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Together we protest

Creative researchers join forces to study international social activism
By: Dana Yates
March 16, 2017
Marusya Bociurkiw

Photo: Marusya Bociurkiw, professor of media theory in the RTA School of Media, pictured here at Ryerson, has teamed up with researcher Elena Marchevska of London South Bank University as part of FCAD’s international partnership. Photo credit: Christopher Manson.

The Brexit vote, the election of President Donald Trump, the rise of populism and the displacement of LGBTQ refugees worldwide – these are just some examples of what appears to be a new era of global hostility. At the same time, however, activists are finding novel and non-violent ways to protest social injustice around the world, according to Ryerson faculty member Marusya Bociurkiw and her research collaborator Elena Marchevska of London South Bank University (LSBU).

A Canadian of Ukrainian descent, Bociurkiw is a media artist and professor of media theory in the RTA School of Media and director of the external,Studio for Media Activism and Critical Thought

Marchevska, meanwhile, hails from Macedonia and is a lecturer in LSBU’s School of Arts and Creative Industries (ACI). She is also director of the institution's recently launched Centre for Digital Storytelling.

Last year, Ryerson's Faculty of Communication & Design (FCAD) and ACI partnered to increase their international scholarly and creative research output and to create joint curriculum and experiential learning opportunities for students. Bociurkiw and Marchevska, one of six collaborative research teams that have arisen from the FCAD-ACI partnership, are leading the project Re/Imagining Eastern Europe: Self-Organised Protest and the Politics of "Precariousness." The initiative builds upon the researchers' shared interest in art, activism and social justice media surrounding race, immigration, feminism and sexuality. The project brings up many questions, says Bociurkiw.

"How do we bring together art and social justice content, especially during this current historical moment?" she asks. "Also, how do we blend critical content creation into students' learning and inspire them to make social justice media?"

Those are just a few of the issues Bociurkiw and Marchevska will discuss when they meet up next week (at Ryerson) and in May (at LSBU). As part of the research partnership between their institutions, FCAD and ACI faculty members visit one another to exchange information, share their work and explore opportunities for larger, collaborative projects.

Elena Marchevska

Photo: Elena Marchevska of London South Bank University will be on campus March 23 to give a talk on female protest choirs.

On March 23, Marchevska will give a talk at Ryerson about her research into female protest choirs. For instance, in a paper that will appear next month in the journal Contemporary Theatre Review, Marchevska studied self-organized groups of singing activists in the Macedonian capital of Skopje. Driven by young women who communicate via social media, the protest-performances are used to circumvent the republic's oppressive, right-wing government and communicate political messages within a highly censored environment.

"The groups are responding actively to government decisions they find problematic," says Marchevska.

Innovative forms of resistance also figure prominently in Bociurkiw's research. Later this spring, she will speak at LSBU about her film This Is Gay Propaganda: LGBT Rights & the War in Ukraine, which has screened in 12 countries, and her efforts to document and disseminate the stories of LGBTQ people in Ukraine forced to flee draconian anti-gay laws in Russian-occupied areas of the country. The talk will also feature Bociurkiw's research collaborator Wendy McGuire, a York University social work professor who has studied the trauma, abandonment and displacement experiences of gay migrants from Nigeria, where an almost identical gay propaganda law is in effect. McGuire organized a digital storytelling workshop for LGBT refugees last spring. 

"It's important that we ask research subjects – in this case, refugees – what they need, and that we understand the best way to tell their stories," Bociurkiw says. She notes that one LGBTQ asylum-seeker screened a portion of a digital story he had produced with McGuire at a refugee hearing in Canada. "We must ensure our work is actually helping those who need it."