The more prosperous a city is, the more conspicuous poverty is for one to look away. ( Photo credit: Do You a Flavor and Hsinchulun Association)
Author profile -Chu Kuan-chen:
A social worker dedicated to the issue of poverty. She is the co-founder of Do You a Flavor and Poverty Academy and the curator of We Own the City, We Own Ourselves. Chu also co-authored Street Survival Guide and City Commoning.
About Do You a Flavor
Do You a Flavor is an NGO focusing on the issues of homelessness and urban poverty. From 2014 onward, the organization has initiated public advocacy campaigns and direct service programs. It also forms alliances with community, mental illness, housing, labor and gender groups. Do You a Flavor is committed to becoming a "facilitator" between people and issues.
Curate an Exhibition of the Poor in a Prosperous City
"Should we take an interest in the past, it would quickly dawn on us that the glaring glory of the great Taipei city is the accumulation of the toil and moil of the dream seekers traveling between North and South, those penniless, laborers in the low stratum, migrants, indigenous people and the poor over the course of hundreds of years. They came all the way to Taipei from high mountains, different corners of the island, and Southeast Asian countries. It is through their hands that the new landscape of a great city is shaped.
In other words, this prosperous city is not exclusively owned by those who are successful and affluent. The city also belongs to the frustrated and the poor."
--Introduction to We Own the City, We Own Ourselves by Paelabang Danapan
The world has identified poverty as one of the critical problems of this century calling for urgent solutions. However, voices of the poor are often the missing piece in the discussion of the issue. As individuals directly living through and responding to poverty, they own the profound understanding and experiences derived from those circumstances. However, as the majority of society still see poverty through the biased lens of stereotypes, most of those who have lived it have chosen to bury or deny that experience and thus they have become a muted group.
In 2017, several organizations supporting the those socially marginalized such as homeless, urban indigenous people, vulnerable families, high-risk teens, and those with mental disorder experience jointly launched an exhibition entitled We Own the City, We Own Ourselves (or Poor Taipei in short), an annual campaign which invites members of the general public to walk in the shoes of the poor for a better understanding on the issue of urban poverty.
An NGO Curatorial Approach: Walking Far Matters More Than Walking Fast
Every year, the Poor Taipei exhibition selects different topics such as "Four in the Morning" and "Choices Not Understood" as entry points for the issue of poverty and invites those experiencing poverty, social workers and artists to create works together. In an environment where people feel safe and respected, they share their experiences and feelings before they translate their stories into works in forms like songs, paintings, theater performances, and games, forming the gentle but powerful narratives of the exhibition.
The company of those they trust is especially important in the process. The social workers can gauge the conditions of the individuals living in poverty and their willingness for engagement. What’s more, the new discoveries made in the creative process can feed back into these social workers’ daily practice and thus build deeper and longer connections with those experiencing poverty. As back-and-forth confirmation consumes a lot of time and uncertainties pepper the process—in 2018, one of the participants who agreed to be filmed later refused to appear on the screen—for the exhibition team of Poor Taipei, being vocal is more than being heard by other people. It is also an important way to process one's own feelings. Putting a brake on or leaving the creative process is also acknowledged as natural and approved of, and no one would be abandoned for doing so. With the rapport established over time, Poor Taipei has become a trusted avenue for documentation and exchange to the involved organizations. And the exhibition also has new stories and creative ideas to offer every year. https://youtu.be/KHlf4mfTTnA?t=1155
The Poetry by the Homeless Section, 2020 We Own the City, We Own Ourselves: Vocal Practice.( Photo credit: Do You a Flavor https://doyouaflavor.wixsite.com/mysite-3)
The Poetry by the Homeless Section, 2020 We Own the City, We Own Ourselves: Vocal Practice( Photo credit: Do You a Flavor https://doyouaflavor.wixsite.com/mysite-3)
Curating an Online Exhibition: How to Keep the Tie Despite the 1.5m Social Distance
In 2021, with the level 3 COVID alert, all NGOs mobilized to offer emergency support and collect relief supplies. Wanhua, where Poor Taipei is located, became a stigmatized synonym for infection-control breach in the news. To mitigate risks, Poor Taipei was bound to be converted to a virtual format. Conceptualization of the exhibition theme and the collection of exhibits with limited manpower became the most unforgettable and unexpected challenge last year.
While members of the general public mostly stayed at home for pandemic control, social workers went further into the field to be with those impoverished. Moving between blocks and neighborhoods, they ventured into places hidden out of sight of most people. The curatorial team worked with social workers to launch "Visits of Light" which presents swhat social workers saw and felt out in the field, from the compiled interviews they gave. On the other hand, since expenses for physical space, facilities, and equipment were saved, the released budget was reallocated to remuneration for submitted works. People experiencing poverty were invited to submit their works that document their own lives during level 3 COVID-19 alert with video, audio, photography, text, etc. https://2021.wotp.life/1-5m/the-light-shines-in-the-darkness/
To enable more instant sharing, promotion and creative works, the galleries were set up on Instagram. As the platform imposed no restrictions on uploading and browsing, 89 people experiencing poverty and social workers contributed to the exhibition and a total of 196 creative works were included.
The Poor Taipei exhibition (Photo credit: Do You a Flavor)
Also, the concerted efforts of Wanhua community and NGO networks to fight against the pandemic formed an incredible chronicle of 2021. The curatorial team adopted an open-source map to mark the shops and neighborhoods that provided relief supplies and support at that time. The map not only recorded how people reached out to help, but also invited the general public to visit these brick-and-mortar stores and show solidarity with their spending after the alert level was downgraded. https://rightplus.org/2021/06/02/whphoto-1/
NGO networks(Photo credit: Do You a Flavor)
1.5 meters was the measure of social distance. It was a social consensus which drove a crack in humanity last May, upending many lives. However, we believe that the light still gets in through that 1.5-meter crack, lighting up the way for us. When the light gets through, we see rainbows too.