She Fell and Became a Horse:
An Experiment in Ethnofiction
'I Swear I Saw This' - Open College of the Arts 2022 Exhibition Showcase (at the page: https://www.gallery.oca.ac.uk/)
Click to play audio
This art book is an experiment in ethnofiction. It asks the questions: can social change be embodied? And how can we represent these processes visually, in a way to further add our understanding of what it means to be human in contexts marked by strong social change? Through painting, drawing and text, and with the accompaniment of local music, this artbook explores the existential journey of three Nepali women and discusses their experiences as micro-processes of social change unfolding through intersubjective processes and in close relation to ideas of moral personhood.
The cover of the book
Catalogue display for the exhibition
About this Book
This book starts with two shorter stories, The Blue Gem and Motorbikes and City Lights, that narrate different existential perspectives, and yet also their similarities, between two different generations. The last story, Black Crows, is the longest one and narrates the story of a woman who, as she claimed, transformed into a horse after falling near a fountain where she had gone to source fresh water. Black Crows is based more closely to a real story, which I analyse ethnographically in a paper currently under preparation. Nonetheless, names and details of the story have been changed, also to encompass my own perspective in what I would consider an experiment in interpretative ethnography (using a notion by Crapanzano 1985) through ethnofictional means of representation. While male perspectives are also portrayed, the three central characters of the book are three women: Beti, Sita and Banira. The latter name is a tribute to Nepali poet Banira Giri, whose works I am particularly attached to.
While images are inter-captioned with text, the visual is here the primary narrative register. Events and facts that are prompted by real cultural dynamics and social frameworks are not explained or supported with additional explicative text, unless they serve to advance ‘our ability to understand the constrictions of circumstance on the characters’ (Langness 1978, 20). The center of the narration are in fact the characters’ stories, whether or not they are real, as can be found in any fictional novel. At the same time, originating from the real world, they end up providing a new window into that society from which they originated, albeit through artistic lenses, and in what I hope to be an immersive experience for the reader into the existential worlds of the characters.
The book is accompanied by audio recordings of local music that I collected with my husband in Nepal in 2018-2019. These music pieces connect these stories with the local realities, while at the same time remaining in a state of constant transformation. As Marcus Banks (2015) suggested, images assume lives on their own, in turn opening up to further and never-ending processes of interpretation. This is the case of this book in its entirety, with its images, stories, and sounds.
Pages in Motion
Inside the book
use right arrow to turn the pages; click on individual images to enlarge
If a work of ethnography always requires many interpretations and collaborations, a work in ethnofiction perhaps requires even more collaboration. Rather than depending solely on the author’s own and more intimate perspective, imagined and reimagined worlds are even more reliant on those who first prompted them, and on those who contributed to shaping them. This acknowledgment section will thus take a rather unusual shape. If I had to thank someone for my imaginative capacity, that would be first of all my family, particularly my parents and grandparents, but also all of those who have ever told me a story. All of them, with their own diversities and inner troubles, found in me a particularly keen listener since I was a very young girl. It is true that most children like listening to stories, but for me listening, and as soon as I could, reading, became intense moments of absorption and catalysts of an urge to tell my own stories too, drawing them, then writing and reading aloud to both adults and children who I knew. To those who told me stories then, goes my first acknowledgment. Also to my favourite writers such as Walter Moers, Roald Dhal, Giovanni Verga, Charles Dickens, and poets such as Wisława Szymborska, Banira Giri and Pablo Neruda for inspiring me into a desire for writing, but also painters such as Renato Guttuso and Francisco Goya. Next, there is those whose stories, real stories, touched my heart. These are the people of Bhaktapur who I thank for opening their houses and their lives to me. The works in this book are very much inspired by their narratives, although they are expressed in a different register than academic writing, and more liberty is here taken in relation to the story plots themselves, the storylines, and the characters. Thus, while some people might recognise themselves in some of the characters or the stories, all the characters discussed are ultimately fictional.
The concept of this book has been formed and developed during my studies in Fine Art at the Open College of the Arts (Barnsley, London) in 2020-2022. I wish to thank warmly my tutors Caroline Wright, Michele Whiting and Hayley Lock for their crucial support in developing this project. This book sees the light for the first time outside of the studio in the context of the MA Showcase 2022 ‘I Swear I Saw This’. I also would like to thank my research assistants in Nepal; my artistic mentor Greg Donovan; my supervisors John Gray and Dianne Rodger; Jeevan Sharma; Kapil Babu Dahal; Josh Smiech and Niels Gutschow. I also wish to thank the following bodies for financial help conducting my fieldwork in Nepal in 2018-2019: The University of Adelaide (Beacon of Enlightenment Scholarship, 2017-2021, Global Learning Travel Scholarship, 2018 and 2019; Postgraduate Fieldwork Funding, 2018; Research Abroad Scholarship, 2018), Sight and Life Foundation (Sight and Life Foundation Individual Research Grant, 2018); and the International Visual Sociology Association (IVSA Travel Stipend, 2018).