People fight for social justice in many different ways. Some get involved in communities that are victims of injustice, others go into the street to join a demonstration. What may seem more unusual is fighting for social justice through performing arts, like Justice in Motion Company does.
We interviewed the Artistic Director of Justice in Motion, Anja Meinhardt to discover more about the power of performance to tell complex stories and to mobilise communities for social change. She also shares her thoughts on being a woman in the performing arts industry.
Using theatrical performances to fight social injustice is certainly an innovative and creative idea. Where did it come from and what is the concept behind Justice in Motion?
Pablo Picasso once said: “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth…” – I believe that the Arts are a very powerful tool to initiate positive social change. In fact, many theatre makers, like myself, create work that is political or socially relevant, while being entertaining, engaging and enjoyable for the audience. The thing is that artists often see the world from a different perspective, and envisage how things could be.
Justice in Motion is a physical theatre company that through a dynamic blend of dance, theatre, aerial acrobatics, projection, and music, offers a theatrical experience that is always thought-provoking. Our work aims to raise awareness on pertinent social issues, encourage debate, inspire action and create positive change.
What do you think is the role of art in the struggle for social justice and in the portrayal of social reality, and how performing arts can contribute in particular?
Art is a fabulous way of reflecting our society, as well as a powerful tool for changing perception and for challenging opinions – it speaks right to the heart and engages people on a personal level.
It can challenge the status quo, by holding up a mirror in front of the audience, offering another perspective of life and of how we relate to each other, a ‘what if?’ that allows us to envision a possible other world.
You have engaged your audiences on pertinent social issues like migration, expat women and human trafficking through Justice in Motion’s performances, respectively “Kaiho”, “Contained” and “Bound”. How would you say your audiences have responded to these performances so far?
We get very different responses to the various performances – “Bound” certainly takes people on a thrilling journey from desperation to hope, from violence to kindness. Audiences usually leave compelled to do something about modern slavery. “Kaiho” takes audiences on a very different journey – one through Finland’s history, and one’s own memories of being an expat woman. Whereas “Contained” engages people in a dialogue, challenging them to assess their perceptions and response to migration.
Are these groups ever part of the public? If so, is there a reaction, something they said that left a profound impact on you, something you would like to share with our readers?
Once I performed an excerpt of “Bound” on the streets of Oxford, and one lady that had stopped to watch came to me, still with tears in her eyes, and just gave me a hug, without saying a word. I felt I had just told her story, one she perhaps wouldn’t have been able to share herself. Another time a group of teenage boys from Serbia started whistling as my character takes off a pair of knickers, then a second pair, and a third one – by which point all had fallen silent. Their teacher approached me afterwards to say they had just been talking about human trafficking, and the performance had really hit home.
Apart from migration issues, what other topics are close to your heart?
Anything to do with violence against women – whether sexual exploitation, abuse, or rape. That’s not to say that men aren’t equally abused and exploited. I guess it’s just slightly easier for me to understand what’s going on in a woman, being one myself, and create work from there.
What is the performing arts scene like for female theatre makers like yourself?
I am generally well respected as a theatre maker and performer, and haven’t experienced any discrimination or elevation because of being a woman. Also since I founded and run my own company, I haven’t had to try and compete against others for this particular role. As such, I cannot comment whether or not preference would have been given to a man. I guess I’m quite privileged though to be in the position I’m in, and do feel quite supported. Notably here in England, higher-end positions in the Arts, as with most sectors, usually still very much favour mostly white middle-class men though.
What was one of the toughest moments you experienced when establishing Justice in Motion? And what was the best moment or the biggest satisfaction?
I guess the toughest part often was, and still is, the lack of funding. But then you do get to take the work out and on the road, and people stop you in the streets months later, saying how much the work had impacted them and inspired them to make a difference in this world. And then you have people come to our dance classes, because that’s the best part of their week … that’s why it’s worth it.
What other plans can we look forward to from Justice in Motion?
We are currently working on a new outdoor production that we are developing alongside the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and other key players within construction. It will tackle issues of modern slavery within that industry. This will be an exciting collaboration with Paweł Szkotak, director of Teatr Biuro Podróży from Poland and a cast of international Parkour athletes. A first preview will take place in June 2018. We also continue to tour “Bound” next Autumn and look to further develop “Contained”, creating a more participatory experience.
If there is just one message you would like to send our readers, what would it be?
Go and learn about the world. Engage in dialogue and be inspired to find your own voice in tackling issues of social injustice.