This month we are delighted to share a blog written by one of our Young Evaluators, Rumaisa.
The Audience Agency is the Evaluation Partner for the British Council’s National Lottery Heritage Fund Kick the Dust ‘Our Shared Cultural Heritage’ project. This takes place across Glasgow and Manchester. As part of this project, we have recruited and trained Young Evaluators who have been evaluating the project. One of them, Rumaisa Zubairi, shares what she has been up to recently.
What is a Young Evaluator?
I am a Glasgow-based Young Evaluator (YE) on the Our Shared Cultural Heritage project (OSCH). OSCH is a project that focuses on exploring the shared cultures and histories of the UK and South Asia (mainly the areas that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh cover). OSCH works with young people aged 11-25 to experiment and create new ways for museums and youth organisations to work together and become better places for young people to explore identity, connect with others and to create new opportunities for young people.
As a YE, my role is to attend and evaluate activities organised as part of the OSCH project.
These activities are usually themed around South Asian history and culture as part of Glasgow Museums’ conscious efforts to improve young people’s engagement in heritage. To explore the experiences of young people taking part in the project we use creative evaluation tools from an evaluation toolkit that TAA staff and the YE’s developed collaboratively. As young people, we all come from different backgrounds and stages of education, so the training we receive is very important to introduce us to evaluation specific concepts and to help us feel confident in terms of our knowledge and skills.
South Asia in Glasgow
So how does Glasgow Museums fare in terms of South Asian heritage? The Scotland Street Museum stands at the site of a school designed by the renowned Scottish architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Located in an area in the Southside of Glasgow with a greater South Asian population, its GlaswegAsians exhibition tells the story of South Asian history in Glasgow. It was developed in collaboration with Colourful Heritage, a community group that documents oral histories of South Asians in Glasgow and works to celebrate South Asians’ place in Scottish society. South Asian games and childrens’ workshops are often held at the museum.
Last summer, an outreach group from Glasgow Museums had an exhibition of Islamic artwork at the Sufi Festival, and groups are welcome to visit the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. The Riverside Museum, which was the 2013 European Museum of the Year, has a marvellous painted rickshaw located near the front entrance. Glasgow Museums comes under the umbrella of Glasgow Life which currently organises the vibrant Glasgow Mela, a South Asian arts and music festival attracting performers from across the world, and audience members in their tens of thousands. The Mela is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Glasgow Museums is doing some great work. In particular, the GlaswegAsians exhibit is a great example. Its development in collaboration with Colourful Heritage is a wonderful illustration of community-led work. It is wonderful for older people to see their lives celebrated and for younger people grounds their identity within Scotland.
Many people would be surprised to know that Glasgow Museum holds 3,234 items from South Asia. It is unfortunate that only three out of ten ‘key items’ from the collection are actually on display, with the remaining 7 being in storage. I think it would be wonderful if more was more widely known about these objects and they were brought to display, given the presence of a South Asian community in Glasgow. It would also be interesting to explore the stories of how these objects came to Glasgow.
Barriers to engaging young people with heritage in Glasgow
One of the key barriers to young people engaging with Glasgow museums is the lack of specific provision for them. Anecdotally, I feel that the presentation of exhibits is either tailored towards an older age group (the sort of people who ‘typically’ attend museums and galleries), or young children. Kelvingrove Park and Museum, for instance, are located right behind Glasgow University. Students often hang out in the park but I rarely hear my peers mentioning visiting the museum itself, despite its close location to the university and Glasgow Museums being completely free to attend.
The potential of Our Shared Cultural Heritage
A project like OSCH is not only welcome, but necessary. A youth-led project is just what is needed to energise Glasgow Museums and improve engagement with young people from a South Asian background. This would hopefully ensure that new projects and interventions are authentic and reflective of what young South Asian need from museum and heritage spaces. I think it is necessary not only to have meaningful content, but to create spaces that young people feel ownership of.
Although youth-led projects come with challenges such as training requirements and logistical considerations around young people’s student commitments, I believe employing us as young people to evaluate the activity has been great. As a young employee I have valued clear communications, clarification of technical language and flexible working opportunities. I look forward to seeing where OSCH goes and sharing the learning we have developed from the evaluation so far. I have just written the first year report together the other 8 evaluators and TAA staff. We look forward to sharing it with the wider team and partners soon.
A Recent OSCH Activity - The Riz Test
An event the Young Evaluators recently attended was an online workshop on the Riz Test. We felt this would be useful for us to attend as it would help us better understand representation and thus would help us evaluate activities through an additional lens of representation. Furthermore, the session was co-delivered by Dr Sadia Habib, who is part of the OSCH team in Manchester so it was a great opportunity to learn more about her research and work on the Riz Test.
What is the Riz Test and what can we learn from it?
The Riz Test, developed by Sadia Habib and Shaf Chaudhary in 2017, is a means of evaluating Muslim representation in TV and film. The Riz Test was inspired by Riz Ahmed’s speech at the House of Commons in 2017 and the Bechdel test which checks if a film contains at least 2 named female characters who speak to each other about something other than a man. The founders of the Riz Test researched Muslim representation studying Jack Shaheen, Al Sultany and Edward Said. They eventually drew up 50 criteria by which Muslims were represented as oppressed, terrorists, an exocitised ‘other’ etc. The criteria were then narrowed to five, providing a snapshot of Muslim representation.
The test asks:
If a film or TV episode contains at least one character who is identifiably Muslim/or it is implied that they are Muslim (by ethnicity, language or clothing), is the character...
- Talking about, the victim of, suspected of, or perpetrator of terrorism?
- Presented as irrationally angry?
- Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
- Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
- If the character is male, are they presented as misogynistic?
- If the character is female, are they presented as oppressed?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes’, the film/TV show fails the Riz test.
The Riz Test is only a crude measure of how Muslims are represented - there are a lot of nuances that it might fail to capture, such as satire, and this is why the developers of the test urge film reviewers to fill out long form reviews to capture complexities. You can also report a rapid assessment of how well a film does on the Riz Test, by filling out their short form here: tinyurl.com/theriztest.
So what can we learn from the Riz Test? At the online workshop I attended, the founders of the Riz Test mentioned that some people they’ve spoken to, including those working in the media industry, have never really noticed the insidious representation of Muslims in the media. I think this really demonstrates the imperative to be more reflective about the representation of minorities in the media we consume or produce, and think about how representation fits into wider social narratives. It also demonstrates the value of consulting with groups, before perhaps representing them in a way that is harmful to their community. Of course, every TV show or film doesn’t have to have a Muslim as a perfect hero, but the danger is when it becomes the norm to portray Muslims as exactly the opposite.
Representation is not just about being fair to others. When we limit representation to stereotypes, our stories lose their richness and we limit what is possible. When Muslims are portrayed negatively in the media, anti-Muslim hate crime sees a spike. It’s time to think beyond tired tropes. So, fill out the Riz Test form and put that lockdown binge-watching to use!