TOSCA VAN DER WEERDEN about Meerstemmig Storytelling
Tosca van der Weerden is an illustrator and took Meerstemmig Storytelling as an adjunct to her Next Talent track.
By: Sabrina Sugiarto
What was the reason you wanted to participate in this?
As an illustrator, you tell stories with images, and all elements in images matter. When I was nominated for the Next Talent track, I wanted to specialize myself. I had been a graduate student for two years and often encountered, even during my studies, that little thought was given to this topic. During my studies, I was not taught about how to make certain choices when portraying people. Being intentional about your own perspective on society and the biases that arise from it did not come up.
I do work on it a lot myself because I find it interesting and important. Especially from a feminist perspective, I look at how women are portrayed and I wanted to draw that more broadly. As an illustrator, how can I be more conscious of that? That was actually my big main question, and Meerstemmig Storytelling, led by Winnie Roseval, connected super well with that.
What was your expectation?
The description stated that we would discuss certain case studies and interact with each other. An open atmosphere, without judgment was created by the agreements we made with each other. I thought it was special that the group was so varied in composition. Anything could and should be asked, and if someone found it difficult, that was okay too.
Did it meet your expectations?
Yes, I thought it was really special and that was because of the diverse group. I found myself in a place with people I would never otherwise encounter. I started talking to creators who have been working for 40 years and are at a very different level than I am. It is very interesting then to hear different perspectives from each other. The case study with the international makers of the film ROCKS was also very interesting. The way they worked inclusively I found so inspiring, I kept that in the back of my mind.
Is that what stuck with you the most?
No, what has stuck with me most is the exercise on privileges. You were given a puppet to place in a circle. First we had to place the puppet at our greatest privilege and then at the thing that restricted us the most. And then you see; ‘ah, the things I’m being judged on, that doesn’t bother other people at all.’ And others, in turn, engage in something I don’t think about at all. That really opens your eyes a lot.
What did you take away from it?
The biggest thing I took away is that people today are all very scared. They cry that nothing is allowed anymore and you can’t say anything. I think; ‘no, you can say it all you want, but you’re just getting a reaction now.’ And why fear that reaction, because that is your learning moment. And I’ve had that myself on occasion when someone says; ‘hey what you said, I just find that painful.’ To which I have always said; ‘thank you for sharing and you are actually right’. Then you apologize and that seems like nothing to be ashamed of. We are all human and we cannot do everything perfectly. I really experienced that within this group for the first time.
How does this experience affect your practice?
I am aware that I have almost only white friends and therefore try to remain very conscious of my own prejudices. For example, I noticed that during my studies classmates never drew frizzy hair. I then started watching all kinds of movies and documentaries about that to understand that hair, for black women in particular, is not just hair. There is a history behind that. I thought it was so bizarre that as an illustrator you draw people continuously but then don’t think about it
So when I draw something about people from cultural backgrounds that I myself know nothing about, I only go along with it if I know I’m not going to fall into unconscious stereotyping. If I receive a specific assignment with a desire to portray a diverse group of people, I first have a good conversation with the client and ask questions such as; “what does this mean to you? And sometimes I run into difficult discussions in which I always try to stick to my own point of view.
What has it brought you?
I already had a certain kind of awareness about this topic, hence the interest in the Multi-voiced Storytelling workshop. But most of all, it was the conversations with the participants that inspired finding ways to work inclusively and diversely. I wrote down those steps, those epiphanies and conversations, and I look back on them often.