There are many ways in which people of different social, economic, political, religious and ethnic backgrounds have been engaged in place-making in Northern Ireland. This fascinating process has been explored by a growing number of lecturers, students and postdoctoral researchers at QUB (Komarova and Svašek 2018).
On Monday 29th March, the Indian Community Centre Belfast will reflect on their place-making activities in Belfast at a virtual event organised by PEACE IV Culture Café. The event will take place during Holi, showcasing Indian dance performances by the South Asian Dance Academy and a demonstration of Rangoli art. This is an opportunity to learn more about the politics and poetics of belonging in ethnically-diverse Belfast, hearing local voices. For more information and registration: https://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/Events/Culture-Cafe-The-Indian-Community
If Ivan Pavlov was conducting his Pavlov’s dog experiment today, he could use my doggie, Darcy, when virtual meetings begin. When virtual meetings start with the participants initial, “hello, how are you?” Darcy takes her cue to bark or growl. It is her way of saying “hello” or “who’s here to play with me?” Darcy is then on a quest to search for these ‘intruders’ in her home. My lap is then selfishly used as a human vantage point.
As you can see from the screenshot below, I have to struggle to be seen on screen by the meeting participants. Maruška, my supervisor, anticipates, even expects Darcy’s bark at the start of our virtual supervision meetings. In fact, Darcy’s presence at regular meetings is often anticipated. However, when I am on a virtual call with people we haven’t met before, Darcy’s need for attention requires some explanation. Thankfully, Darcy’s interfering adds an initial talking point, breaking the ice before any official business begins. So, rather than interfering, Darcy brings moments of surprise and joy during zoom gloom and our pandemic lethargy.
Students in the School of HAPP recently came top in the annual UK-wide Model NATO competition held remotely this year. The team, coached by Professor Alister Miskimmon, included Sunniva Henden and Joe Reilly representing the UK, and Bebhinn Tankard and Matthew Dumigan representing Slovakia. In this interview, Matthew shares some of his insights from the experience.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Matthew and I’m a final year undergraduate from England, studying BA Politics, Philosophy and Economics at QUB.
How did you hear about Model NATO?
I first heard about the Model NATO event from a HAPP School email that was sent out to students a couple of months prior to the event. It immediately stood out to me as an immensely worthwhile opportunity to both gain a deeper understanding of NATO and bolster my CV.
The email detailed the application process, which included an initial 100-word piece on why you believe you’d be an ideal delegate and what you expect to gain from participation. Upon successful completion, candidates were then invited to interviews, which took place over MS Teams. At the interview, questions were asked to determine your interest and understanding of NATO as a political and military alliance, as well as more general questions regarding why you think you’d be a good candidate for the model event.
How did you and the team prepare for the competition?
Since QUB was sending two delegates for each team we’d been selected to represent (UK and Slovakia), our first task as delegates was to decide who would represent each team. After this, we began meeting regularly with Alister, our coach, to discuss aspects of the model event and the kind of research that would enable us to maximise our performance on the day.
Before delving deeper into researching the positions of our respective countries, it was necessary to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of NATO’s working methods and the structures that make up the organisation. Without going into too much detail, reading up on these areas was intriguing, and turned out to be of fundamental importance on the day as the crisis unfolded.
As my fellow delegate and I were representing Slovakia, we conducted extensive research into topics ranging from Slovakia’s military strength to their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, we endeavoured to uncover who Slovakia’s close NATO partners were in preparation for cooperative decision making and influencing on the day. Ultimately, however, no amount of preparation can prepare you for some of the curveballs thrown on the day! With that in mind, being able to think and speak quickly on your feet supplements any research conducted prior to the mock crisis.
One of the Queen’s teams represented Slovakia. What did this entail on the day?
As Slovakian delegates, it became necessary to work closely with our allies, which included the Visegrad nations (Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic) and several other NATO member states. In this way, our reach and influence were bolstered as we worked collectively to resolve the crisis with other NATO members and represent our nation’s interests at the NATO level.
For example, we grouped together with like-minded member states to put forward three draft texts, which ultimately formed part of the final draft resolution. Such draft texts ranged from mobilising resources within our respective nations to aid the relief effort, to promoting the use of our intelligence agencies to monitor the ongoing crisis.
What was the main thing that you took away from the experience?
The main thing I took away from the experience was the importance of clear communication and cooperation in conducting crisis management activities. Regardless of whether this on an international stage or in an office boardroom, such transferable skills are vital in ensuring that objectives are met and that crises are resolved swiftly and efficiently.
Furthermore, the importance of compromise was clearly emphasised throughout the day. Since different actors often represent different views, attitudes and beliefs, it’s important to find common ground and make appropriate compromises in order to ensure the smooth functioning of crisis resolution.
Do you have any tips for students who might be considering taking part next year?
My main tip would be to make sure you’re well prepared and that you know your country’s position on a wide range of issues inside out. On the day, the judges are looking for delegates who can accurately represent their nation’s stance on particular events and use that to collectively work with other member states in resolving the crisis. In fact, the other QUB team (representing the UK) won the outstanding delegation award for doing just that.
Also, make sure to enjoy it! It’s a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to both hear and learn from actual NATO representatives and diplomats.
In the Politics of Performance module, which is run in conjunction with workshops co-hosted with Beyond Skin, students learn about performative politics across four broadly interlinked areas: (i) protest and empowerment; (ii) socially engaged arts practices, foregrounding identity claims that impact upon policy agendas; (iii) sonic and political imaginaries of creativity; and (iv) the arts as a space of engagement for healing and reconciliation.
As part of the assessed work, students produced a creative piece and a critical reflections upon some of the seven workshops. The creative elements of the module highlight students’ voices by profiling their work individually and in conjunction with a music producer who created a collaborative student rap piece which you can listen to herealong with the other student compositions.
Kathakali is a Hindu temple acting tradition, originating in Kerala, South India. The repertoire of Kathakali are the stories from sacred texts such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana. I was first mesmerised by Kathakali when I saw a performance in 1995, lasting a few hours. I understood then from the pre-performance talk that the actors told stories through the movement of their bodies including complex face often frenetic eye movements. It takes years to hone Kathakali skills. When the HAPP Experience Team organised a one-hour Kathakali workshop in February 2021, I had to take part.
Students and lecturers joined our workshop tutors, Kalamnadalam Vijayakumar (Vijay) and Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar (Barbara) via a zoom link to their studio – a performance room with no embellishments, simple grey fabric lined the walls. Vijay was not dressed like the performer in Image 1 or Vijay himself in Image 2 below. Barbara explained that “when an actor is in full costume they are no longer human but a representation of divinity. For that reason an actor cannot give a workshop or demonstration in costume. The spoken word is considered the language of humans and the Mudras [Kathakali sign language] are the language of the gods. The journey from dressing room to the stage is considered sacred as if the actor is travelling from heaven to earth during this time the actor must not be spoken to” (pers. comm.). Dressing in a full Kathakali costume and make-up takes hours of preparation. Kathakali make up varies greatly depending on the character being performed (Images 1 and 2). The application of Kathakali make up skills takes years to master and Image 2 showcases just one instance of Barbara’s mastery.
Vijay and Barbara introduced us to Kathakali, providing a brief history of the sacred art form before we had the opportunity to learn a short performance from the master, Vijay. He explained that each word in a story has its own Mudra, Kathakali sign-language. However, unlike the sign-language that we may be familiar with to a greater or lesser extent, Kathakali signing is elaborate. Arms, legs, cheeks and jowls, eyebrows and of course the eyes convey a story’s words. During the workshop, Barbara disappeared off screen and gave us useful explanations about the movements made by Vijay throughout the session. After a short demonstration by Vijay, for example, she asked if he had acted as male or female character. We were further introduced to feminine and masculine variations in Kathakali as the actors need to embody female and male movements with clarity. Traditionally, only males perform Kathakali, although some women have started to perform in India. Barbara is the first female Kathakali make-up [Chutti] artist.
During the one-hour workshop, we were taught to perform the phrase I am sad because the wind destroyed my flowers. Hand, arm, leg and face gestures ranged from the delicate opening of the flower to the flailing arms representing gusts of wind. The accompanying rapid eye movements where, as Vijay demonstrated, seemingly impossible for us beginners. His eyeball dexterity demonstrated his many years of training and performing. On explanation, some of the movements, such as ‘flower’ were self-explanatory. Conversely, the simple word ‘because’ involved intricate hand movements which at first was difficult to perform. Nevertheless, I think we arrived at an amateur compromise.
During the Q&A session after the workshop, Vijay and Barbara commented on the various ways in which they have adapted workshops, performances and costume displays to different contexts and settings across the UK. From 2010 onwards, they have also worked with Maruška Svašek, Reader in Anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast, on several of their Heritage Lottery funded projects (see Svašek 2016, especially page 9-13).
After seeing Kathakali performed in India, I thought that one-hour would be insufficient to learn anything more than one or two performative elements. However, Vijay is an expert performer and teacher. He carefully and slowly demonstrated each movement. We followed, repeated and repeated again. As we moved from one movement to another, I worried that I would forget them. However, Vijaya’s teaching expertise ensured that the movements were understood – the physical movements and their meaning. While I did not perform to Vijay’s standard, I thought I was not too bad.
The Kathakali workshop was a welcome distraction from the usual words on my computer screen and the digital pile of papers to read. It was an hour of creative movement that differed to my allocated daily exercise around the now too familiar local spaces. The workshop flexed my mind as I reminisced about seeing Kathakali performed in India – a creative distraction to my academic and lockdown routine. Hopefully, soon, we will meet and engage with Kalamandalam Vijayakumar and Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar in person. On their website Vijay enacts all the words used in the Kathakali acting tradition, and the video was filmed, edited and scripted by Barbara who also produced the voice over. The product of their combined forces is an impressive achievement.
We are delighted to announce the winners of our Staff and Student Lockdown fashion competition, Ella Jepson (student category) and Susan Templeton (staff category). Take a look at the winners and honourable mentions below!
WINNER: STUDENT CATEGORY
WINNER: STAFF CATEGORY
See below our honourable mentions in staff and student categories – thank you to everyone who participated!
George: Here’s me—as you can see—in the famous McClay Library with a rather outdated Halloween mask not in keeping with the times. I’ve got a sentimental attachment for this mask, and it hasn’t been able to rid itself of me. This is partly for two reasons: one being that it’s the second mask that I’ve owned for a substantial amount of time, the second reason being that my mother (who has an impressive collection of masks) kindly donated it to me after Halloween out of her frustration with me using those disposable one’s. Thanks, Mum!
If you see me trundling around McClay (which is where I spend most of my time) I hope it brings you a smile, because it does to me too. If it’s being cleaned or drying, I’ll be wearing my Christmas one-potentially inside-out admittedly, out of non-Christmassy induced sheepishness. (That’s the real beauty of this one, it doesn’t have that inside-out button!)
Maruska: I took this photograph in the early summer of 2020, when, like many others in Northern Ireland, I decided to start a new hobby to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. Sea swimming is a great way to gain a sense of freedom at a time of restrictions and lockdown. The only problem is getting in and out of the wetsuit! In this picture I tried it on for the first time – the label is still attached to it.
Sparky: For me lockdown fashion has been all about being warm. Nothing matches on anyone but we need all the layers we can get!
Tricia: Dressed up like a teddy Bear
To hide away my unwashed hair
So cosy and warm I will indulge
To cover up my lockdown bulge!
For my expanding stomach is due no less
To the numerous buns I did digest
Working nonstop in front of my PC
Has had this effect on me –
and I drank too much tea!
Francine: My lockdown fashion is “half dressed-up” now that classes started. I was meeting students this morning for their first tutorials.
In this pandemic, some of us have not seen our families for months, if not a year. Some have not seen anyone but their families as our social circles contract. Some of us yearn to go home, others crave traveling away. We’re all exhausted (even more so key workers) and bored of our daily lives, where each day looks the same.
And so we need strategies to fight the monotony. For some, this may be reading or watching classics, for others catching up on new releases, or training for a sporting event. Since the beginning of 2021 I’ve turned to baking and cooking – embracing the many food-related ‘holidays’ around the world as an excuse to cook something new, to mark the day that we’re in and move on.
These holidays (often of religious origin) are different in each country – sometimes we celebrate different things, sometimes we celebrate the same thing, but on different days. After a January marked with a galette des rois for Epiphany (French cake, but this is also celebrated in other countries with different cakes) and haggis for Burns Night (Scotland), February has been all about pancakes. In France, we traditionally make crêpes on Candelmas/La Chandeleur which falls on 2 February every year. In the UK, pancake day falls on a different day – on Shrove Tuesday (the day before the beginning of Lent) – a moment to finish off the eggs and butter that would not be traditionally consumed during lent. Other countries have a tradition to finish off butter and eggs before Lent, but usually do it in more style/fat – with doughnuts and beignets of any kind, either on ‘Fat’ Tuesday, or a few days before (last Thursday for example was Tłusty Czwartek, or ‘Fat Thursday’ in Poland, a day for eating many pączki, a kind of doughnuts).
This year we need more excuses to celebrate – and thus for the last fourteen days, from French to UK pancake days, I’ve been making pancakes. Pancakes from home in Brittany (a region of France renowned for sweet crêpes and savoury buckwheat galettes) and from around the world (with recipes from Germany, China, India, Ethiopia, Japan, Morocco, the US…), sweet and savoury, some vegan, some gluten free.
As today is pancake day in the UK, many of us will be heading back once more in the kitchen. I suggest you make both pancakes that remind you of home (wherever that is) and pancakes that make you travel and try something new.
Here are some suggestions:
Morrocan Baghrir – or ‘thousand holes pancakes’ – delicious and very easy to make (and it happens to be vegan)
When I think about COVID and the past year, I think of humanity being put on the naughty step. I envisage mother earth, Gaia or whoever you associate with the planet as sending us all to our rooms. We have been asked (on several occasions now) to go home and think about what we have done. I realise most people won’t think like that, but I enjoy this little fantasy. This image tickles me. The idea that all of this may be punitive makes sense to me. The reason I see it that way is because I am a little disappointed with my species, I am an environmentalist. And hence why I think a few restrictions and being shaken up out of our consumerist slumber would do us no harm.
Whilst the naughty step analogy is my light hearted way of interpreting and analysing events through an ecocritical lens, I am aware this playfulness could be considered insensitive. However, humour has always been a powerful and quite healthy coping and defense mechanism. COVID is a horror and what it has done to many is tragic.
Tragedies and catastrophes change people, they change society, they change collective behaviour. A pandemic has shaped the world and dominated events and whilst I am aware that change is inevitable; rapid, global change is alarming. Change at an accelerated and often uncomfortable rate can devastate and destroy. For many the discomfort has been regarding the uncertainty and the element of not having any control. For me the comfort has been in the uncertainty and the element of not having any control. The truth is I enjoy change, I actually embrace it and most certainly do not fear it.
My year, both on and off the naughty step, has been used to do what you are supposed to do whilst sat on it. I have used these experiences to reflect and think and to try and be a better person. As a third year PhD student, thinking is certainly not alien to me, but really thinking about my life and my choices was unavoidable and it pushed me to dig deep and be better.
I did many things during this past year as a result of COVID. I rekindled my relationship with my children’s father by taking responsibility and swallowing a lot of pride. I moved school to HAPP to complete my PhD whilst staying true to my beliefs and my academic preferences. And I went to a Psychologist and got assessed for Autism/ ASD and finally received a diagnosis in my forties. None of these things were easy, all of these things have helped me move closer to reaching my potential and living a life I feel content with. Would these things have happened without COVID? I very much doubt it.
The truth is pre-COVID I was busy, stressed and getting everything done. I was on the conveyor belt. Children, career, write thesis, go out, avoid discomfort, exist. COVID put the brakes on that life and forced things to slow and to change. COVID changed the world and COVID changed me. It was up to me how COVID was going to do that and I’m grateful for the lessons and the enforced reflection. I needed it, I think the world did too.
Sophia Valente, a Peer Mentor and final year student in International Politics and Conflict Studies, reflects on recent documentary discussions that were held as part of HAPP’s Winter Programme.
As part of the HAPP Winter Programme, I had the privilege to take part in the documentary discussions that ran from the 13th to the 15th of January. Peer Mentors (including myself) had the opportunity to chair the discussions and participate where possible. I first participated in Monday’s discussion of the documentary ‘13th’, which focused on the mass incarceration and systemic discrimination of African Americans in the United States. The discussion involved contributions from a range of HAPP disciplines, giving insight to perspectives beyond my own political focus.
The most valuable part of the ‘13th’ discussion, for me, was focused on what the documentary had taught us. Even though we came from such a range of ages, subject areas, and education levels, it seemed that all of us had learned a lot from the film. There was some agreement that what many of us had not been aware of was the extent to which policymaking in the US is influenced by private companies. The effect this has on mass incarceration is striking, and it was surprising to all of us how much we didn’t know about these systems in place. The documentary, though focused on the 13th amendment of the US Constitution, brought to light the link between Reagan’s War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of African Americans as well as the disproportionately large prison population in the United States. Wednesday’s discussion and documentary were eye-opening and thought-provoking, and very enjoyable overall.
The following day we discussed the documentary ‘The White Helmets’, which focuses on the lives and experiences of volunteers in Syria who risk their lives to save others who have become trapped under rubble or injured in any other way due to bombings occurring in the Syrian Civil War. Thanks to the contributions from anthropology PhD researcher Chrysi Kyratsou, this discussion had a largely anthropological focus, which was refreshing to an International Politics and Conflict Studies student such as myself. The contributions made by other participants were also insightful and represented the other HAPP disciplines to provide a well-rounded discussion.
The documentary itself takes viewers through some of the experiences of actual white helmets. The emphasis is on the impact conflict and war has on civilians, the lives lost, and the enduring hope for eventual peace. The film is inspirational. The white helmets don’t care who they’re rescuing. Their age, occupation, political leaning, and involvement in the conflict, is all irrelevant to saving lives. While we can learn a lot about the Syrian Civil War from this documentary, we can also learn a lot about human nature, hope, and solidarity. These topics proved to be significant to Thursday’s discussion.
Highlights of the conversation were related to the way we understand partiality, subjectivity, and solidarity in the context of the conflict in Syria as well as conflicts as a whole. We also discussed questions of how we understand conflict, humanitarian intervention, and peacebuilding, with inevitable links to Northern Ireland and the peacebuilding process here. I think it’s safe to say that we all learned something from these discussions and were able to better understand our own perspectives as well.
With limited face-to-face learning, it can be difficult to interact with HAPP students from disciplines other than our own. These discussions have certainly proven the value of multidisciplinary approaches to learning. It can also be difficult to have the opportunity to interact with students outside of teaching hours. Not only were these discussions a valuable learning experience, but it was lovely to bring people together in a virtual setting beyond the online tutorials we attend as part of our studies. A year ago, I think we all would have doubted the possibility of meeting new people in such a virtual environment, but the documentary discussions have proven what I would have considered impossible. There is this kind of possibility in the environment of virtual lectures and tutorials, which can otherwise feel bleak from time to time.
Finally, I would like to urge whoever reads this to take part in the virtual activities that HAPP is organising in the near future. There will be wellbeing sessions to help with stress and sleep, a quiz, and movie nights. Peer mentors like myself will be attending events such as these, so to any first years, in addition to reaching us by email you can also reach out by attending these virtual events. I personally look forward to the upcoming events and getting to know those who attend.
Students at Boston College are launching a new ongoing project called Global Conversations, which connects small groups of students (8-12 total, half from Boston College and half from another university around the world) for informal one-hour conversations about a range of topics that matter to them, and that they choose. Each session will have a specific topic and opening questions drafted by conversation leaders from each university, but can range freely as participants see fit. Most conversations will be held in English, but some will also be conducted in other languages. Initially, conversations will be organized in six major themes:
The COVID-19 Pandemic
Racial Justice & Decolonization
Protests & Social Change
Globalization & Global Culture(s)
Migration & Immigration
This is an invitation for students at HAPP to participate in these Global Conversations.
Each conversation needs a student leader from each university; together they will determine three main questions for the session, recruit 4-5 other students to join them (or simply take them from a sign-up list), schedule the conversation and confirm the technology (we will set these up using Zoom unless other tools are better in specific contexts). If you are interested, please reach out to one of the Boston College students who are helping to lead the project: