Buibere nia RISKA

Activism News

WORDS: XIAN WARNER / 04.11.2019

Earlier this year, Zinha L.R.C. da Piedade started the collective, Buibere nia RISKA (roughly translated as ‘Brushstrokes of Timorese Women’), to bring together young women artists and give them the space and opportunity to express themselves.

WORDS: XIAN WARNER / 04.11.2019

Image sourced from the Buibere nia RISKA Facebook page.

“I am a woman. I wasn’t born to cook in the kitchen. I am a woman. I wasn’t born just to look after the children… No, no. I am a woman. I was born to make my dreams become part of history. I am a woman! I am a person!” -Gress Monteiro

These words by a young Timorese feminist activist now adorn a 2.5 metre high wall on a busy street in the centre of Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili, as part of the country’s first all-female street art project. Earlier this year, Zinha L.R.C. da Piedade started the collective, Buibere nia RISKA (roughly translated as ‘Brushstrokes of Timorese Women’), to bring together young women artists and give them the space and opportunity to express themselves. Inspired by the Brazilian group, Rede Nami, over 16,000 kilometres away, and supported by Grupu Feminista iha Timor (Timor Feminist Group), Buibere nia RISKA set out to make a public mural to address violence against women. In a country where an estimated 59 percent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner[1] and where (as everywhere) street sexual harassment is common, this can seem like a dauntingly overwhelming issue. However, over two days in late August, the artists and I sat together to explore ways they could develop effective and positive messages to empower people to change social norms around violence against women.

There is a tendency, in artwork on violence against women, to use a shock-value approach of depicting the sheer brutality of this violence. An online image search with the words ‘violence against women’ brings up a barrage of images of women with cuts, bruises, and bloodied faces. Messages like this which present a blanket representation of women as silent victims and men as perpetrators, however, tend to be very disempowering and may also be triggering for people who have experienced violence. When I showed the artists examples of such anti-violence campaigns from around the world, they said the images made them feel ‘sad’, ‘hurt’, and ‘helpless’. The team also reflected on how messages that highlight how common violence against women is can also have the unintended effect of further normalising this behaviour (i.e. ‘everyone else is doing it, so it doesn’t matter if I do too’) and can desensitise audiences to violence.

[1] The Asia Foundation, 2016. Nabilan Baseline Study: Understanding Violence against Women and Children in Timor-Leste. The Asia Foundation: Dili.

With this in mind...

The young artists of Buibere nia RISKA decided to paint a mural that focused on the solutions, rather than the problem. The resulting mural – spanning almost 150 metres long – is a colourful celebration of strong, creative, independent and unique women. Some panels depict heroic women from Timor’s history such as Rosa Muki Bonaparte and Bilessa; others show women breaking gender stereotypes as football players, photographers, and same-sex parents; some depict women supporting women; while other panels (inspired by Jane Gilmore’s #FixedIt) ‘correct’ common gender inequitable sayings. Woven in between the main panels are self-portraits of each of the artists in their real-life roles as architects, marine conservationists and bass players – themselves, role models for challenging gender norms.

Even before the launch...

The group attracted media attention for going against the grain. It’s not often in Dili that you see a group of young women on the street in the middle of the day with paintbrushes and spray paint cans. While three of the group had worked on public artworks in the past, for most of the artists, this was a completely new experience. And, yet, in just a few weeks, they turned this blank expanse of city space into a triumphant mural with a powerful message, which the local government council representative called ‘a valuable resource for the community.’

Over the month that I’ve collaborated with this inspiring and talented group of young women, I’ve frequently been reminded of the phrase, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ And, now – thanks to Buibere nia RISKA – every day, girls and women across the country’s capital will see more positive examples of what they could be.

If you’re in Dili...

Check out the mural at Kampo de Demokrasia, on Travessa da Ponte and Rua Jacinto de Candido. If you’re not in Dili, check out Buibere nia RISKA on Facebook.

Buibere nia RISKA’s mural was supported by The Asia Foundation’s Nabilan Program, with funding from the Australian Government. The Equality Institute provided technical assistance and communications training.