Embracing Complexity

Life begins beyond your comfort zone! Do I sound like one of those many blogs out there, offering another five steps to hack your life into bite size pieces, only to forget the day after? Feed further upon the playbook of life to stop the ennui that is plaguing our contemporary lives!

This is not another one of those blogs.  I don't have any easy steps.  There isn't a 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C; because solutions to real problems are not easy, as much as we would like them to be.  They are hard, complicated and messy, just like life. Solutions do not fit easily into little boxed categories that we can easily digest with a cup of warm milk before bedtime.  There isn't a playbook for life--even though John Clease from Monty Python wrote a rather witty 'Life and How to Survive it' that I devoured at 23 post-Oxford crisis.
Photo (c) Ebor Tariang
Listening to Beverly translate about the depth medicinal plants that grow naturally
 in the rich bio-diverse landscape in Meghalaya 
Instead, I thought I would try, as difficult as it may be to wave a flag for complexity. People hate the word try, because it seems so half-hearted.  I would beg to differ.  One of my favourite playwrights: Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail Better".  Trying does not negate the fact that you are into it, almost 100% of the time, but you don't know where you are going 100% of the time and that is OK.

There is nothing wrong with trying or not knowing exactly what you are doing all the time, as much as our contemporary climate packages everything so well, so that looking like you are uncertain or not knowing where you are going or the right answer is a big "no, no". However, complicated problems are facing us everyday and having several answers as well as needing to try many solutions seems to have become untrustworthy, suspicious and the work of the non-expert.  Not surprisingly in this climate, demagogues and dictators claiming that they have the answer and simple final solutions, thrive.

For over 10 years working with women and girls in a variety of contexts and countries all around the theme of sharing knowledge, education and empowerment, each context has taken on different forms and tools to activate the potential within us.  We have experimented with making our voices heard in mediums as diverse as photography, film, education technology, writing, dance, performance and crafts.  

In each situation where I have worked with these women and girls, I have found common broad themes.  Women who are skilled, knowledgable and encompassing a wise vision of how to change challenging situations for not only themselves but for the contexts and communities in which they work within.  Yet these stories still remain hidden.  

Putting together the documentation from Khasi Women Wisdom, I started to wonder why they remain hidden despite their importance?  It could be that many times the answers that arose from these learning experiences were both complicated and unfinished.  Twice as many questions are thrown back into the equation as soon as we solve an issue.  Complication is not easily digested, especially in a landscape that fetishizes superficiality and simplicity as the status quo.  This is not to say that  simplicity is not a good way to reify global issues through communication mediums, but why throw out the baby with the bath water?  Simplifying does not have to mean a fait accompli.  Just in the same way a good film or novel does not have a final ending, its life goes beyond the last chapter and it's an open text that can be interpreted in many ways. Often it is not what it is, meaning there is more to it than meets the eye.  There is often so much more to it, but delving deeper seems to have become a taboo.  A hidden story, destined for the shadows and only deep delving in the dark, only for the brave or those who dare....or can be bothered, beyond apathy.  
    Why can we not bring out these important stories out into the light and accept them as part of everyday lives instead of pretending that they do not exist?  Or that they exist, but only when we are feeling sombre or serious.

Photo (c) Ebor Tariang 
Skilled women weavers and the managers of their training program
Nongtluh Women Weaving Cooperative, Meghalya 
 In today's world we have an information glut of superficiality.  Many of us are confronted every day with trivialities and we have to wade through the deluge of information that offers only more chance to consume or to become further entwined in the problem and not the solution.  To find the valuable takes courage, strength and determination in equal amounts but also vigilance.  It is so easy and convenient to lean back into the organised consumer abyss full of light and easy solutions to first world problems.  It is not an accident that anxiety and depression plague this landscape and many turn to fetishizations of technology, image and lifestyle to fill the every increasing void. 

Working daily on Khasi Women Wisdom is a slow birth and not without complications and pain, such as realising my own assumptions and attempting to control learning and communication outcomes; but that's OK, because most learning experiences that have any kind of meaning or value are *not* easy, even though we are living in a contemporary society seems to abhor anything that provokes complicacy.

So, I thought I would share a brief meander into a landscape that is rocky, treacherous, difficult to navigate and often chaotic, as a reminder that it is not a bad thing be there.  Humanity cannot develop in hermetically sealed, closed compressed groups, spaces or organisations that have standard solutions for every seeming problem.  Learning is dialogic, experimental and often chaotic. We don't have to have crystal clear outcomes to go on our learning journeys, but we do desperately need shared experiences that challenge and turn our assumptions and beliefs on their heads to find solutions to critical issues that don't have easy answers.

Photo (c) Ebor Tariang
Sharing learning journeys between us at
 St. Mary's Women's college, Shillong, Meghalaya 

Ebor Tariang is a photographer based in Shillong and heads up Native Arts with his collective. Native Arts hosts photography workshops that look beyond the landscape whilst to appreciate nature and conserve the rich bio-diversity in Meghalaya

Khasi Women Wisdom is a project in collaboration with WorldView Impact and Google Cultural Institute that is working towards increasing awareness of arts and crafts of the region as well the matrilineal society where women leaders are working towards better sustainability for the community using sustainable practices with the natural resources of the region you can read more about it and fund their initiatives here: https://gogetfunding.com/khasi-women-wisdom/