The Genda Project is an alternate media organisation creating spaces and platforms in Fiji for storytelling and ideas sharing to inspire and motivate Fijians to live and work with more purposeful choices. Genda Connections & GendaDISRUPT are two different series of live talks running once every 4 months in Nadi & Suva, Fiji Islands.
Sharon Narayan is the Curator for both the talk platforms and is also the Founder of The Genda Project.
I remember the first call to one of my speakers approaching them to be part of our talks and his hesitant response - “…I’m not exactly the cleanest character around, you know. Probably not someone you’d want to put up as a role model to the whole of Fiji…!” to which I replied, “That’s alright. I’m not exactly selling fairytales here.” There was a 6-second pause before he asked to meet the next day. He went on to be one of the most frank talks we’ve had on our platforms to date.
I’m often asked about how I select speakers for our talks and my standard answer usually is that they just have to be a “Genda” person. When we first start working on their talks, I ask my speakers to treat their talks as if it’s a ‘conversation’. A conversation between them and their audience. And this is an utterly difficult concept for many to grasp because the moment people in Fiji think about speaking in front of an audience, they automatically think corporate-style-excel-spreadsheet presentation! This then instantly terrifies them because they feel they’re not ‘qualified’ enough to speak. I’ve discovered that people usually feel that to speak up in public - you have to be an ‘expert’ or have a PhD or some kind of authority to actually be on a stage.
And that’s exactly what our Genda Connections platform is challenging.
Genda Connections, a series of live talk events, strives to connect Fijian audiences to local individuals breaking the norms and living their dreams. By providing these individuals a platform to share their stories, we hope to motivate a new generation of Fijians to toso, reach out and live in the pursuit of their own happiness with integrity. We hope to move, inspire and ultimately make our audiences realise the value of making their own stories count.
I don’t know when we became so quiet. We are a nation of storytellers and natural conversation starters yet we don’t share as much. We just don’t do deep! A lot of topics are still subject to family pride, cultural and religious taboos and just mere pettiness of outdated mindsets. And my job as Curator is to slowly and gently open up those conversations on our platforms that help us lift and learn from each other.
I like to keep my curated conversations raw. It doesn’t really matter on our platforms whether you are a good public speaker or not - our audiences are already accepting of that when they come to our talks. What really matters is your story and idea. I’ve had some very nervous individuals get up on our platforms but time and again, I’ve seen their passion come through and take over! I don’t like to do full practice rehearsals to be honest. We usually do a tech session with the speakers but that’s about it. There’s something alluring about listening to someone share their story freely - just as it is.
One of the biggest challenges I face as a Curator is the fact that our talks are in English which for most of my speakers is their second language. Because I used to teach English as an EFL Teacher during my traveling days years ago, I can understand the linguistic barriers when someone tries to translate something from their own language to English and the meaning that sometimes gets lost in translation.
I’ve gotten flak over it but because we’re talking in a language that already is secondary, things like correcting grammar and pronunciation of speakers is not something I get stuck on. This is Fiji after all, we’ve got our own urban dialect mixed of English/Fijian/Hindi going and since we’re having a conversation - why not let the speakers talk just as they’d normally would? One of our speakers, a high-end Fashion Photographer at the beginning of his talk disclaimed “I apologise but my English sucks and I have a lisp!” but he had his audience engaged right till the end of his talk!
The whole philosophy behind The Genda Project is about “Finding You”; owning yourself, defining your own happiness and that in itself carves out who a Genda person is and the kind of persons we invite to share their experiences. When I set the themes for our talks, I’m not even thinking of who my speakers will be - I’m just thinking of the conversations that need to be had on our platforms.
My highs as a Curator is meeting individuals in Fiji who are challenging norms and doing amazing things in the pursuit of their happiness. When these individuals are up there sharing their narratives and our audiences connect – it’s like magic. I’ve seen shared tears, laughters and anguish at our talks. I curate each talk event as diversely, as interdisciplinary, as intersectional as possible and it’s rewarding to see people from different social and age groups interacting with a new understanding and respect for each other which normally wouldn’t happen outside of our spaces.
I’ll never forget this one talk for many reasons - a brave young woman who spoke about being diagnosed with a skin condition and how she deals with it on a daily basis. There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience that afternoon. In Fiji we usually try and keep our medical problems behind closed doors and a very famous media personality addressed exactly that in her talk about access to medical information for Fijian women - drawing on from her own experiences and the lack of communication about it.
I like to challenge stereotypes. That farming is a backward option for people who don’t do well in schools - two of our speakers were highly educated farm entrepreneurs. That older Indo-Fijian women are meant to be grandmotherly sort behind the kitchen sinks - one of my female speakers was in her 60’s when she started her own doll company. I’ve had a very prominent businessman come on our platform to talk about the time he lost everything he had worked for in business and the response to his talk from the business community in Nadi was overwhelming as that’s not something commonly shared.
This year we’ve launched our 2nd series of live talks called GendaDISRUPT which is more for ideas-sharing & debates and community-based subject matters which I also curate but I think my heart belongs to Genda Connections and it’s stories!
So this is what I do at The Genda Project, I curate conversations. Like you, I’ve also questioned if it’s really an art magazine where you should be reading this piece. I’m not sure if there is an art to curating conversations but if there were, then I’d happily be an artist for the day!
This article was originally published by ArtTalk Fiji (issue 6) - an online independent art magazine in Fiji. Link to original article - https://artalkfiji.com/2017/09/03/issue-6/