in a space that can meet the different needs of accessibility. For example, you should be able to get there easily with a wheelchair. But also to be able to take the rest and time to be there and have a conversation. The acoustics, temperature and light are important here”.
“The Van Abbemuseum has spent years researching how to design a more inclusive and accessible exhibition space. The exhibition entitled ‘Cross Connections‘ includes Braille, an audio tour and elements that make the exhibition accessible to more people. We want to learn from this. Likewise, we want to give the museum back its learning experience”.
Setareh Noorani and Jelmer Teunissen designed an exhibition that is interwoven with ‘Cross Connections‘. And Studio The Anderen is designing the graphic language building on Van Abbemuseum guidelines for inclusivity. The DDW exhibition has also been designed with mostly borrowed materials that can be reused afterwards. “This way, we have minimal spatial impact on the museum and as little waste as possible”.
For Raviv, it is important that DDW is not an isolated moment. “DDW is a time to create energy between each other and to make subjects open for discussion. A place where we can test and experiment something new. A place where we can above all learn together and then continue with what we are already doing in the neighbourhoods or in our current initiatives”.
“In choosing which designers to invite to exhibit, I didn’t want to approach inclusivity as a checklist of groups outside the mainstream and then show a project about that group. Then you fall back into framing, which is precisely against the ideas of inclusivity. What is more interesting is when the designer takes their own experience and needs as the starting point for the design process.”
Feeling the sound
Like the work of Adi Hollander. With a porcelain wall covered in tiles, Hollander makes the sound of Yael Bartana’s video art tangible. “The sound is translated into vibration. Adi is seventy per cent hard of hearing. If she goes to a museum or a concert to see a work of video art, she can never feel the artist’s intentions. There is always a translation for her with subtitles”. When you lean against the wall, you feel the highs, lows, effects, voices, a rhythm from the video. Hollander did five years of research with many different artists and scientists to bring the wall to life.
“This project is very relevant for people with hearing disabilities, but it is also something for everyone. It is a sensory experience, a different way of ‘looking’ at sound. For Adi, participating in the Embassy is also part of a learning process. Many people are going to sense her prototype so that she can take the next step, hopefully together with partners from the Embassy”.
Another project that can give people a new experience is Beelddepot. As part of the Bouwdepot project, which aims to enable homeless young people to build their own future, Beelddepot is creating an image bank. “This image bank challenges the role of the media in representing marginalised groups. How we view homeless youth is partly linked to how the media present a group. The challenge is to show a group without slipping into stigmatisation”.
Everyone is welcome to visit the exhibition during DDW and engage in conversation with others to explore learning and unlearning. No DDW band is required. Simply come to the pink house; a host will welcome you and direct you to the exhibition.
During DDW, as well as an exhibition, there are various workshops, dialogues and a conference. A complete overview will follow later.