Thursday, 30 July 2009

Public awareness is all well and good....

"....but what is the systemic confluence of tradition, religion, sexual politics, gender economics, education, politics, healthcare etc. that keeps something like FGM in place? And how do we break that system?"

writes my friend Marshall in response to my plinth self-PR. And he is right (check out his work at: The skeins of FGM interweave and can sometimes seem so dense that it might be easier to find some other life's purpose. But purpose tends to do that to one - pull you in and not let you go....

The root of the systemic confluence is female empowerment. Why should women be empowered in patriarchal communities that have been propped up for centuries and are reliant on women's obedience, women's bodies and women's control?

If even the women themselves have appropriated their own means of submission and inflict this on their daughters, this indeed is a tough cycle to break.

But perhaps my mission is just to find the end of the skein of the wool and start unravelling from there....

Plinth video, finally!

And photographs here:

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Two weeks later...

I cannot believe it is exactly two weeks since the last entry. Two weeks since plinthing and the aftermath and everything that entails.

Outside, the Edgware Road has been subdued by the quietest hush. When I look out of the window, I see six sets of blue lights circling and the scene gradually emerges - two ambulances, three police cars and a fire engine. Then I see the firemen gathered around what is left of a car, working frantically. The police hold back the crowds, the traffic is redirected, hence the hush. Lights are brought onto the scene and still the firemen work, even more frenetically. I am drawn magnetically to the window and watch mesmerised from my 6th floor viewpoint at the unfolding.
I can't see any details, just the vagueries of what is happening. But perhaps after 20 minutes, the frantic motions stop. The firemen still work away, but the scene changes. My breath mists the window as I figure out what is going on. Whomever was in the car must have died.

The franticness ends. What point being frantic once the spirit has departed? I spend a moment thinking about that person, thinking about all those who worked with them in their last moments. How fragile we are. How slender is the line that keeps us on this earth.

Somehow it commits me more to do what I can, however I can. In this small moment of quietness and stillness on the Edgware Road, with the crowds gathered to witness. I remember road traffic accidents in Cambodia and how no-one would stop - people would just pass by. If a victim did not have money to get to hospital, then why would anyone care? It reminds me of what I'm grateful for, for being here, in my home land, my home town.

It reminds me that this path of FGM is a difficult one too. The other day, Estelle and I talked of child marriage. It seems hard, perhaps even specious to link the two, so perhaps, actually I won't.

Instead, I will go to bed and hope for a dreamful night. I wanted to say something about losing loved ones and how that feels. Because somehow in this moment of losing that person, whomever it was, it feels so very real. That for whatever reason we love, we always have to let go, hard as it is.

This is not quite the FGM blog that I thought it was going to be, so I had better close. And live to fight another day.....

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Plinth pictures...

Me, the 76th plinther!

and possibly too tired to make any sense of this at all tonight - I should probably wash the fake blood out of my hair and get some kip.

But, as it happened today, today it should be recorded - however briefly. The 4th plinth was, quite simply, remarkable. The questions in my previous post all went answered.

I stood, wobbly at first, but with growing confidence, I pulled t-shirts on (surprising myself each time at the country!) and tried to find relevant phrases and thoughts about each one. The bag seemed to have never-ending amounts of t-shirts in.

The ritual began - find something meaningful to say, reach down, find the knife glinting in the sun amongst the strewn roses, try to steady myself (it's higher than you think, narrower than you think up there) then as I'm holding the fragile velvet of the rose, it all comes together, it really does feel like this is something beautiful, amazing, delicate that I'm about to desecrate. Each time I did this, something inside me leapt at the horror of it, a feeling deep in my solar plexus - my voice seemed to waver, but I found a way of saying: this is for the three million girls, some of whom may live in Mauritania, who may be cut this year.

The actual cut was brutal, but there was something remarkable about the moment after, where I put down the knife, then stood, with the petals crushed in my hand, then flung them high above. Holding this pose of freedom - arms outstretched into the wind, with the petals falling around me seemed to release me from the horror of the cut. People applauded. Without fail. Every single time.

Then the brighter, upbeat t-shirt chat. Remarkably, people fought over getting a t-shirt flung at them from on the plinth. Not only that, they stayed and wore them!

I realise a blog post of this nature without pictures is like (insert suitable metaphor - too tired) I will post some as soon as I can.

So, 30 t-shirts later, much crowd recognition (THANK YOU ALL SUPPORTERS) and a few mishaps in my communication (I never did get the 3 million phrase quite right) and it was time to pull the show to a close....

Kneeling down, with a photo blown up of two small girls in Lalibela, Ethiopia, with the most beautiful smiles. The wind rises and blows around me, the headless rose stems are underneath me, thorns pricking my knees. I take the knife and, it needs a deep breath to do it, slice carefully into the smile. The knife eases in, enjoying its task. It cuts the paper so easily - does it happen that easily to flesh I wonder? I look up - the crowd is watching. I feel connected and disconnected. The cameras are watching.

I have to keep going, although at that point, I want to put the knife down and walk from the plinth. It feels too real. I think I may cry. But I look down - I've started. I continue my cutting, which becomes sawing, almost hacking. I had only meant to do one girl, but I have to do both. It would have been both.

Then, knife down, I pick up the string and thread it through the slashes and gashes I have made. The string pulls at the paper lips, as it would pull at the girls' lips. I have moved through the emotion now - I'm aware that I have literally minutes left.

I stand up, the blood is in a small bottle and I hold the picture at waist height. I have already desecrated it once, I can do it again... deep breath and I pour the blood over the two faces. It skims viscously down. I don't dare look at the crowd. I feel it rather than see it drip down onto my legs and then, hold the picture aloft, high up and throw my head back.

The blood drips down my face and the rivulets of red run.

I hear people below applauding. My time is up.

One man comes up to me later, in his disabled buggy - he says thank you. I did not know that. I did not know that happened. Thank you for telling me.

He takes my hand. It seemed to say it all.

I think the main message came across. Three million girls. Every single year.

More later - hopefully more visuals.

Now, to bed.

Monday, 6 July 2009

4th plinth

Today's brain tickler - if appearing at very short notice on the plinth, what to do?

Feedback already has been stilted, people have been commenting that it is underwhelming to say the least. Estelle and I brainstorm different options today in the office. We unpack the model of a woman's torso, with interchangeable bits to show different types of FGM - so you can take out a "type II" and insert a "type III (infibulated)". There's also a pretty graphic one with a baby's head trying to push through an infibulation. Quite graphic. After a while of looking at it, we decide, absolutely definitely that the clitoris is in the wrong place. We end up saying to each other that we definitely know where our clitorises are... Estelle figures out long before I do that we have the entire model upside down....

Then we turn to various posters and banners that they have. We ponder for a while, then I discard that thought. It looks too staged. This is an art project after all.

Estelle makes me flinch when I ask her if we have any examples of knives or cutting instruments. "No" she replies, "but we do have some of the thorns that are used to close the incision." A quick search of the premises however, do not reveal the thorns. I think I am grateful.

So, the brainstorm continues - we come up with the idea of cutting the rose. Perhaps a rose for a number of children. How to make the figures work? There are 3 million girls at risk a year. A phone call with Julian from a boat in Majorca. He urges me to think more creatively, to event plan, to write out what I'm doing for the whole hour. He is right - I need to do more.

Any thoughts?

Much more to write - in particular about the seminar we held about Women, Islam and Sexuality.

Back soon....