Rachel founded the online art and storytelling initiative www.real-stories-gallery.org in 2009 and the Real Stories Gallery Foundation 501(c)(3) in 2010. Real Stories collaborative initiatives include: "i believe you" : Show Me Your Life (2010), Tristan's Moon (2011), The Smash Street Boys Festival (2012) and Show Me Your Life, Safe House (2013).
2013: ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE IS NOT EVIDENCE OF ABSENCE
I first learnt of sexualized violence directed at boys in 1995 when a Makonde sculptress showed me through her artworks and revealed through her storytelling movements and gestures, how she felt carrying the burden of witness to the rape and death of her sons in Mozambique. As the story slowly formed, I came to realize that even if my KiMakonde vocabulary had been fluent, words are perhaps too anemic and don't nail the thing well enough on their own. My role was also not to speak, rather to just be there. When Reinata finished, she cried. I believed her story and I cried too. Reinata then stood up and pulled me to my feet and, for some reason, we started dancing, slowly and then madly, until we could sing and clap and move no more and staggered onto the dusty floor laughing in a bloody silly way. I suppose it was something to do. Reinata guided me through her turmoil and mine as a novice witness. What happened was not healing, nothing could ever heal that story (but that it never happened). It was about telling and knowing that someone else now knew (was sharing the burden of witness) and felt as strongly, passionately actually, that the rape of boys is horrifying and should never be ignored or tolerated as a social practice in anyone's community.
Over the past few years, as I have watched survivors guiding, peer mentoring and participating in the international online art and storytelling program - I BELIEVE YOU : SHOW ME YOUR LIFE - and simultaneously been raising my own sons, my belief that the rape of boys must end has grown more passionate and everyday. I have grown to loathe the stigma and silence surrounding the rape of boys. I have grown impatient at the lack of funding offered to survivors for stable safe housing and programs that embrace and alleviate their trauma.
I urge everyone to support the ingenious and compassionate survivors, who are guiding the remarkable and experimental SHOW ME YOUR LIFE program for boys, and to urgently support their leadership work via the Paypal Donate Button on Real Stories. Real Stories Gallery Foundation is a registered 501c3 non-profit; 100% of all donations go directly to support and facilitate SHOW ME YOUR LIFE.
Thank you for believing it is possible for survivors to create both a catalyst for social change with their creativity and guts and today's technologies, and to urgently raise the quality of life for young survivors embedded in distinct localities around the world and as they reach for their adulthood.
Many years ago I had the good fortune of working closely with an artist who changed my life in many profound ways. Reinata Sadhimba was a proud Makonde sculptor from Mozambique; a determined survivor of wars, a mother who had suffered the tumultuous loss of six of her eight children, and a visual story-teller who used the power of form to convey social choices. Reinata made many works during our time together; through them, I learnt about her stories and her experiences. In the final days we shared, Reinata created and named her sculpture Ujamaa, which loosely translates as Community Life, Togetherness and Unity.
Ujamaa was formed as a work in progress; a story created, inspired and re-created in direct response to the audience's reactions mingling with Reinata's thoughts, feelings and knowledge. Ujamaa is the expression which returns to me, as I think about what we are trying to do on Real Stories Gallery.
Our initiative has been inspired by the many voices of artists concerned for their friends and neighbours dealing daily with the spread of HIV. I believe the Ujamaa of visual arts and storytelling on www.real-stories-gallery.org, our collective view and perceptions of HIV/AIDS, will make visible unexpected possibilities and expand access to urgent HIV prevention. Artists and their stories will bring empathy to the cause, since the scourge of HIV exists within their own communities and amongst their friends and colleagues around the world.
Reinata used to call me "Reinata Ndyoko" (Little Reinata) as she determinedly placed my tentative feet within her storytelling footprints. I feel, with the help of all my friends on Real Stories Gallery and with Reinata's spirit watching over me, that today I have begun my journey. **A & U Magazine Article (Feb 2011) about the creation of Real Stories Gallery: http://aumag.org/wordpress/?p=1132
2000: Reinata Sadhimba: Ujamaa (Community Life / Together / Unity).
Whilst creating Ujamaa, Reinata improvised with gestures, singing and obscene attitudes with the sole purpose to solicit much laughter and teasing amongst the women working alongside her within the studio at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, U.K.
Each day whilst Reinata worked on Ujamaa, she would call over the female artists working alongside her, and myself. As we gathered around the dominant mother's clay body, the emerging and intertwined small cameos of men, women and children, that covered the large female form, began to emerge and playfully poke fun at taboo and laugh at the coyness of modesty. Reinata's stories summoned slowly a tumble of characters that over the four days became absorbed into our imaginations and memories - as they scurried and giggled, and writhed and moaned with pleasure; as they teased the spirits within forbidden places, and rhythmically gorged themselves on excrement whilst fulfilling each other with orgasmic sexual pleasure.
Intuitively grasping the sense of Reinata's storytelling, her audience became an integral part of the performance. Our reactions and responses acted as a catalyst to both further embellish her storytelling and afterwards, to give rise to the birth and creation of innovative new clay characters and cameos, which breathed more surprises and further life into Ujamaa.
Reinata yearned to create a story that teased the boundaries of what could be spoken. And her audience during those four days, yearned to hear it. As her story gained pace and energy, drawing us all together through singing, drumming, clapping and movement, it flashed with outrageous gestures and sexual imaginings. Until we had all laughed and gasped and been teased and laughed some more. Until it was too painful, too exhausting and too ridiculous to continue on for that particular day.
On the final morning Reinata worked on Ujamaa, she discussed condoms for the first time. Her purposefully awkward opening of the small packet to explore the condom, gave rise to hugely funny joking as she began to incorporated the concept within her storytelling; expanding her thoughts into a full-blown performance, a grand finale, with the sole intention to evoke utter astonishment and outraged merriment. That was, until - a curious male artist drawn by the hullabaloo, appeared at the studio entrance.
Instantly, we all stopped, hid the condom from view and nonchalantly welcomed our friend with decorum. There was absolutely no difference in our instant and collective response. No difference - given the disparity in our ages, socio-economic, religious and cultural backgrounds. There had, I realize, been no difference in our collective mothers' teachings. Condoms and explicit stories about sexual acts are not easy to share within a social forum. They are not easy to abruptly introduce and to speak about, even when you know the listener very well indeed. In a moment when HIV/AIDS has claim the lives of 60 Million People (the living and the dead), and affects the lives of hundreds of millions of family members, friends and colleagues, it makes huge sense for us to rethink the TABOO associated with the social sexual human being; and the cruelty directed towards millions of our neighbours whose lives are infected and affected by the retrovirus known colloquially in English as H.I.V.. For if we do not do something to alleviate the stress and trauma taking place today and our watch, our humanity is surely dying of embarrassment.
In my experience, visual arts and storytelling often allow friends, old or new, to slowly slide a little more easily into uncomfortable subjects and to explore new thoughts. In my experience, there are many kinds of works of art and many kinds of stories. Getting to know them over the years has led me to glimpse, and so often pause to consider, alternative ways for me to both think about and to imagine possible choices I may make within my own life; and for those of my young children.
Rachel completed her PhD and BA (First Class) in Social Anthropology at S.O.A.S (School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London). Her thesis - '"It's rude to interrupt when someone is speaking..." explored the imagery, stories and language employed by contemporary artists in the moments they created their work, and how their images and ideas were presented and received by a wider audience within the context of Africa 95's National Museums, Galleries and University Forums in the UK. Rachel focused on the work created by visiting artists associated with the Pamoja International Sculpture Workshop at the Henry Moore Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and in London at Gasworks Artists Studio / Residency program. She was sponsored by The British Council in 1996 for her follow up research in Botswana among the Thapong International Artists' Workshop artists.
Prior to this Rachel worked for several years as a senior designer & project coordinator for Steve Simons, the Creative Director at the award winning museum and exhibition design practice Event Communications Ltd http://www.eventcomm.com, after completing a design course at The London College of Furniture, where she received a National Design Bursary Award and undertook an holography course with Professor Martin Richardson, PhD RCA.
Rachel was born in Singapore and raised among The Gurkha Regiments, British Army. She is the daughter of Field Marshal Sir John Chapple. Rachel has lived, and worked in U.K., The Netherlands, Italy, Gibraltar, Germany, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, Borneo, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Vietnam, Botswana, Australia, America. Since her youth Rachel has been influenced by the philanthropic and human rights work undertaken by The Gurkha Welfare Trust, Open Society Foundations, Survival International, Amnesty International and Anti-Slavery International. Today Rachel lives in New York where she raises her four children, supports The I.D.E.A.L School of Manhattan (Individualized Education for All Learners), The Dwight School (International Educational Program) and runs Real Stories Gallery Foundation 501c3.