Interview with writer/artist Khairani Barokka
I had the pleasure of connecting with Khairani Barokka on Twitter after reading an article about an anthology she is co-editing. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Tell me a little about yourself, where you’re located, and whatever you want to share about yourself.
Khairani: I’m an Indonesian writer, artist and researcher in London, doing a PhD at Goldsmiths in Visual Cultures, and I make books and art projects and teach and edit. I have fatigue and chronic pain throughout my right side and chest…And I love being able to work while lying down.
Was it always your calling to be an artist? What compels you to write and create?
Khairani: “Artist” and “writer” were always really hallowed-seeming professions for me, and I didn’t dare call myself those things for awhile, even though I’d been making throughout my life. When really, anyone who makes things is an artist, and anyone who creates anything is a creator, including all the children in the world who imagine new things into being constantly. Like many, I have stories I haven’t seen yet out in the world, and for me the compulsion is just to share them.
You’ve done a lot of work in creating accessibility in the performing arts such as the deaf-accessible, solo poetry/art show, Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What does accessibility mean to you and what are the challenges of building in accessibility?
Khairani: Thank you, yes, since 2011 I’ve been researching, writing and creating primarily on intersectional stories of inclusion and accessibility. Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee was difficult for me to pull off physically, as I write about in an upcoming essay in Research in Drama Education, especially as I toured it in the UK, Austria and India. So as a disabled maker, I’d like there to be more attention to the lack of resources—in my case, urgently-needed pain medication due to neglectful healthcare then—given to people from “the Global South” to share stories, especially women and LGBTIQ, and to have D/deaf and disabled communities respected as creators in our own right, not “charity objects” or consumers of art and literature. We have a long way to go globally, but hopefully we’re slowly getting there.
You’re also the co-editor of a UK anthology of work by D/deaf & Disabled Poets, ‘Stairs and Whispers.’ Tell me about the origins of this project and your collaboration with your co-editors Sandra Alland and Daniel Sluman. What are you looking forward to most about this anthology?
Khairani: Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back was the brainchild of Daniel Sluman and Markie Burnhope, who then recruited Sandra Alland to be co-editor with them for the anthology. Markie sadly had to step down, and then I was brought in last year, and the book will be out with Nine Arches Press in early May! It’ll be the first major anthology of poetry and essays by UK-based D/deaf and disabled poets, and will have attendant accessible videos and audio recordings. We are so incredibly proud of this work, and I’m looking forward to everything, especially the events we have lined up to celebrate it—the poets included are remarkable (if we can toot our own horn!).
Where are you are right now in terms of editing the anthology? Can you describe generally the submissions you received? What surprised you so far in the process of creating this anthology?
Khairani: We’re just now wrapping up the anthology in terms of ordering essays and poems, and it’s pretty much set. The submissions we received were wide-ranging, culturally and in terms of lived experience and stylistically. In a way, all the submissions that have ended up in the book surprised me, but in the best way, as good poetry will do. I think people are in for a treat.
I was so impressed to discover that one of your works, Indigenous Species, will be available in Braille with tactile embossed imagery. Tell me how that came about and when that will be available.
Khairani: Thank you so much! Indigenous Species began as a poem I performed in 2013 in Melbourne, Australia, but since I’d been making things within an accessibility framework, I always knew I wanted attendant artwork. So in 2015-16, at a residency in Malaysia, I developed a proposal for it to be a tactile poetry-art book answering the question, Why don’t we have Braille, text and art in the same book? The marginalisation of blind/sight-impaired audiences in publishing is pretty atrocious, so I knew that I wanted to create this experiment to highlight that, and thankfully got the blessing of blind/sight-impaired colleagues—I wanted to be sure this wasn’t seen as a “charity project” but as an artwork, a provocation. Tilted Axis Press picked up the book, thankfully, and it was always intended to have two print versions: in the sighted version, the word “Braille” in Braille is on every left-hand page, to show sighted readers it should be there, and the Braille-and-tactile-art version, which will be limited edition, is forthcoming, launch TBA. We also have made accessible PDF e-books for purchase (a link to the books is on my site at khairanibarokka.com).
How do we make literature more accessible in terms of different audiences including the actual format of prose/poetry?
Khairani: This really is the question, isn’t it? I think we should pay writers more and fund the arts in all ways and make writing courses and career avenues accessible and inclusive, to start. In terms of publishing, there’s a variety of ways that websites, e-books, and print books can be more inclusive, and the resources are available. There are people out there whose job it is to do this, so I think publishers should seek them out and make access and inclusion a priority. The same goes for “the art world”.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with me about being a writer, intersectionality, or representation of D/deafness and disability in literature?
Khairani: I can’t tell you how often I’ve encountered, as editor, researcher, and/or creator, stories that use lazy, ableist stereotypes of D/deaf and disabled people. I hope more and more writers from various communities within us produce an infinite number of stories, intersectional stories, and stories that recognise a huge plurality of disability cultures—not just Western cultures, but all the sign languages and cultural contexts of millions who live elsewhere and are just as worthy.
Publishing, like many other fields, is still somewhat non-diverse and ableist. Can you tell me about your experiences becoming published and working with different publishers and editors? What’s your advice for D/deaf and disabled writers just starting out?
Khairani: Read rapaciously, and widely, not just from contemporary sources. For me, I began editing and translating (which certainly involves lots of editing) as a teenager, which I think has always been beneficial–so try to get some experience editing if you can, as it will improve your own work. Don’t be put off by inevitable rejections. These days there are so many more publication platforms to try. I was lucky enough that Indigenous Species‘ project proposal was only rejected by one art press before Tilted Axis, but I certainly have rejection slips aplenty for other work. Seek out publishers that are open to accessibility and inclusion; sometimes small publishers can be a great fit. And support your communities, find writer allies!
Khairani Barokka (b. Jakarta, 1985) is a writer, poet and artist in London. Among her honours, she was an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow for her masters, Emerging Writers Festival’s (AUS) Inaugural International Writer-In-Residence (2013), and Indonesia’s first Writer-In-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2011).
Okka is the writer/performer/producer of, among others, a deaf-accessible, solo poetry/art show, Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee. It premiered at Edinburgh Fringe 2014 as Indonesia’s only representative, with a grant from HIVOS. She was recognized in 2014 by UNFPA as one of Indonesia’s “Inspirational Young Leaders Driving Social Change”, for highly prolific, pioneering international work in inclusive, accessible arts.
Published internationally in anthologies and journals, Okka has presented work extensively, in nine countries, been awarded six residencies and various grants, and given two TEDx talks (Jakarta and Youth@Chennai). She is author and illustrator of poetry-art book Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis Press, December 2016), co-editor with Ng Yi-Sheng of HEAT: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (Buku Fixi Publishing, 2016), and co-editor, with Sandra Alland and Daniel Sluman, of Nine Arches Press’ UK anthology of D/deaf and disabled poets (forthcoming May 2017). A PhD-by-practice researcher at Goldsmiths, as an LPDP Scholar in Visual Cultures, Okka is currently working on a novel and visual works. Her first full-length poetry collection, Rope, will be published by Nine Arches Press in October 2017.
For more: http://www.khairanibarokka.com/bio/
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