UNCAC Coalition Victims of Corruption Working Group discusses art as a means to give voice and identity to victims, featuring Luis Sotelo

20 April 2021 –

How can art be used as a transformative medium for the individual and collective voices of victims of corruption? This question was at the center of a recent virtual meeting of the UNCAC Coalition’s Working group on Victims of Corruption.

Creative processes as a means to create symbolic reparations for victims were presented by guest speaker Luis Carlos Sotelo, drawing on his experience as Concordia University’s Canada Research Chair in Oral History Performance (OHP), associate professor in the Theatre Department and co-director of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS). Sotelo is also the founder of the Acts of Listening Lab (ALLab), a world-leading hub set up to investigate the transformative power of listening to personal narratives from survivors of social trauma.

Listening Acts for Justice and Social Change

Sotelo presented ‘Listening Acts for Justice and Social Change’, focusing on the notions of what it means for Victims of Corruption (VoC) to be heard effectively, and on the role of performance art to facilitate listening to testimonies when the law has failed to provide victims with adequate compensation. Examples Sotelo provided centered around the question: How can civil society use artistic strategies to empower these voices?

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Providing a stage for the voices of victims to be heard is an ethical and occasionally political matter, according to Sotelo – something he reflected on during The Cleaners’ Voice project through a ‘complaints choir’: cleaners working at a British university who are immigrants from countries like Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Angola, performed a song about inadequate pay and the difficult working conditions they were facing to raise awareness about their work.

At that time, their work conditions made them feel ‘invisible’ to the university community: unheard and underpaid. The project led to the production of a music video, turning the cleaners’ concerns into a song that went viral on YouTube and attracted the attention of senior university staff members, who for the first time, took action and listened to the cleaners’ voices.

When embarking on this project, the participants were unaware of how their voices would be portrayed and who their audience would be. The performative aspect of this approach requires trust, and a deeper level of personal connection in order to create the right environment for victims to share their experiences.

Creative Approaches to Transformative Justice

The role of technology and art in facilitating and shaping the exercise of listening is a burgeoning area of research. It has contributed to the reconceptualization of transformative justice – where justice can be brought to a collectivity of victims connected through oral histories, gathered using technology and presented as art.

One important point touched upon in the discussion is the fact that in many cases, victims have normalized their behaviors, meaning that they are unaware of their role as victims. This is why the process of creating listening acts should be considered as a method through which victims are granted the recognition they have been yearning for. Another important distinction to be made is that between product and process in any artistic endeavor, with the latter reflecting the impact it has made.

Luis Carlos Sotelo elaborated on other ways to make amends to victims, where they are empowered by a process that amplifies their voices, increases social support, and may ultimately lead to judicial remedies. Artists, activists and civil society at large can jointly advocate through creative means in order to make a social impact and seek transformative justice.

Luis Sotelo frames the discussion for the VoC Working Group, introduces the ALLab and speaks about transformative justice (10:43)

If you are interested in joining the Victims of Corruption working group, please find more information here.