Be curious about others
How does it feel to suddenly be shut out? During the conference of the Embassy of Inclusive Society, inclusion artist and non-verbal communication trainer Marcin Karwiński holds up a mirror to the attendees. Midway through the conference, he confronts the audience. “Not to be a bully. But rather to ensure that we don’t just talk about unlearning, but actually do it.”
The inclusion artist gives the room an exercise in non-verbal communication. Karwiński is deaf. At his request, two interpreters are present during the meeting. From the start, they quickly type along with the spoken words of, among others, architect Lyongo Juliana and the designers Myrthe Krepel, from Studio Smelt; Neele Kistemaker, founder of Muzus; and Aurore Brard, from FysiekFabriek.
With this conference, the Embassy of Inclusive Society wants to create space for the process of learning and unlearning. Raviv compares that process to a visit to the gym. “When you go again after a period of absence, you might feel a little stiff. Your body has forgotten what you are training for. Once you start practising again, it will get easier. My suggestion is to think about inclusion as if we were going to the gym. Today, we are listening to fantastic stories of how to live together differently. We will then go home and in two months we will fall back into our old ways of thinking. How can we work together to create space for the process of learning and unlearning?”
Only when Karwiński begins to tell his story does it become clear to the audience why the spoken words can be seen on large screens on the stage. Karwiński: “Now the interpreters won’t type anything at all. And I won’t use a microphone, because I’m turning things around a bit.”
He mentions things that can often be improved, such speaking pace (often too fast), videos that have no subtitles and audio without a transcript. Karwiński says a sentence in Polish. “Do you feel limited now? I just excluded you.” He follows this with a sentence in sign language. The audience is given an opportunity to guess what he said. No one is quite right. “I simply signed my name, Marcin, and stated that I live in The Hague. Today I will tell you what non-verbal communication is.”
“How does it feel when you suddenly aren’t able to participate? I just experienced that for almost an hour and a half. You didn’t notice that.” Karwiński recognises attempts to be inclusive, such as the Dwarsverbanden (Cross Connections) exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum. The explanations of objects and works of art are provided in braille. However, the text is upright. “This is how you read braille,” says Karwiński, running his fingers over a horizontal, not vertical, surface.
Thinking within your own framework
“We do it for the sake of doing it, but we don’t ask the target group anything. That’s why I believe you are the ones who are limited, not me. You really only think from within your own framework, based on what you can see and what you are accustomed to doing. Until you get older yourselves. Then your sight will diminish, your hearing will diminish, and you may not walk as well. Then you might think: a few years ago someone told me about this. Now I’m retired and I can’t change anything. You created that exclusion yourself.”
Karwiński’s appeal is for us to be curious about everyone. “What can others do? How do others think? Most of all, show concern for one another. Examine relevant issues with the target group. Ask the target group to help come up with solutions. That target group has a solution for you. Don’t wait until after the fact to ask for their input. That just doesn’t work.”
“My dream is for no one to be excluded. Skin colour, origin, handicap, health – all of these aspects are important. We shouldn’t divide them into smaller, disparate issues. This will prevent us from reaching our goals. Someone in a wheelchair can also be deaf and blind. Think outside the box.”
Following Karwiński’s story, moderator Yassine Salihine stated: “That was a reality check for all of us, but it was necessary and loving.”
Moments of unlearning
During a panel discussion, the speakers appear to slow down their speech deliberately. Joined together are Martijn van Lobenstein, director of work and supervision at Philadelphia; Samir Toub, alderman for diversity, care, youth and social support, municipality of Eindhoven; Esther Kamara, a writer and researcher who works at the Lectoraat Creative Media For Social Change; and the previous keynote speaker Lyongo Juliana.
The panellists look back on a moment of ‘unlearning’. For example, Kamara cites an example of a panel discussion at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences about how to conduct inclusive research. “There was a very diverse audience. The audience was also allowed to ask questions. There was also a white man in the audience. He raised his hand and I braced myself. I thought to myself, “Here it comes.” But why did I think that? He ended up saying something very beautiful – that we should all sit around the campfire and share stories with one another. I was surprised that came from him. In my past, a number of white men have spoken to me in a certain way. But not everyone who looks like this is like that. I want to de-categorise my thinking.” Juliana also looks back on Karwiński’s story. “Marcin’s story was a real learning moment for me. Thanks for that.”
Juliana’s call to the audience is to immerse yourself in the other. In his keynote speech, he cited the example of a news item from the NOS about elderly people loitering in Amsterdam South-East. “These were elderly people, often men, who would often hang out outside and meet each other there. People with a Caribbean background meet on the street. They don’t go for coffee together. You can see that in Amsterdam South-East too. People meet on the street.”
“It is very different when we go to the south of France or Spain. There we consider the elderly people hanging about the square to be very interesting. But young people doing the same in Rotterdam are somehow loiterers.”
For some, the street is simply a means of getting from point A to point B. For others it is a meeting place. Juliana designed space in Amsterdam South-East for those encounters. “We tried to create a kind of village street where you can meet in one of the residential towers.” The stairs were given the character of a street and terraces on every fifth floor created a place to sit together. “We can only recognise people up to fifteen metres away. We used that distance as a starting point and divided the building into different parts.”
At the close of the conference, poet Bakr Al Jaber recites a work in Arabic. “Just a moment’s pause for the interpreters,” Salihine notes. The Angstfabriek (Fear Factory) asked Al Jaber to write about his fear from his own perspective. He wrote ‘The war of the eyes’, a poem whose words, even though they are spoken in Arabic, penetrate the audience.
‘Chile’ also gave those present pause. “When I came here a few years ago, it was difficult for me. Everyone was new to me. People asked me, truly from the goodness of their heart, where are you from? I’m from Syria. What is the situation in Syria? Can you tell us about it? And how are you doing? So, at one point, I got a little tired of repeating the whole story three times a day. Then I disovered this trick: I just say I’m from Chile.”