Social Practice

Poet Purvi Shah places vinyl on a library window with a poem about communityI believe in the power of art to foster connection and transformation — particularly on issues related to violence, structural inequity, and community healing. My art practice furthers my advocacy to end gender violence and spur racial equity. In a way facts cannot, art opens up dialogue, furthers healing, and creates spaces that seed change.

In my social practice, I foster transformative dialogue towards social impact and equity. My social practice work is rooted in communities and conversation. Our stories are valuable: I believe we can foster healing and democratic change through community-building with public art.

From public art projects to creating films to leading healing workshops, I’ve engaged with communities in creative practice to widen our possibilities for our selves, an equitable society, and complex truths rooted in diverse experiences. Some of my recent social practice projects include:

Movement to Power

How do we end violeMovement to Power is a short film on a creative expression and healing project for survivors of violencence and heal ourselves? How do we do so in community? How do we enable creative practice to regenerate our possibilities and create new stories for our pasts, present, and futures? Building on my my advocacy to end gender violence, in the community-based project Movement to Power, we brought together Asian American survivors of gender and sexual violence, gender justice advocates, and community members invested in ending violence to move, express, heal, and transform our relationship to violence, our communities, and ourselves. Hosted by the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective, I served as Project Director for this free six-week creative arts workshop series. Alongside co-facilitators Deesha Narichania and Parul Shah and project participants, we generated a safe space for connection, community-building, and healing. See for yourself in Movement to Power, a short film capturing our work of transformation.

Together We Are New York: Asian Americans Remember and Re-Vision 9/11

Nine poets from Together We Are New York sit in a semicircle with the quote, "It was my daughter's first look into a form of violence" from Cristina D.C. PastorFor communities facing the aftermath of 9/11, community storytelling and poetry of witness is vital. In Together We Are New York: Asian Americans Remember and Re-Vision 9/11, a multimedia performance and community-based art project, Asian American poets interviewed community members on their experiences with 9/11 and the decade since. Our community voices — survivors of the attacks and racist backlash — have often been overlooked or silenced. Through oral storytelling, creative expression, and dialogue, we help to ensure Asian American voices were a vital part of City memory and our nation’s journey forward. Each multimedia performance included audio clips of interviewees, original poetry, and dialogue with audiences. I served as Artistic Director of the project and film scriptwriter. In partnership with Kundiman, the poet team comprised Hossannah Asuncion, Tamiko Beyer, Marlon Esguerra, April Naoko Heck, Eugenia Leigh, Bushra Rehman, Zohra Saed, R.A. Villanueva, and myself.

Ready to Heal/Ready to Grieve

Nine Black and Brown individuals, including two kids, on blue/green circles in a lotus pattern

Where do you encounter grief? Where do you encounter healing?

In a time of isolation, in October 2021, Anjali Deshmukh and I created space for people to feel & map their grief & healing. Using silver (grief) and pink (healing) stickers, people of all ages marked where they encounter grief and healing on a spiraling lotus pattern of circles, some marked with actions and experiences. In community with others, they then expanded the installation with shared visions of future healing. Our interactive installation enabled people to connect with themselves, share grief, and invoke healing with one another.

Circles marking grief in immigration and healing in support for one anotherCircles marking grief in climate change and joy in dancingThank you to NYFA and DCLA for a City Artist Corps grant and to the Queens Theatre for making our work — and healing — possible.

A young person explores and adds to the interactive installation

Weave&Woven

A dozen folks dance, write on walls, explore a ribboned spaceWhat does home mean? How can we belong? How do we create space for ourselves and for beloved community – especially in a time of heightened racism and xenophobia?

In Weave&Woven, Anjali Deshmukh and I engaged community members in scribing, drawing, enacting their sense of home, belonging, the feminine, the divine.

An Indo-Caribbean woman explores home with her own writing on the wallWith our bodies, with our hearts, alone and together, we brought a somatic sense to belonging, a tactile incarnation of language, a revision of belonging through participation. An enactment of democracy. A weave of joy through play.

Make Your Self Meek/Make Your Self Vast

A woman curls forward in a fetal position on a floor with the phrase Make Your Self Meek next to her

Make Your Self Meek/Make Your Self Vast explores how our well-being reflects in our bodies and how our bodies reflect our well-being. People of color, queer & trans folks, and folks without structural power hold and express the pain of injustice – even as healthcare inequities shorten our lives.

Four people stand in various positions including hands across chest and waist and extended up on a floor with the phrase Make Your Self VastMake Your Self Meek/Make Your Self Vast offers space to explore and reclaim mind-body-spirit connections and possibilities for wellness in our bodies. In this participatory art project shown at the LMCC Workspace Open Studios in April 2017, Anjali Deshmukh and I encouraged people to explore, interact, reflect, and play on a space created on the floor. Here we guided participants through movements and enabled them to pause to feel and witness their bodies & physical and spirit connections. A Black woman holds up her invocation for embodiment and wellnessAfterward, we enabled participants to take home a talisman based upon how they seek to move in the world – and how these movements would be embodied.

Participants also added to a Community Wishing Well – fostering individual and community healing.

What Creates Change?

What Creates Change is a film on ending violence against womenHow do we end violence against women? One way is through art, storytelling, and action. In What Creates Change?, hear solutions from survivors of violence along with staff and volunteers of Sakhi for South Asian Women. In this short film, for which I served as Executive Producer, we offer elements of change including allies, courage, determination, self-reflection, and faith. This film, with photography by Fariba Alam and music courtesy of Karsh Kale, has been shared at community events to further community action to end violence. Films I developed at Sakhi furthered specific policy change on language access in the courts and community action. By charting struggles and the power of transformation, we see how together we can create change.

Social Crossings

The Social Crossings toolkit

From its founding, Grinnell played a role in the Underground Railroad, and its intersecting rail services have been at the heart of the town’s growth and presence, both literally and figuratively. In June 2017, along with artists Keva Fawkes and Anna Swanson, I spent a two-week residency partnering with a series of different Grinnell, IA community organizations to produce a social map of the town’s four quadrants. We asked: How can Grinnell continue its spirit of justice for marginalized socioeconomic and racial groups? How do we build communities of (intersectional) belonging? What does it mean to be committed to freedom? And what does freedom look like today in Grinnell?

The Social Crossings artist smile in front of a board which asks "What does freedom feel like to you?"We interviewed 14 community members about their lived experiences in Grinnell and what it means to belong to the town. From the map and interviews, we generated a toolkit for transformative listening and community conversations, launching it on June 30 during a final community gathering, dialogue, and meal.

Hear a community member and us speaking on the project here:

Poet Purvi Shah laughs in front of her poem on the Burling Library windowsPublic Writing, Public Libraries

It takes a community to create community art. In May 2015, partnering with Grin City Collective, I created poems after connecting with community members & library staffs in 3 Iowa towns: Grinnell (Burling Library), Marshalltown, and Cedar Falls. We placed my poems, spun from interviews and my observations, on vinyl on library windows. See poetry, see the world. In exciting community involvement, the Marshalltown Library chose to have An excerpt of the Myanmar translation of Purvi Shah's poemmy poem appear in Spanish and Myanmar to reach its diverse communities. Thank you to Veronica Guevara for the initial Spanish translation I riffed onLeveling the vinyl for poetry on the windows and to Joan Jaimes for double-checking me! Thank you to Pandora for her Myanmar translation. Thank you to all the amazing community members (adults, teens, and kids!) & library staffs who shared their stories with me: together we can keep creating the world we want to see.

"You crave to be a ghost hunter" on the library window