05th – 18th of October 2019
Amman, Irbid, Karak
Field Research and Production of Immersive VR Narratives with Women Refugees in three Jordanian Cities
BeAnotherLab was commissioned by Prof. Yafa Shanneik, to contribute our artistic research methods to her long-term project “Narratives of Displacement: Iraqi and Syrian Refugees in Europe and the Middle East”. The research is funded by the British Academy and is based at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham.
In October 2019, BeAnotherLab joined Yafa on her field research in Jordan. We travelled together for ten days in order to produce six immersive narratives with the technology of The Library of Ourselves. The storytellers were three Iraqi and three Syrian women who had found refuge in the cities of Amman, Irbid and Karak after they had fled the war and terrors in their home countries.
The Research Project: «Narratives of Displacement»
Yafa’s long-term research project investigates the impact of the refugee experiences on marital relationships and family structures among Iraqis and Syrians. The project’s geographical scope includes the UK and Germany as European host countries, as well as Jordan as a country in the Middle East that has received a significant number of refugees from both Iraq and Syria.
Yafa’s work examines how refugees become ‘new’ citizens, especially how they negotiate their politics of belonging and integrate into their new ‘home’ and what impact this has on their family lives. You can read more about Yafa’s engaging work and all her fantastic academic and non-academic partners and collaborators on the website of the research project.
The Role of our VR Technology as a Research Tool
The Library of Ourselves can be used as an artistic research method. It can help the storyteller to mediate and share their memories and stories in a creative manner. The production process itself can be a generative way to give form and shape to experiences and share them with other people on one’s own terms.
We produced a set of six VR films. Two narratives were co-created by Iraqi refugees who have found refuge in Jordan. Another four VR films are told by Syrian refugees who fled the war in their home country, hoping to secure a better future for their children in Jordan.
The first VR film is the story of an Iraqi family who had to flee Baghdad. It is narrated from the three perspectives of an elderly woman, her daughter and her granddaughter. Their memories are about the death of children during the Iraq war, the killing of a sister by the US American Blackwater company, the move to Jordan as well as the struggles and hopes of building a new life in a new country.
This VR film is about remembering Iraq, the simple things which the storyteller will never forget despite living in the diaspora. Among these cherished memories are the application of henna to the hands, the sound of birds, and the smell of fresh fruits and herbs at the local market.
This is the story of a young Syrian girl, who was sexually harassed by Jordanian men over a prolonged period of time. Whether around the corner of her school or at the hairdresser where she used to train as an apprentice, the group of men was consistently stalking her. One day, after one of these unpleasant encounters with one of the men, the girl was in such a panic that she had to tell her parents, but not without consequences.
This narrative reflects on the joys of commensality, the shared preparation and consumption of lavish meals with family members, friends, and neighbours. It is also about the loss of that sense of togetherness and belonging, as well as the attempt to make a living in Jordan by cooking for other people.
The Production Process: Grassroots Storytelling
The production team consisted of Yafa as project lead, the postdoctoral researcher Dr. Farah Al Taji from Balqa University (now at Brunel University London), who brought along her little baby son Adam, as well as Yafa’s mother Amena Shanneik. From BeAnotherLab, Danielle and Norma joined the multi-generational all-women field team. Given that our research focused on women’s narratives of displacement, our storytellers invited us into the private spaces of their homes – and male company wouldn’t have been appropriate in this context.
The production process took place in Arabic and in English. The VR films are post-produced in Arabic with on-demand English, German or Swedish voice-over.
Research Dissemination & Public Engagement
Next to the academic output in the form of international conference papers, monographs, and articles in peer-reviewed journals, the research has been covered by the media, in European as well as Middle Eastern TV stations and newspapers. We don’t want to be limited to circulating our insights in the knowledge economy only. We care to bring the final project back to the storytellers in a way they can show and share their work with their friends, families, and colleagues – if they wish to. Therefore, we hope to present all narratives in the places of their production, in Amman, Karak, and Irbid. This will take place in the form of events, including talks, discussions, and the multimedia exhibition of The Library of Ourselves. Here you can find all the published content, the research outcomes, and dissemination.
Next Steps: The Continuation of the Project
Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the post-production of the audio-visual material as well as the return to the field had to be postponed. While we had visited Jordan in 2019, we could only schedule our team meeting for post-production in Barcelona in October 2021. We are hopeful to present, discuss and showcase our work internationally in 2022.
Prof. Yafa Shanneik
Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham, UK
Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University, Sweden