The Scottish delegation at Oi Futuro – Institut of Inovation and Creativity, Rio de Janiero. ©

British Council Scotland

Last month, Artist Emily Beaney was selected to join a Scottish arts delegation at the Women of the World (WoW) Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Emily works as a community artist with groups of girls and women in Glasgow, exploring themes of equality and female relationships. Here she reflects on an inspirational trip.

During turbulent times for Brazil, women have shown solidarity, strength and creativity by taking action in their communities. The opportunity to celebrate and learn from these incredible women at the Women of the World (WoW) Festival in Rio de Janeiro has been a profoundly galvanising experience.

The trip was a powerful celebration of what the women of this extraordinary city have to offer. Rio de Janeiro felt both buzzing with activity and totally laid back. The city was a visual feast, with sandy beaches (Copacabana!), urban art around every corner and a colourful backdrop of lush mountains. I felt so welcomed by the city and I literally couldn’t stop smiling. 

Having left Scotland with a number of ‘stay safe’ messages, I can’t help but feel that my experience of Brazil was in stark contrast with those notions of trepidation. I behaved as I would back home and loved the entire experience! I enjoyed the food and drink, the music, and I even had a shot at Samba dancing thanks to tuition from some very patient locals.

WoW festival’s talks, workshops, performances and exhibitions explored the message of gender equality through multiple platforms, with an emphasis on intersectionality, accessibility and empowerment. Some highlights included author Reni Eddo-Lodge in conversation with WoW founder Jude Kelly, discussing Reni’s book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. I learned a lot about feminism and race in this session and I feel inspired to deepen my own understanding of institutional racism and advance the conversation with others. 

Also remarkable, was a workshop on ‘Deep Democracy’, where I learned how to facilitate community activities with an awareness of central and marginalised voices. And Liz Aggiss’ witty Slap and Tickle performance, which brilliantly explored some of the absurdities in the way we treat women and girls. An exhibition of activist banners, textile sculptures and Samba costumes from Brazilian artists also felt particularly powerful in its vibrancy and message. 

On this transformative journey I met a number of admirable women, starting with the Scottish delegation. It was difficult to shake off feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’ at first, however, they welcomed me by sharing knowledge, laughs and pizza: their generosity is something that I am truly thankful for.

Meeting WoW Brazil collaborators Jude Kelly and Eliana Sousa Silva, and listening to Brazilian artists, activists and industry specialists speak openly about their challenges and successes, provided insights into international collaboration and leadership. Across the conversations, events and sessions I attended, I felt a strong undercurrent of resilience and defiance in the face of injustice for Brazil’s women. As an artist working in the medium of wearable art, I want to honour these women and take inspiration from Rio’s bold visual language, to create a series of works that show solidarity and celebrate women’s strength. It is my hope that this message will also serve as a tool for empowerment in communities in Scotland. 

I can’t thank British Council Scotland and Glasgow Women’s Library enough for this thought-provoking opportunity. It has given me the chance to gain a more global perspective and the drive to develop a professional international network. It has challenged my thinking and expanded the perimeters of my creative practice in many exciting new directions. Thank you!

This opportunity, supported by British Council Scotland and Glasgow Women’s Library, was part of our commitment to create new international opportunities during Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018.