Our Activists in Residence
2020-2021 Ven Paldano and Shona Raine
University appoints first Activists-in-Residence
The University of Brighton has appointed its first Activists-in-Residence to work on issues of gender and sexuality.
The first two chosen are Ven Paldano and Shona Raine from the Queer Trans Intersex People of Colour (QTIPoC) Narratives Collective Brighton.
They will receive a £2,000 budget to work for between one and two months on a project exploring the ways folklore has subverted oppressive systems and institutions that have silenced historical cultures of indigenous gender fluidity.
Ven Paldano (they / them) is a non-binary trans-masculine QPoC entrepreneur, architectural assistant and community organiser, who co-founded Brighton QTIPoC Narratives Collective to make ‘safer space’ for QTIPoC. As someone who works in property renovations and until recently a restaurateur, they are particularly focused on the power and application of craft, skill sharing, community mental health and wellbeing. Through pragmatism and a do-it-yourself attitude, they have immersed them-self in learning the skills of site carpentry, plastering, BBQ from Southern American Pitmasters and French cooking for the last fifteen years. These disciplines have led them to question the effects of colonialism within their own gender identity, the built environment, how property laws have driven us to today’s oppressive border control systems, the roots that drive neoliberal property development schemes and the definition of ‘safe space’. They will be continuing their RIBA Part 2 studies in Architecture at the RCA with an aim to focus on policies that isolate the marginalised in urban space.
Shona Raine (they / she) is a QTIPoC writer and poet, currently studying Yoga and BSc Psychology. Dealing mainly with themes of identity, prejudice, myths and mental health, Shona uses poetry, art and yoga as therapy; hoping to support people of colour fighting to carve out new lives and possibilities. Having found that disability, chronic pain and disabling societal structures have left Shona’s selfhood quite disjointed, writing and creating have become a way of building anew and re-centring Shona in their own narrative.
Shona is deeply inspired by the Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol which reminds of the importance of using lessons and wisdom from the past to build progressive and joyful futures. The Sankofa grounds Shona in their practice, a reminder of how communities can begin imagining and taking action towards building alternative realities. The Sankofa also stands as an indelible visual reminder of the practice of psychology around the world. These ways of knowing are often unacknowledged by dominant western narratives and the education system, which centre whiteness and inaccessible academic theory. Shona hopes to share what they are learning through Psychology with their peers, in order to combat isolation and help create reciprocal community space where each person is valued and supported.
Both Ven and Shona have found solace in community space reclaiming and building due to the challenges they have faced in accessing space through institutions, as a result of their intersecting identities. In a world where meritocracy is an oppressive structural key that the most marginalised must partake in if they wish to access space on their terms; they are keen to use their status as insiders / outsiders to agitate knowledge production through narrative and craft.
The programme has been launched by the University’s Centre for Transforming Sexuality and Gender and Radical Futures, which harnesses disruptive ideas, open debate and progressive thinking to redress inequalities and social injustices of the twenty-first century.
Dr Olu Jenzen, Director of the Centre, said: “Ven Paldano and Shona Raine’s project has real potential for cultural and societal impact both locally, nationally and beyond, and we very much look forward to fruitful dialogue and knowledge exchange.
“The hope is that our community will find themselves in these hidden stories and find empowerment and inspiration in the fact that people of colour have found ways to resist subjugation in a world where much of our known histories are about succumbing. The Activists-in-Residence will also work on how to achieve more accessible private and public space for QTIPoC.”
The programme offers non-academic activists working on issues of gender and or sexuality, a funded residency aimed at fostering connections and exchanges with academics.
Dr Jenzen said the Activists-In-Residence will use the University’s resources to develop their activist thinking, work, or projects, and to contribute to the University’s intellectual and political culture: “We hope that the Activist-In-Residence will directly engage the University’s staff and students.”
Applications came from around the UK and abroad including India and Hungary.
As Dr Jenzen said: “We invited applications from activists who do critical work around many issues of gender and sexuality, from a variety of perspectives. We were very happy about the interest we have received in the residency and we were excited about receiving such a fantastic range of applications.”
Dr Nick McGlynn, who chaired the selection panel, said of the chosen project: “This was such an excellent proposal, pushing the bounds of scholarly and activist work in really interesting and challenging directions. It brought together multiple marginalised communities and offered a fully realised creative vision of the proposed activities.”
Professor Mark Devenney, Academic lead for the Radical Futures said: “The University is committed to exploring Radical Futures for a planet that is in crisis. The Activist-in-Residence programme does exactly this. It challenges all staff and students at the University to engage with the deep legacies of inequality and oppression that constitute the world we live in – and it fosters our engagement with local and global communities committed to challenging every form of inequality. We are thrilled to welcome Ven Paldano and Shona Raine as the first Activists-in-Residence. Their focus on intersectional struggles and on the suppression of gender fluid indigenous histories is already transformative. We are sure it will have the same affects in the University.”