In all the years I’ve worked as a community artist, I don’t think I can remember anyone who wanted to make the play or poem, the photograph or poster we were working on. They wanted to join in, to be part of something good: the play or the poster was the space in which that could happen. The young prisoners with whom Alokananda Roy has created her extraordinary productions, or who learned to sing Mozart with Paulo Lameiro, were not like students who rush to drama school for the love of the art. On the contrary, in her first sessions, back in 2007, Alokananda had to overcome the men’s reluctance to do something they saw as feminine, so she began by showing them ancient martial dances. Only when she had won their trust did it become possible to talk about stories, to explore more expressive forms of movement, to open up to new ways of being. And that trust, once given, proved to be the most durable resource. It was strong enough to allow – after protracted negotiations – the prisoners to perform outside the prison, even if at first with one-to-one escorts. Today, there have been over 200 performances in Kolkata, West Bengal and throughout India; the men have made long journeys by night train and none has even tried to abscond. They are, and want to be, part of something good.
‘And let me tell you – you all will understand – dance, art, theatre, are the only tools that can actually transform them from within. We all have the same emotions, we all have the same love. [and] we are working together towards a better world where everyone will be accepted as a human being. Everybody cannot excel in everything. But we can find what they’re good at and make them feel good. If you feel good, you will be happy and you will do good.’
– Alokananda Roy, 2 December 2020
Listening to Alokananda Roy is to reconnect with the source of the community art practice I discovered so long ago and of the truths about why it matters. On their foundation, we build complicated structures of meaning, connecting with social and cultural policy, research and evaluation, science and psychology, and they are useful and take the work forward. But it is the solidity of the foundations that makes them so.
It is challenging to say, in a culture that believes it places its trust in science and reason, but when we talk about community art, we talk about love. Artistic skills, facilitation and good workshop practice can all be taught: the love that makes the work meaningful can only be learnt.
‘I’m totally a heart person, and that is why I call it a love therapy. Other people give it a name without therapy – no, dance has been my medium, it’s my tool, but it is actually the love part that has worked. […] And they have enlarged my heart, because I need to accommodate all their love’
-Alokananda Roy, 2 December 2020
Credit: Regular marvels