Filmmaker Terhys Persad is dismantling stereotypes about identity through her engaging web series, Where Art Thou. It recasts Western travel narratives from voyeuristic to respectful by answering the question: ‘What can art tell us about a country?’
What inspired Where Art Thou? I spent an extended time travelling solo and visited museums and galleries often. Because I was alone, the people who worked there would explain the art to me, and I found the topics we discussed much more interesting than what I read in guidebooks. It was a dope, quick way to learn about issues that were important to the people of that country.
5 MINUTES WITH: TERHYS PERSAD OF WHERE ART THOU Photo Gallery
What’s the common thread that unites the videos in the series about South Africa? Each episode of season one highlights a topic largely unknown to people who aren’t South African. I tried to avoid wine, safaris and Nelson Mandela because I think South Africa gets unfairly reduced to those three topics. I also feature artists who don’t usually get space in the fine art world, including those who identify as women, gender non-conforming, queer, poor and people of colour.
How do you go about selecting artists for your episodes? I choose artists whose work has a social, political, or historical connection to their country. They should be good at getting their message across, and their work needs to easily translate to visual media. You hire local crews for the filming of your series. Why is this so important to you? It’s important to have a reciprocal relationship when you’re an outsider. Too often, American or European productions come in, take what they want, and leave without providing anything of value to the people who graciously hosted them. One person I look up to who deliberately hires local people for key jobs is American director Ava Duvernay. Seeing her do so, made me feel like I could too.
Is there a particularly significant lesson that you’ve learnt on your filmmaking journey? An American person with a mic and a camera creates an uneven power dynamic. Even though I consider myself to be against oppression in all its forms, I had to learn to acknowledge the ways I hold power over others and how to counteract them. It takes a lot of effort and practice, and slip-ups happen. Two things that help are copious research and actively listening to people from that country.
Where is Where Art Thou headed to next? I’m going to Mexico. The Western travel narrative on Mexico revolves around drugs, crime and Cancun, which is an incomplete picture of the country. It’s time for people to hear about Mexico from Mexicans.