“Video is a person which makes us talk”

Chris Maughan News

By Grace Hutchison, InsightShare

On June 27th 2019, we reconnected with a past InsightShare Associate from Peru, Maja Tillmann, at a series of seminars called Participatory Consciousness: from HOW to WHY, given by herself, Dr Timmi Tillmann and Dr Maruja Salas at Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience. In her talk, Maja reminded us that Participatory Video (PV) is not about an end product, or about making artistic professionals out of community members. The real core of PV is the community dynamics that arise from using cameras and screening films to the community.

In the Andean communities that Maja works within Peru, the camera and the screen are viewed as living community members. This is because the camera and the screen open up conversations and enliven the community. One community member is quoted as having said ‘we film and we see each other’. In PV, each person takes turns to be in front of the camera as well as behind the camera, meaning that each person sees and is seen, hears and is heard. At InsightShare we agree that collaboration, and learning to listen, should always be at the heart of the process, and this is beautifully echoed in the title of Maja’s seminar, Video is a Person Which Makes Us Talk.

New equipment such as video cameras and laptops are given names by the communities Maja works with; new films are ‘birthed into being’ from the edit suite. Thanks to the international activist gatherings regularly organised by InsightShare, this practice has been passed from the Andes to our indigenous partners in Africa and Asia.

The collective process of PV brings communities together in a way that is culturally affirming and that inspires confidence in traditional systems. The films that were screened in the seminar demonstrated the unifying power of PV. One film, Yupanakuy, made in 2003 captured the traditional custom of ploughing fields using a chakitaqlla (Andean footplough). Communities would invite neighbouring communities to competitions that involved separating fields into areas that teams would race to plough in the quickest time. Each community would take it in turns to host these competitions, promoting a collective work ethos based on reciprocity (Ayni in Quechua, meaning ‘today for you, tomorrow for me’) and that re-affirmed connections between communities through traditional practices. The film celebrates the relationship between this custom and collectivity.

But the impact of Yupanakuy reached beyond the communities that participated in filming it. Maja recalled an elder woman crying after watching the film at a screening. She recounted that the woman was overjoyed to see other people using the farming methods and tools that she still used. Previously, she had ploughed her field in the early hours of the morning, wishing to hide her chakitaqlla because she felt ashamed of the traditional tool and method. Yupanakuy gave her renewed confidence in her farming practices and, by connecting her with people who celebrated the chakitaqlla, dispelled her shame. This story demonstrates that the screen, as well as the camera, is alive insofar as it speaks to different audiences and connects them.

This story also relates to the talk given on the previous day by Dr Timmi Tillmann and Dr Maruja Salas, entitled A Chronicle of 40 Years of Encounters with Different Ways of Knowing: Epistemologies of the South and Wisdom Dialogues for Cognitive Justice. Timmi and Maruja discussed how participation can support cognitive justice by platforming and affirming different ways of knowing. Yupanakuy demonstrates how PV does this: the process gave the community confidence in their traditional farming methods, and it also gave those methods validity in the eyes of other audiences.

Some feedback from the participatory process exemplifies this: ‘we have learnt from our own wisdom’. Participatory processes can assert the truth and value of different ways of knowing, for those within the communities that practice them and for those outside them. For example, when farmers and agronomists came together in Peru, Maruja remarked that ‘they accepted each other as knowers’. For participatory processes bringing together different Cosmovisions or worldviews, it is important that there is space for engagement in knowledge production within the community in a way that is appropriate to that community without imposing Western conceptions of scientific knowledge.

We are reminded that ‘the production of knowledge happens in groups’ and of the need to recognise and respect different means of transmitting knowledge – not only oral, but also visual in the form of dance, drawings, or carvings.  We are grateful to the Tillmann-Salas family for their work in helping us see ‘the knowledge that is hidden there’. By continuing to use PV to document and share traditional wisdom and support meaningful dialogue, we can reach a point where different paradigms of being and knowing are more widely accepted.

This blog was originally posted on InsightShare’s website which you should definitely check out (here). Read the blog on InsightShare’s past work in Peru as part of Conversations with the Earth here and InsightShare’s webinar on the preservation of indigenous languages and knowledges. Watch ‘Rights of Mother Earth‘ to see work facilitated by Maja Tillmann.