Utopia, an exhibition of photography by Sussex doctoral researcher Tunde Alabi-Hundeyin is on show at Brighton’s Phoenix gallery until Sunday 19 August. Comprised of images taken during Tunde’s visit to a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in his home country of Nigeria, Utopia focuses on the experience of displaced children. The photographs show how these children inside the camp, many of whom have been evicted from their homes by Boko Haram, have formed a community to help themselves and others to move forward. In doing so, Tunde’s work challenges the Western media’s problematic representations of marginalised children from the Global South. Instead, Tunde offers a powerful counter-narrative of hope and dignity.
We caught up with Tunde to ask him about the processes behind Utopia. A recipient of Sussex’s Public Engagement Fund (a Sussex funding scheme supporting doctoral and early career researchers to deliver public engagement activity), Tunde told us about his experience of translating his work for the wider public, and how such interaction has affected the course of his research. He also offers some advice for other researchers hoping to undertake their own engagement activities.
Utopia is currently on display The Phoenix, Brighton. How have visitors reacted to the exhibition so far?
The response to the exhibition has been amazing, to say the least. I’ve been able to gather constructive feedback from attendees, who have exceeded 200 in the last two weeks. The visitors have been able to interact with the empowering images of and by marginalised children captured during my fieldwork in a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Nigeria. Utopia has succeeded in convincing viewers that there is always another side to the coin. It has challenged the oversimplified images of hunger, disease, and destitution presented by charity organisations and the media. It has shown the hope and resilience of these marginalised children and enabled their voices through self-narrativization.
Can you tell us how the exhibition came into being?
The photo exhibition was designed as a platform to engage the public, with the aims of gathering audience feedback about my photographs and creating a space to use my research for advocacy. Its intent was to shape public perspective about the media representation of marginalised children from the Global South. This requires me taking photos at the camp in Nigeria each year of my doctoral research, trailed by a photo exhibition.
What in particular made this element of public engagement so important for your research?
My research is culturally sensitive and controversial. Taking the work outside has made the research accessible, informative, and educative. It has exposed it to debates and subjected it to public scrutiny. This will make my findings tested and reliable.
Many doctoral researchers may not be aware about the benefits of undertaking public engagement. Can you tell us what public engagement means to you?
Public engagement serves as the bridge between town and gown. The purpose of research should transcend the ivory tower and solve real-world problems, create social change, advance the course of humanity, transform culture, or change public perceptions or policies. Engaging the public connects them to your research and they can provide feedback, ideas, collaborations, and platforms that can enrich the research experience.
Has the process of planning Utopia has influenced your research?
Certainly. Through the exhibition, my interactions with the white and BME visitors have provided fresh perspectives, strengthening my research findings and consolidating impact. The information received on my feedback sheets show a commitment to attitudinal change and a more vigilant approach to perceiving people of colour as depicted by the media and NGOs.
Finally, what words of advice would you give to another doctoral researcher considering applying for Sussex’s Public Engagement Fund?
Go for it! Find the human element in your research and create a public engagement activity around it. Research studies should provide the much-needed change we need to transform the world. This starts with your research. Researchers should engage, listen, and be open to change. Once you decide to apply for the Public Engagement Fund, carefully read through the requirements and think through your activity in detail.
Tunde Alabi-Hundeyin is a doctoral researcher based in the School of Media, Film and Music. Utopia is open every day, from 1100-1700, at the Phoenix, Brighton, until Sunday 19 August.
Sussex’s Public Engagement Fund supports doctoral and early career researchers who wish to undertake some form of public engagement. If you would like to speak to someone about making an application, please contact Helen Hampson in the Doctoral School.