By Sarah Goldrup
Dr. Carla Rice is at the heart of the hustle and bustle at Re•Vision: The Centre for Art and Social Justice at the University of Guelph. Re•Vision is also the home of REDLAB (Re-Visioning Differences Mobile Media Arts Lab), a mobile multi-media lab that facilitates digital storytelling and research-based drama workshops that has existed on campus for over five years now.
Born out of Dr. Rice’s previous research and clinical practice working with women who struggle with issues around body image and disability; Dr. Rice began to develop an arts-based method within a therapeutic context, exploring art as therapy. Through partnerships with activists, artists, and community members, she began to work towards creating a space to have conversations about experiences of difference and disability.
Eventually, Dr. Rice began to question how the ‘art as therapy’ method and perceptions around ‘disability arts’ was limiting the possibility of the work by being seen as a therapeutic endeavour. Moving away from frameworks that suggested or were used as a tool to fix someone who is thought of as broken, Dr. Rice began to explore the storytelling method that is central to Re•Vision and REDLAB today.
Dr. Rice and her team have developed an arts-based research approach that works to share and celebrate stories of difference. Exploring a method of art as research, where the production of art and the experience of art create the knowledge and data which is academically analysed and applied to other theories. The work often blurs the boundaries between research and participant, as well as artist and non-artist. REDLAB workshops are open and organic but always come back to focus on one of Re•Vision’s core areas; difference and disability, body image including issues around fat and aging bodies, feminism, as well as Indigenous and Inuit issues.
Dr. Carla Rice believes that by opening up a space to have conversations about these issues, by sharing and celebrating the contributions that marginalized individuals and groups make to culture and society, individuals can be empowered in their personal stories. Through rejecting the negative single story of disability or difference, we can show how these marginalized communities and bodies are vital to our culture and society. By celebrating difference and sharing diverse experiences, we can discover common issues. Dr. Rice hopes that discovering our similarities to marginalized individuals and groups can lead to changes in law and policy, social and cultural perceptions, care and treatment, as well as societal structures and systems.
During our discussion Dr. Rice referenced Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk, The Danger of the Single Story, which warns of the importance of rejecting the single story:
“I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar… Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie