Turn Around Projects: Back in Bhopal

Turn around projecrts of the arts (TAP) at Brock University mural at Sambyhavna Bhopal
The mural hangs near the entrance in the Sambhavna Clinic

Turn Around Projects, a not-for-profit organization with the mission to create and maintain integrated arts projects, which promote reciprocal exchange in order to impact and strengthen communities. TAP evolved from staff and students at Brock University in Canada. The group visited the Samvbhavna Clinic in Bhopal in December 2011 to run art workshops with the survivors of the gas disaster. The group are visiting Bhopal again in 2012 in December.

Since its beginnings in 2007, TAP has organized seven successful programs in four countries (Jamaica, Japan, Canada and India). More than 600 people have participated. The members of TAP believe that art is everywhere, everyone is an artists and that the process of creating art is just as important as the product.

Three TAP members visited previously Bhopal in 2011, led by member Rox Chwaluk.  The groups worked with both the staff of Sambhavna Clinic Trust and the survivors of the world’s worst industrial. They created a mural which now hangs pride of place near the entrance of the clinic.

This mural was created and developed by the participants of the 2011 TAP India Pilot Project Program under the creative direction of visual artist Jamez Townsend. Alongside facilitators, participants of the program included clinic users, Sambhavna staff, and local children. The mural depicts the past, present and future of the Bhopal Gas Disaster as seen through the eyes of the participants. It is both a reflection and a constructive reminder of the horrors that took place that night.

We caught up with Rox to ask about past and future TAP projects in Bhopal.

1) Why did you decide to take TAP to Bhopal?

I was part of a club at Brock University (Brock Connections) that put on plays about social issues. I selected the play Bhopal (from a recommendation) by Rahul Varma. I had never heard of Bhopal, and when I did some primary research, I was so shocked, disturbed, angry, sad – an array of emotions. We donated the proceeds to Sambhavna (as it was the first thing I found online). I remember thinking to myself, one day I will go to Bhopal. I found the website again, and started reading about Sambhavna and read that volunteers stay and eat for free, which to be frank – was great. I read about all the things that were offered (health promotion, presentations, gardening etc) and thought – what if we did a TAP Project in Bhopal? As pure believers of the power of the arts, we KNEW that chemical spill survivors would find value in art. It was a no brainer really. I was inspired. I approached the board of TAP and it was approved. Then slowly, the Indian and Jamaican connection began to have some light. My friend told me he had family in Bhopal, and his cousin could act as our translator. Things just fell into place. It felt right.

2) What kind of response did TAP receive in Bhopal?

Sathyu (Sambhavna managing trustee) was very honest and receptive to our idea of the mural. He made it clear that the entire staff would have to approve of the idea. When we arrived, our team had to do some quick adjustments. I had a difficult time understanding how much my white privilege played a role. We felt like celebrities inBhopal, everyone wanted to take pictures with us. It was hard to differentiate if people wanted TAP or this white group of people. I will say that the TAP team made some very honest and genuine connections with participants of the program, clinic staff and locals. I think we were all welcomed and respected as individuals, and TAP just came along in the package of that. The mural had over 75 participants with ideas, sketchers, painters – and the unveiling was one of the most humbling moments in my life. The round house at Sambhavna was packed, and yeah, we felt supported and that we were ok to be there. Maybe we weren’t just this “dominant white man” group that came toBhopal.

3) What do you plan to do this time around during your visit to Sambhavna?

Lots of learning from the pilot last December. Some big changes: we will have two translators instead of one, and will have lots of translation done beforehand to be better prepared. We will have a more structured approach to the workshops and not just holding drop in sessions. We are offering a five part leadership series to youth and adults aged 14+ as we would like to provide the skills and tools of Bhopali youth to figure out what kinds of leaders they are in their community. We are offering other art forms, not just visual art, photography and crafts. We are offering eighteen workshops which will include: music, visual art, dance, creative writing, theatre, photography, and videography.  Finally, we are offering three collaborative workshops – were everyone is included. One will be a mural (not as comprehensive as last year), a photo collage, and human orchestra/symphony. We also plan to maintain our relationships and create new ones, as well as share and learn from each other as much and often as we can in order to better understand our perspectives. We also are having a few visioning sessions, as we would like to see where Bhopali’s would like to see this program in the future. The “come in and leave” model is not what TAP is about.

4) As well as TAP, you are also involved with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB). Can you describe your work with both the organizations?

I work with the ICJB North America as an activist, I’m also I’m on the advisory board. But I’m also an artist, educator and leader – with TAP.

5) Where do TAP plan to travel next?

When I first joined TAP I had dreams to travel the world sharing art. Kenya, Ukraine, Guatemala… and countless more options were explored due to so many connections all over the world. It was very easy to just pick a place and go. But we had to ask ourselves what’s the point? Why are we doing this? Are we like any other international volunteering organization, just with an arts base? It was difficult to admit but that is something that would have happened. As a board, and as individuals we realized the value in what we were doing and what set us apart. Working with the same participants, to create relationships and provide opportunities is much more important. 3 weeks once a year is not nearly enough, and therefore the “come in and leave” model was not working either. The programs MUST be wanted by the community, and want to be sustained and be Turn Around Projects of the Arts. TAP is part of you, your soul, your life – it’s WHO you are. And if you want to change your world, and be a leader in your community (call it TAP or not) you hold those values in common. Each country and program is very different, but we hold so much together. Tying these communities is another big step.  We are fundraising to bring 19 year old Conroy Campbell from Jamaican to Bhopal next December. Conroy is an amazing photographer who has been part of the Jamaica Summer Arts Program since 2007. We hope to follow this with a program participant from Canada to go to Jamaica, and lastly, making it a full circle, a Bhopal participant would come to Jamaica.

Girl with candle Bhopal

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