Holly Hudson reviews this year’s TEDx UCL Women event.
‘Intersect’ was the theme of this year’s TEDxUCLWomen event; a day long exploration and celebration of some of the most exciting and innovative women in London today, and the work that they’re pioneering–crossing barriers of race, gender, sexuality and identity in the process. From Jacob V Joyce’s ‘Token’ project and work with the ‘Sorry You Feel Uncomfortable’ collective (by the way, if you’re half as sarcastic as I am, go and buy his book) to Raheem Mir’s talk and performance on gender roles in traditional Indian dance, the wealth and breadth of content at this year’s event was incredible. The variety of messages relayed by men and women of intersecting demographics, coming together to empower each other through art, technology and conversation, was inspiring.
On a global scale, TED’s mission is to facilitate the sharing of ideas and knowledge on an accessible platform, and its subsidiary TEDx is no different. These independently organised TED events enable interaction within a specific localised community, allowing people to discover the important work affecting change within that community. This is exactly why Raquel Siganporia wanted to come back after speaking at TEDxUCLWomen’s ‘Momentum’ last year, something she told me had always been a dream of hers. As this year’s host, she commented eloquently on how the speakers transcended social and cultural barriers, and harnessed unexpected meeting points of various social groups in their work.
In addition to the talks, the quad marquee hosted an art space, showing work from many female artists and collectives, including Nicole Crentsil’s Unmasked Women and The South London Women Artists’ ‘Pillow Talk’, in collaboration with the London Art Library. ‘Pillow Talk’ was a geodesic reading dome, filled with books from the Women’s Art Library on female artists and hand-made pillows from the members of the collective, chronicling science, gender, memory and history. UAL alumnus Megan Pickering also ran a workshop on zine making, encouraging attendees to share their own personal experiences, from familial to political, with the aim of exploring ‘the wealth of political history that exists in our lives’.
I interviewed many of the speakers and contributors of this year’s event, and whilst all of their stories were inspiring, the two that stuck with me the most were those of Nicole Crentsil and Tschan Andrews. As a trans model, Tschan spoke about how she had faced stereotyping and typecasting in her daily working life, which she was no longer willing to accept. ‘Why can’t I just be Tshan?’ she asked. What amazed me the most about Tschan was how fabulously optimistic she was, despite incredible adversity and the brutal violence that gave her HIV. She repeatedly told me that she would not play the victim. One thing that I think we are, as a society, guilty of is not listening to experience. We believe the facts, stories and statistics that we hear on the news and social media (the subject of another probing talk given by Funda Ustek), but how many of us can say we’ve heard accounts of first-hand experience? Tschan was eager to share her own personal story, and you can bet that that was more powerful than quoting statistics.
Nicole Crentsil’s motto is ‘it’s OK not to be OK’. Struggling with debilitating mental health issues of her own, Nicole was inspired to start a project surrounding mental health in the black female community due to her frustration with the lack of resources and help made available to her. Through curating ‘Unmasked Women’, Nicole created an outlet for black women to express themselves and seek refuge from their own struggles with mental health. When I asked Nicole if there was one thing she wanted people to take away from her work and her mission, she described how people neglect their mental health in a way they would never neglect their physical health, and affirmed that this needs to change. The two should be as one, as a safeguarding of a person’s entire being. The stigma that continues to surround mental health, notably in the BME community, needs to be broken down, and Nicole is slowly but surely kicking down barriers and red tape. She is encouraging a much-needed creative discussion, and helping many vulnerable women who would otherwise suffer due to a general lack of education on the issue.
When I spoke to the founder, Sujitha Selvarajah, she told me that one of the most rewarding parts of curating TEDxUCLWomen is seeing the event grow in scope every year. So why is it so important that TED reaches more women and girls in our community each year? Because it is this mutually supportive network of women that will enable and empower others to create and innovate. From Bethany Koby’s ‘Technology Will Save Us’ to Katie Ghose’s Electoral Reform Society, these projects, and the powerful women behind them, are bringing down barriers that various demographics in our society face every day.
It was also reassuring to see that they were many male attendees- despite being primarily an event for women, by women, this interest from all societal demographics is essential for a balanced community. Olivia Head and Sneh Jani, founders of social enterprise Bread & Roses, spoke poignantly about what it is that they do on a day-to-day basis (they run floristry and employment workshops for asylum seeking and refugee women). They said that what they do isn’t ground-breaking, but it does change lives, through small acts of solidarity, support and kindness. This is exactly the climate that the TEDxUCLWomen community fosters and strengthens, and for this reason it is incredibly important that it continues to thrive.
For more information on TEDxUCLWomen, or any of this year’s speakers click here.