How can we communicate University research through artistic expression?
Dr Khursheed Wadia, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick
The political participation and civic engagement of women from minority backgrounds has often featured prominently in the work of Dr Khursheed Wadia, so when Coventry Creates presented an opportunity to collaborate with a local artist to profile her research through dance, Khursheed knew this would be an invaluable chance to reach new audiences.
“My project Imagine Equality, Create Change is built on many years of research into the political participation of women from minority communities, including supporting and enabling them to have their voices heard, and get them more involved with political and civic activism. The idea with this particular project was to go out and do more – to hear more women’s voices and hear about how they are engaged, if they are already engaged, and what would be useful for them (knowledge and skills-wise) to become more engaged,” explains Khursheed, who took part in the 2021 iteration of Coventry Creates – a programme designed to pair researchers with local artists to produce art reflecting key issues and themes across the region.
How can political action produce desired change?
The expansion of the research through artistic expression is part of a broader plan to convey Khursheed’s work (and the stories of participants) to the world outside of academia. “The project was designed to encourage local women to think about their ideal society, and how political action can produce desired change. Such articulations of political action can also inform local policy, and encourage the wider public to think about how to support such change to improve gender equality. This can help foster a sense of empowerment and social connection among these women.”
Through collaborating with local Coventry artist Sherrie Edgar, Khursheed was able to use the medium of art to really listen to women’s voices and express them within the parameters of the research. “This was a new kind of collaboration for me. I’d never really given thought to the movement of bodies in public spaces as a way of expressing political resistance or political activism. Once Sherrie and I talked about that, I became really interested and read up on the ways in which dance has, in various contexts, been used to express people’s ideas and experiences politically.”
Using arts-based platforms to communicate university research
The Coventry Creates initiative, which was first conceived at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, was designed to provide opportunities for artists to engage with academia and to help develop novel arts-based platforms for communicating university research. The objective was to enable the work of participating artists and researchers to reach broader and more diverse non-academic audiences, as well as developing new modes of working between universities and the arts and culture sector.
“I’d never collaborated with an artist before and it was really interesting. It’s made me think that when I do proposals in the future, I will think very carefully about collaborators, not from the usual sectors in which I seek collaborators, but I’ll look to new sectors to try to establish new types of collaborations,” Khursheed explains.
"I’ve learned more about Coventry than I ever knew before"
For researchers such as Khursheed, who don’t live in Coventry, these kinds of projects can offer an invaluable and meaningful opportunity to learn more about the local area, its communities, groups and organisations.
“I’ve worked at Warwick for 15 years and I can safely say that via City of Culture, and Coventry Creates in particular, I’ve learned more about Coventry than I ever knew before. Local people outside of academia looking in sometimes only see a big list of publications that can appear dry and inaccessible, so something like this gives people an idea of my research really quickly. It also highlights to potential non-academic collaborators that I’m open to collaborating with new people and undertaking new projects.”
Learning, collaboration and engagement
When it comes to encouraging others to take part in artist-researcher collaborations, Khursheed is unwavering in her advice: “I’d say to them – go for it!” she says. “It really will be worthwhile – both in terms of what you learn yourself, as well as collaborating and engaging with people who don’t work in a university environment. We don’t do that enough. Some departments may have lots of experience in working outside of academia, but others may not have had many opportunities to do so, so I’d say seize the opportunity. We all tend to work in our own areas, our comfort zones, but I’ve gained so much from working on the Coventry Creates project.”
About Coventry Creates
Led by Professor Jackie Hodgson, (DPVC, Research) at Warwick, Coventry Creates commenced in 2020 and was an initiative designed to bring together University of Warwick and Coventry University researchers with local artists to produce art reflecting key issues and themes across the region. In spring 2020, the City of Culture University Partnership funded 18 local artists to respond to, and work with, researchers from the University of Warwick and Coventry University - resulting in a wide range of innovative artworks presented through a digital exhibition. With funding from Arts Council England, the project ran again in 2021, with an additional 12 collaborative projects launched via a digital exhibition in December.