Reflections from educator, artist, advisor, and Strange Decelerator alum Sheetal Prajapati.
What does “making space” actually mean, from your perspective?
Making space is a process for me. Over time, I have found that no matter where or in what way you are trying to make space in your life, it is important to make time to transition.
There are many ways we can create specific physical conditions that are more conducive to making space—for example, through a change of location, by temporarily relinquishing certain responsibilities, by giving ourselves solitude, taking an adventure, or through any kind of intentional, durational departure from daily life. All of these physical or external changes serve as a welcome into the process of making space. Once within these new dimensions, we have to adjust.
In my own process of making space for myself, I've realized that different circumstances require different sets of attention.
While decelerating at The Strange Foundation, I spent the first two days transitioning to my new space in my own way. First I processed the set of absences: No alarm clock, no set meal times, no email to respond to, no planning (meetings, social events, etc), no noise, no transportation, nobody else to talk to. Adjusting to these absences allowed me to then see what was present: an ability to be slow, no obligations, quietness, and a feeling of release. Allowing myself to feel anxious, unbalanced, and even uncertain at this sudden change of atmosphere was necessary to both seeing and utilizing the qualities of the space I was in.
When planning for my residency, my intention had been to write more words for my book. Once there, though, it became clear that the space the residency gave me would be best used as a time for reflection and preparation. When I made space to actually understand what I needed from the process of decelerating, I had to shift. The words I wrote and read that week were reflective and in many ways restorative in preparation for the time following the residency. The week was generative because I allowed myself to make what I needed to in that space.
As you’ve experienced it, how do you generate power within yourself? What has that looked like for you?
One of the ideas I have long struggled with is the notion of power. What does it really mean? How do you get it? And if you do get it, what do you do with it?
For most of my life, I understood power as an external quality—something from the outside to bring inside. This understanding of power limited me for years, blocking me from recognizing my own being as a source of something impactful. I had never considered what kind of power might lie within me and moreover, what that might look like to others on the outside.
Generating power within myself is an ongoing practice. I see myself as a conduit for gathering, generating, and giving power. Exchange is a critical part of self power for me. Understanding the responsibility we bare when our power is realized externally is part of the way we give power to others. I generate power when I teach, when I make art, when I help others; when I am center stage, and even when I am invisible. Building power within one’s self is also about defining power differently—thinking critically about the structures that currently exist, reflecting on the spaces where you have impact (i.e. power), and building consciousness around the various ways you build and share power.
For me, these four concepts of power have shaped my path to generating power for myself in new ways:
Power is impact. Our heroes, our myths, our celebrities, our superstars—their power is rooted in impact. What they share with the world, people relate to or need in some way. Gracious or greedy, at any scale, power is about effect.
Power is contextual. What makes someone powerful in one space might render them far less consequential in another. It’s easy to forget this but critical to internalize: Power isn’t uniform.
Power is fragile. Structures of authority, no matter how static they may seem, are all subject to collapse. Remember, they are made by people just like you and me.
Power is redefinable. If we consider the impact of qualities like empathy, understanding, and sacrifice as equal to traditional notions of power, then the meaning of power must expand—making it possible for the exercise of power to be impactful while also just and equitable.
How does using language to generate empowering narratives feed into generating space and power for yourself?
I love this question. I have thought a great deal about language and power in my life—growing up in a home that spoke Gujarati (an Indian dialect) in the middle of the country (Kentucky), language became an important part of how I tried to generate power for myself. From adopting the language of the dominantly white community I grew up in to taking pride in learning how to spell my middle name (Dattatraya, 3rd grade), my relationship to language reflected the complexity of managing power between two very different cultural contexts.
I only recently (2017) made a small but deeply serious language change in my life: pronouncing my name correctly when I introduce myself to others. Yes, I used to introduce myself with the “American” pronunciation of my name. Why? For all the obvious reasons: it made others feel more comfortable, I didn’t have to repeat myself five times, it drew less attention to me, and so on. I was so concerned with the external response to being asked my name that I completely disregarded the impact this would have on me.
In 2017, when I started my last full-time job, I began introducing myself with my name (i.e. the correct pronunciation of my name). I have to repeat myself a lot now, and I have to be extra patient sometimes, but it’s worth it. It’s difficult to explain all the feelings that began to build inside of me when I started hearing myself say my name out loud. I hadn’t realized how out of my own body I felt every time I said my own name incorrectly. After the initial feeling of regret (why had I been so afraid all these years?), confidence, pride, and a genuine sense of self emerged. I found latent power inside of myself just by having the courage to display the pride I had inside about who I was.
Language is critical to building power within yourself—especially the language you use to define yourself.
Sheetal Prajapati is Brooklyn-based educator, artist, advisor, and administrator. Currently she is on faculty in the MFA program at the School of Visual Arts (New York), and in 2019, she founded Lohar Projects, a boutique agency providing consulting and advisory services for cultural organizations, emerging artists, and young creative professionals. Professionally, Sheetal has worked at such institutions as Pioneer Works and The Museum of Modern Art (New York); she was a Decelerator resident at Strange HQ in the fall of 2019.
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