TMG Think Tank for Sustainability

Poetry meets food research

Probing the interplay of creative forms of expressions and more traditional research communication, FACT and TMG's Urban Food Futures programme hosted a session on 'The Art and Poetics of Urgency' at this year's RISE Africa Action Festival

Poetry meets food research

“We need to humanize research.”

Luleka Zepe

What happens when the research we produce becomes emotionally detached from the realities it represents? How can we use creative processes to enhance the emotional agency of our work and in so doing come to a truer sense of urgency?

These were some of the questions Food Agency Cape Town (FACT) and TMG Research’s Urban Food Futures programme explored together at this year’s RISE Africa Action Festival.

Probing the interplay of creative forms of expressions and more traditional quantitative and qualitative research communication, FACT and TMG invited a group of poets and artists to interpret the findings of a collaborative research process on food insecurity and agency conducted in Cape Town in 2020.

In the weeks leading up to the festival a collection of deeply emotional poems emerged.

Pre-recorded on video, the artists recited their poems at the hybrid session partly through theatric presentations.

“From hand to mouth

Never enough for the whole house

The beauty and gifts of the earth are not ours…”

Thimna Matika's clear voice cut through the online space like a saber, captivating the audience as each and every of the presentations.

Thimna Matika (left), Dylan McXabe (middle) and Ayabulela Zonke (right) reciting their poems.

In the subsequent round of reflections Sanelisiwe (Mimi) Nyaba from FACT shared her experience of the preparatory process: “When opening up these statistics of food insecurity and hunger, a lot of emotions come up, there is trauma.” Visibly moved she added, “How do you navigate this indignity and self-blame that you put on yourself, knowing it is not your fault?”

Mimi, Dylan, Luleka, Aviwe, Bonang, and Nomonde are part of a network of co-researchers who founded FACT following the 2020 research process led by Dr. Nicole Paganini who now is the lead of the Urban Food Futures programme at TMG.

The teams of FACT and TMG during the RISE Africa Festival session.

As part of the research, the group developed visions of emancipating themselves from the shame and stigma around hunger prevalent in their communities.

"This session is a manifestation of our vision - communities need to talk more about their experiences of food insecurity to build agency and destigmatize hunger," Mimi observed as the discussion continued.

What emerges from this conversation is the need to reconnect the numbers and data with the realities on the ground. The people experiencing food insecurity and hunger are no numbers, they are people. Extracting the data from a place and the people in it is a continuation of keeping those invisible who are systematically oppressed and marginalized.

This work shows that poetry can be one means of reconnecting the statistics with the lived realities behind the numbers.

Thereby FACT and the Urban Food Futures team do not advocate for one form over another but rather for the celebration of dualistic forms of representation.

As the session came to an end, Dylan McXabe concluded: "We want to talk about and reimagine Africa's future as the past wasn't ours".

Rise Africa deliberately brings forward the voices of young, creative people in African cities to re-write their stories and shape cities that are sustainable, equitable and uniquely African in their individual contexts.

Proud and grateful to have been part of this unique space, the teams of FACT and Urban Food Futures are filled with inspiration to continue their work and put their visions into action.

The multilingual collection of poems ‘Fresh offerings – Poems on food, agency and urgency’ is now available online.

Find the video recording of the poets reciting their poems here.

A recording of the session will be available soon on the website.

Written by Louisa Nelle


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