Review: The World Before Her

Contestants parade for the title of Miss India in a still from the award-winning documentary ‘The World Before Her’.

 

BY SUE ANN MULLER 

The World Before Her is a documentary written and directed by Nisha Pahuja, a Canadian filmmaker born in India. It was four years in the making which allowed Pahuja to gain trust with the women she interviewed and gain a very personal and unique insight. The film won best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. 

The monumental social changes occurring in India and the effect those changes are having on women’s lives are explored as we witness the lives of Indian women who initially seem to have little in common: contestants in the Miss India pageant and participants in a training camp for young women from an extremist Hindu movement.

Miss India is held in Mumbai, a city of 20 million, where the juxtaposition of Old India and New India is stark: rickshaws and Mercedes compete on the roads, 5-star hotels abut teeming slums and beautiful girls strut the catwalk in a society where women have been traditionally modest and demure. Beauty pageants are controversial in many countries and criticised for objectifying women but in India it has caused riots. Here the bikini round is held behind closed doors.

The contestants in the pageant go on beauty boot camp, an intensive grooming regime that includes botox injections, fillers and skin whitening treatments. Contestants see beauty as a way to equal men financially and have a voice. All are ambitious and articulate about what they want and come from India’s huge and growing urban middle class.

We then go to Aurangabad to the Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of a Hindu Nationalist group. The movement is known as the “Indian Taliban” because of its extremist views on the role of women and its pro-violence, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian stance.  At this boot camp young girls endure 4am starts during 30 days of whistles, chanting, physical challenges and shooting.  Pretty young girls in colourful kurta pyjamas train crawling commando-style and running barefoot in the dust.

Prachi has attended the camps since she was three and says she would kill for the movement. She trains the girls in their drills and shouts herself hoarse keeping them frightened and obedient and embodies the dilemma many Indian women face between what they want for themselves and what their fathers demand of them.

Both Prachi from the Durga Vahini and the Miss India contestants are bound by a contemporary Indian society that still values boys above girls.  In India 750,000 girls are aborted every year. All the women featured in the film are ambitious and struggle to achieve more in their lives than being wives and mothers in a society of rapid social and economic change.

The young girls from Durga Vahini leave the camp feeling like warrior Goddesses. Ironically when they graduate they receive sashes they say are “like Miss India” and they giggle and don them with pride.

The World Before Her is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival on Monday Jun 11 at 11:45 am and Thursday, June 14 at 10am at Event Cinemas George Street. To watch the trailer go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j21b1r13hbE

Reclaiming life

By 2020, depression will be the second biggest health problem world-wide (WHO). Photo: Meta-Man/flickr

 

BY VICTORIA KLIMANSKAYA

Depression is the leading cause of disability in Australia. Each year, almost 800,000 Australian adults will experience a depressive illness. According to recent review highlights, one in four women and one in six men will suffer from depression at some stage in their lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that by 2020, depression will be the second biggest health problem world-wide, behind heart disease.

The World Health Organisation estimates that depression affects 121 million people worldwide. In the 10 higher income countries surveyed, an average of nearly 15 per cent of the population had suffered from depression at least once in their lives. By contrast, people living in low to middle-income countries reported an 11 per cent likelihood of having had the disease. WHO also considers depression to be the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide.

Australian GPs reported depression as the fourth most common illness that they dealt with in their practices, and is particularly common amongst women. Females are set up biologically to amplify internally their negative life experiences. They are prone to it psychologically too. Women ruminate more over upsetting situations, going over and over negative thoughts and feelings, especially if they have to do with relationships. Too often they get caught in a downward spiral of hopelessness and despair.

These shocking facts immediately lead to two questions. What exactly causes depression – and why do a large number of Australians, living in a secure and stable first-world country, go through the stages of the illness?

Dr James Dugley, from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, currently works as a Staff Specialist Psychiatrist. He says depression is the leading cause of suicide in Australia, yet often goes unrecognised or treated. That tendency means both physical and psychological symptoms require professional treatment.

It is therefore difficult to estimate the number of non-fatal suicide attempts in Australia, since many attempts remain unreported or are recorded as accidents. In the 2011 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 0.3 per cent of men and 0.5 per cent of women (0.4 per cent of the sample overall) reported that they had made a suicide attempt in the previous 12-month period. Based on this data it can be estimated that around 65,000 people make a non-fatal suicide attempt each year in Australia.

According to Dr Dugley, depression can affect anyone from any educational or socio-economic background. Everyone from Michelangelo, Isaac Newton and Winston Churchill, to Adriana Xenides, has suffered from the debilitating disorder.

He himself knows this first-hand. As a child, he experienced symptoms of depression, constantly worrying about his parents dying at a young age and fretting about his schoolwork. Moving into adulthood, he continued to lack self-esteem and constantly worried about what might go wrong in his life. Today, he gets depression patients to feel good again by working to change reflexive, habitual, negative thinking.

According to Dr Dugley, depression is caused by a diverse range of factors, spanning from family or interpersonal conflict, bereavement, job loss, major life changes, to drug and alcohol abuse. Factors can also stem from within the individual – previous negative experiences, personality traits (such as perfectionism), medical illness or treatment, or family disposition, can all have an influence.

“We have shown that depression is a significant public health concern across Australia and is strongly linked to social conditions,” says Dr Dugley.

Depression creates both mental and physical symptoms which can vary from one person to another. Symptoms may change throughout the day, but are usually worse after waking up in the morning.“Common symptoms include such feelings as hopelessness, unhappiness, tension, anger, fear, [and] the loss of confidence,” Dr Dugley says. Physical symptoms, such as tiredness, sleeping problems, and headaches, play an important part in the considerable prevalence of depression.

While it might sound almost inconceivable, it has been found that the tendency to become depressed is inherited. It does not, however, guarantee that depression is inevitable because of your genes. While you can inherit a tendency for depression, still you can never get depressed if you’ve developed proper coping strategies. If two people who have the same exact genes faced the same problem then one of them might get depressed and the other might not if their coping strategies are different.

“I always try to inform my patients about the methods that can be used for getting over depression naturally without the use of medication,” says Dr Dugley. He tries to persuade his patients that any depression is not endless. In his opinion, many people think of suicide while being depressed because they think that depression will never end. If they were told that within one month depression will disappear they will never think of committing suicide again but instead they will keep checking the calendar every now and then waiting for this day to come.

Dr Dugley is concerned about common behaviours in Australia which are associated with depression. Any level of anxiety may increase drug and alcohol abuse, recklessness and taking unnecessary risks (for example driving fast and dangerously), school or workplace absenteeism or physical health problems such as fatigue or pain.

“Understanding the patterns and causes of depression can help global initiatives in reducing the impact of depression on individual lives and in reducing the burden to society,” says Dr Dugley.

Often these behaviours are difficult to live with and cause significant concern to close family and friends.

After years of practice, Dr Dugley learned to identify potential victims of upcoming depression, or latent sufferers. After asking about personality types that might be at risk of depression, the specialist replied that a lifelong warrior, perfectionist, sensitive to personal criticism, someone with low self-esteem, self-critical, unassertive, negative, shy and socially-anxious can be affected by the illness.

After reading this, it is absolutely normal and logical to think of possible solutions for such important issue and possible ways to reduce the considerable prevalence of depression in Australia.  According to Dr Dugley’s opinion, medication is the first thing that Australians usually think of in order to cure depression. “But taking prescribed antidepressants may contribute to your feeling even more out of control – the drugs are doing ‘whatever’. There may well be already enough in your life that makes you feel powerless,” he says.

Our own body is very capable of producing the very best and safest natural antidepressants.

Dr Dugley promotes natural treatments that can help people to deal with depression now and prevent relapses in the future. “Go for a massage or reflexology, for a brisk walk or a cycle ride (at least 30 minutes, three times a week). Also, aerobic exercise increases feel-good hormones (endorphins) in your body,” advises Dr Dugley. He suggests going swimming regularly, joining a yoga or meditation class, doing something creative, and not giving yourself a hard time.

Some people become depressed just because their lifestyles invoke depression. “In such a case depression is no more than a message sent to you by your mind asking you to change this horrible lifestyle you are living. Getting over depression in this case is just a matter of responding to this message,” continues the specialist.

If you are currently depressed you must resist the urge to form new negative beliefs and you must even take an additional step to fight the negative thoughts that lead to these negative beliefs.

Dr Dugley thinks that depression can be really tough and knowing how to help someone with depression is a skill that each of us needs. “Many of the methods people use to help their depressed family members or friends never tackle the real problem and that’s why they are not effective,” conjectures the psychiatrist. He indicates that to help people with depression, you need to give them hope by busting their false beliefs about themselves and about life one by one.

Surround yourself with positive influences. If you are depressed, avoid negative people who can cause your symptoms to worsen. Instead, hang out with people who are happy, positive and can offer you support. Get enough sleep, seek behavioural therapy, cut out bad habits and pursue some form of mind and body activity. These are some steps from Dr Dugley, to stop depression without medication.

The specialist also recommends trying natural supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s wort and SAM-e which can be very effective in treating depression.

During times of sadness and melancholy it is often a good idea to remind yourself of inspirational people who have achieved great things, overcoming adversities and difficulties.

“If you feel like you have given up on yourself, aim to help and give to others. Maybe you could consider donating your time to help charities and sign up for voluntary work. The act of giving is an effective way to attract rewarding experiences back into your life,” concludes Dr Dugley.

Though it may feel like a long, uphill battle, remember that seeking professional help and trying different treatments are the best things you can do when it comes to dealing with depression.

LINKS AND INFORMATION:

If you suspect you (or a friend or loved one) are depressed and you’re unsure where to go for help, check the Yellow Pages under “mental health,” “health,” “social services,” “suicide prevention,” “crisis intervention services,” “hotlines,” “hospitals,” or “physicians” for phone numbers and addresses. In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a hospital may be able to provide temporary help for an emotional problems, and will be able to tell you where and how to get further help. On the Internet, go to:

Lifeline: http://www.lifeline.org.au/

beyondblue: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?

The Sydney Clinic: http://www.depressionet.com.au/resources/hospitals/sydney_clinic.html

Wesley Mission Hospitals: http://www.wesleymission.org.au/centres/hospital/

Just Ask Us: http://www.justaskus.org.au/browse/health-well-being/depression-and-anxiety-self-help-material

”Who can help you?” : http://au.reachout.com/find/getting-help/who-can-help-you

Artivists play their cards for Muckaty

The cardshow: 2,000 packs of cards and original artworks by 58 local artists. Photos: Shardae Ewart

BY SHARDAE EWART

 

Where can you meet a queen, a king, a rebellious kangaroo and a maggot-infested horse?

In a tucked-away gallery on Day St, a stone’s throw from the city’s centre, where more than 300 people gathered to support the opening of the exhibit ’The Cardshow.‘

It was a beautiful evening displaying a total of 56 artworks by 58 different artists, all coming together to create awareness and raise money for the action against the proposed nuclear waste dump in Muckaty, Northern Territory.

Most of the artists donated their work to the fundraising efforts. During the opening 43 artworks were sold in a silent auction.

Maia Sinclair-Ferguson organised the event with her partner Tessa Dowdell and fellow environmentalist Hannah Walters. Hannah and Tessa worked at 2SER at the Third Degree, a morning radio program on climate justice issues. In 2007 Tessa went to the Northern Territory for the convergence, a protest against the Northern Territory Emergency Response (the NT intervention). “She was following the story, and she came back and was like ‘I want to do this’ and I was like ‘yes’ so it was essentially her push,” says Maia.

As a part of the exhibition the three also printed and packaged 2000 decks of cards, which are being sold for $20 each.

“I guess the whole idea [for the cards] came about from a deck of cards that my dad owned, which was curated by a guy called Alan Driscoll from the UK. He produced a deck of playing cards in 1979, commissioning 56 contemporary British artists.

“The difference here, is that we haven’t commissioned anyone, we’ve gotten the majority of the artists to donate their works, and say ‘yes you may reproduce this picture and use it in your promo material’, which is incredibly generous, and awesome.”

Since 2007 under the ‘Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act’ of the Howard Government, and now under the ‘National Radioactive Waste Bill’ of the current government, the people of the Northern Territory have been opposing plans to store nuclear waste in Muckaty.

The traditional owners of the land have asked the Resource Minister Martin Ferguson to come and speak with them, but he refuses.

In March 2012 the traditional land owners launched a court case against the Federal Government and the Northern Land Council to fight an agreement that was made for the site without their consent. It is an ongoing battle supported by organisations such as Beyond Nuclear Initiative and Friends Of the Earth.

On the opening night of ‘The Cardshow’ there was an information desk set up about Muckaty and the Nuclear Freeways Campaign. It was manned by members of the Yellow Cake Road Collective whose mission is to raise awareness of the issues that arise from the transport of nuclear waste.

Maia’s concern is not only for the people of Muckaty, but also to raise awareness amongst the broader community of Australians.

“The waste would be driven from Lucas Heights in southern Sydney all the way across Australia, and up through the Northern Territory. That in itself is so problematic; it opens a whole possibility for so many nuclear waste accidents happening across such a huge distance,” she says.

The sheer scale of such a large group of people coming together to produce a single work creates a remarkable sense of unity around the project.

“It [the show] was a vessel in which you can have 58 artists creating 56 fragments that are essentially a whole, this whole idea of collective ‘Artivism’. Artists showing that they can put their efforts into something that can actually have an effect that is positive, instead of speaking into a vacuum.”

Through the silent auction and the continued sale of the decks of cards the women hope to raise about $20,000.

“It’s going to go through Beyond Nuclear Initiative, directly to the people involved with court costs, transport costs, for traditional owners speaking, actually connecting with people, and saying ‘this is why we don’t want nuclear waste on our land,” says Maia.

Some of the prominent artists and Sydney street artists involved in the project include: Reg Mombassa, Simon Yates, Jacqueline Olivetti, Hazzy Bee, Susan Norrie, Linda Dement and Akisiew.

Maia didn’t know all of the artists personally. “I got a bunch of those contacts through the gallery owner Steve, which was really cool.”

With so many different artists involved, there is a huge variety of styles and ideas present in this unique and colourful deck of cards.

“A usual transformation deck would keep the pips in the same place, the difference with this is that it’s breaking the format of the transformation deck. You have a lot more freedom, it doesn’t have to be visually representative by drawing the number eight and showing, eight spades or something it can be a lot more free form. There are some ambiguous ones in this deck, as well as the ’79 deck.”

As well as being a great work in itself, ‘The Cardshow’ is an amazing example of creative people coming together to support an idea that’s worth fighting for.

“It feels great to create something and hopefully have it directly impact the people of Muckaty,” says artist Amber Rosado, who submitted the Ten of Spades. “I wouldn’t want nuclear waste in my back yard, and I don’t think it’s fair that they should have to have it either.”

LINKS:

Unsold artworks and cards can be bought at the Mori Gallery and online at http://www.etsy.com/shop/cardshow2012

Review: Liars’ WIXIW

Liars’ vocalist Angus Andrew at Neumos in Seattle, May 2010.  Photo: Kevin N. Murphy/flickr

 

BY ADAM ENOCH

Liars – WIXIW

I’ve always thought that Liars might just sound like the aural equivalent of Asperger’s syndrome. That’s not meant as a criticism by the way, in fact it’s quite the opposite – I think it’s a positive and interesting trait but Liars can be difficult to relate to; their albums are filled with secretive moods and emotions and are a constant challenge to the listener. WIXIW (a play on “wish you”), their sixth album, continues that trend.

Here, they have abandoned the creeping abrasiveness of Sisterworld, opting for a more subdued feel with gently pulsing electronics, zig-zagging synths and poly-rhythmic drums. In fact there’s barely a guitar discernible in the minimal mix. Instrumentally, it’s much less jarring than previous efforts – certainly nothing here is as aggressive or pounding as “Scarecrows on a Killer Slant” – and there’s a slightly distant feel throughout.

The magic ingredient in Liars’ sound, without doubt, is vocalist Angus Andrew and it is his work that is responsible for much of the tension here. His voice on WIXIW is, for the most part, technically unremarkable; mostly avoiding verbal acrobatics and falsetto, save the dying throes of “Brats”, but his tone is instantly recognisable. His phrasing and low-key murmurings carry a great sense of gravity and foreboding. Stretching and fracturing his lyrics through “The Exact Colour Of Doubt” and “Octagon” Andrew recreates the sense of impending doom familiar to other Liars records, albeit on a smaller scale, and his again-and-again-and-again-and-agains on highlight and first-single “No.1 Against The Rush” recall moments from another disembodied record, Suuns’ excellent, brooding, Zeroes QC.

The feel of the album is embodied by the title track “Wixiw”, held together by wiggling synth and understated tribal drums whilst carrying Andrew’s often unintelligible intonations on isolation: “Now I see it’s not enough, I wish you were here with me, I can no longer take it all, wish you would not come back to me.”

The biggest criticism of the album is perhaps its evenness – there’s a lack of stand-out tracks. That said, it’s very much more than the sum of its parts. Mood is successfully prioritised over songs, and it permeates throughout the album, making for an slightly uncomfortable listen. But that’s the point of Liars. And when the pay-off does come in the form of “Brats”, it’s as unsubtle as the rest of the album is subtle.

On WIXIW Liars are still darkly questioning, but less threatening than before. Their knack of creating detached, ominous moods, as if there’s something terrible lurking just around the corner, is still intact – only they never quite get around to revealing the cause of their agitation.

Stream WIXIW in full here (via Pitchfork).

WIXIW is released on Mute Records on 4 June 2012.

Writer and dreamer Randa Abdel-Fattah

Author Randa Abdel-Fattah. Photo courtesy the author.

BY MERHI TALEB 

 

Randa Abdel-Fattah is an author, lawyer and human rights activist of Palestinian and Egyptian parentage. She was born in Melbourne and now lives in Sydney with her husband and two children.

Randa Abdel-Fattah is deeply interested in inter-faith dialogue and has been a member of various inter-faith networks. She has also volunteered with different human rights and migrant resource organisations. She contributes regularly to the Australian press, writing about Palestine and Australian Muslims.

In 2008 Randa won the Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers for her novel Ten Things I Hate About Me, published by Pan Macmillan in Australia. Her first novel, Does My Head Look Big In This?, was an instant bestseller in Australia.

She is currently releasing a sequel to The Friendship Matchmaker and a new adult novel, No Sex in the City, in July this year.

Randa Abdel-Fattah started writing when she was very young. “[It’s something] I loved to do ever since I can remember, she says. Her first attempt at writing a full novel was when she was 15 years old. That book became the first draft for Does My Head Look Big in This?

Her drive, and the momentum behind her writing, is telling a story that engages her readers. “I hope to make them laugh, provoke them, and challenge them by giving them characters that they can relate to and can learn from.” She says she hopes to give readers “an emotionally charged experience” so they can walk away seeing the world a little differently and gain a new perspective on things they haven’t been exposed to.

In both The Friendship Matchmaker and its sequel, Randa addresses the issue of bullying, which she herself once experienced. “Bullying doesn’t necessarily have to be being beaten up or stuck in a corner with someone calling you names,” she says. “It can also happen in very subtle ways, especially among girls who have the power to either include you or exclude you.” She had a strong network of friends in primary school, but admits to her “fair share of being left out”. It’s a theme which runs in both of her books – The Friendship Matchmaker and its sequel. “I’ve drawn subconsciously on those experiences in writing those characters and what they’ve gone through in those books.”

Once Randa submitted the first manuscript of The Friendship Matchmaker, she had started on the sequel even before its precursor was published. “It often happens that way, and it was because I loved the character. I wanted to put her in a new situation, and I wanted to explore the characters again,” she says, explaining she prefers this approach because characters don’t often get a voice in the mainstream space, and because it helps present a different perspective on the main character.

In her new adult novel No Sex in the City she develops themes which explore “a sort of a different of falling in love experience” from that which is often projected as the norm in mainstream media, movies and popular culture. Randa wanted to show there are other ways of meeting ‘the one’, and highlight how people who don’t prescribe to mainstream values or practices go about finding partners. “Wanting all the same things that all the other people want but having a different expectations, or criteria, so to speak,” she says.

For Randa it has been a very smooth ride since she was first published. “For me it’s a dream come true.”  Writing is not about being published. “I need to do it. [It’s] a way of feeding my soul and my mind.” She receives email and letters from kids and teenagers around the world who love her books.

Randa manages to juggle being author, lawyer, human rights activist and mum thanks to drinking “lots of coffee”, but also admits it really comes down to good home management skills and multi-tasking. She also has her Mac and iPad with her at all times, and can whip them out in free moments, such as when she’s on public transport or waiting for a plane. “I use the moments in between to sort of take advantage and write.”

At the moment she is writing a four-book children’s series pitched for the same audience as The Friendship Matchmaker and its sequel. She has also signed up to contribute to a human rights-themed children’s series, to be published in 2014.

Randa’s advice to new writers is to write about subjects they are passionate about, as opposed to “writing what you think would be published and what the market wants, because this is going to affect the quality of your work and readers will see through that.” She describes writing as a labour of love and says the true quality of a writer’s work comes out in the editing process, which is hard work. She says people unrelated to the writer usually give the most honest and constructive criticism, and that it’s a good idea to get an agent. If all else fails, her advice is to try publishing online, which wasn’t an option when she started writing. “There is a lot out there to support unpublished writers,” she says. “It’s just a matter of trying to find out what suits you, and not giving up on your dreams.”

LINKS:

Randa Abdel-Fattah – official website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/index.asp