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No More Fear: A Year Later

No More Fear - Designed by Christine Anserlian.

A look at the project, and how it changed life.

A year ago, today, my friend Yan Wang and I kick-started the private view of an exhibition “No More Fear” (NMF henceforth), which we both conceptualised and organised, also NMF was curated by Yan.

NMF was a leap of faith, into an unknown territory for both of us. We both knew that we were biting more than we could chew and could end up in a much worse position than when we started. In the end we both paid heavily, we both lost a lot, yet we both gained, immensely.

So what lead us to take on this foolish and suicidal risk? Let me start from the beginning.

The Beginning (Not really, but it has to start somewhere)

In January 2012 Yan, me, and forty other students joined a course MA Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries (MA AICI), in Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (CSM), in the University of the Arts London (UAL), (Later joined by fourteen 2nd year part-timers).

We were given a framework to work with, one which we call the “WWHI Model”; which is short for “What, Why, How, & If”; (We spent the next eight months breaking our heads over this). Along with the MA projects, we wanted to do something else, something which was both personal, and fun.

The First Step (The longest journey starts with the first step, right?)

We planned to do an exhibition, just for the heck of it. The idea was to bring together Chinese artists who were presently studying in London, to collaborate with European artists, also students. We needed a topic, a theme to base the exhibition on.

My choice was to have something controversial, and what was more controversial than Religion, Politics, Sex, or the Occupy movement (Which was almost at the peak at that time), or the wider economic crisis. Later a discussion with another classmate and friend Nick, lead to the understanding that the most common factor behind all these themes was the same thing; different masks, but the same face, Fear.

Re-thinking (Obviously, we couldn’t think of everything in one sitting)

Armed with this revelation, we rethought the whole project, and came up with a plan to do two exhibitions, the first one was about fear, and the second one was about hope.

We decided to work with the WWHI model, and invited the students to collaborate to investigate the theme of fear, it’s impact, and how it could be overcome. We thought we could plunge into the realm of fear, to explore what we fear the most, to understand how it affects us, and finally to express how we can overcome it.

We co-founded “De Revolutionary Emergence Arts Movement (DREAM)”, as a platform to connect and collaborate with international creative students in London, using curation as a tool to organise exhibitions and showcase the student’s work. We hoped that this would enable the international students to understand themselves better, to clearly express their feelings, to overcome their limitations and challenges and lastly to empower themselves to have a better academic journey.

Based on initial feedback, the exhibition was opened to students from other universities, and the emphasis was on individual work rather than collaborative work. Thirty students from UAL, University of Creative Arts (UCA), Royal College of Arts (RCA), and Goldsmiths initially expressed interest in taking part in the exhibition.

Roadblocks (We had to hit a few didn’t we?)

However, with the onset of summer, many of the students either went back home, or lost interest or due to other commitments dropped out of the exhibition. This coupled with Yan’s failure at the MA project documentary, we had reached a standstill. There came a point in mid-summer where Yan was worried that he would neither have the documentary, nor would we have NMF. I was telling him, “Don’t worry dude, it will all work out”, (Maybe my own “everything will work out in the end” attitude scared him more than the failure with the documentary).

My own research, experience, and the discussions with many other classmates made it clear that many projects were influenced by some fear, and a lot of them were in various stages of testing. Everyone needed a reminder for the reason to start their project, to go back to the feeling that sparked off their projects. In addition, they needed a platform to test it and get feedback.

Reinventing (We had to, fortunately or unfortunately)

Armed with another revelation, we decided that NMF would become Yan’s MA project. In addition we decided to make it a platform to test other projects by our classmates, so they could gain feedback, enabling them to overcome their personal fears, to understand their goals, motivations, and inspirations.

Hence, DREAM along with Rovirek, (A platform I started for my MA project), and We.Create, (A student led enterprise society I co-founded, now renamed as We.Create International), along with support and participation of P.S. {ART}, completely re-did the exhibition concept for the fourth time.

Setbacks (We really didn’t need any, but what to do)

During these various states, concepts, and challenges of NMF, our MA Projects, the MA course, a degree show, and other commitments, we went through major personal challenges. We had a crisis of faith, in the course, in the projects, in our family, friends, and tutors, but most importantly in ourselves.

Personally I was failing in physical, mental, and emotional health. Had another burnout due to the stress. My working ability had come down due to a few blackouts, a couple of nervous breakdowns, and a complete Bio-Mem Dump (Geek speak for Amnesia). Moreover, for the first time in all these years, the mask completely became me.

I succumbed to the very same thing I was working to remove, fear.

My fear, the fear of failure, was about the possibility that I would fail the very people that I loved, the people I cared about, and the people I had been supporting. And the desire to turn this fear into some sort of a power in order to empower others to fight their fears and struggles, to overcome them, to lead a better life than I could, would, or did, had finally crippled me.

So Why Do It? (Really?)

I was tired, and suffering. Both to find a solution to my problems, and to ensure things work smoothly, I quit participating as an artist in NMF, and destroyed the artefacts that I had created so no one would know about it. Started delegating work to other people who I felt were capable of doing a better job than me. Yet could not completely leave everything.

On the day we started building the show, 24th September, my maternal uncle called me saying he was coming to London on some work; and wanted to discuss on how best we could plan his stay when in London. While talking to him I, uncharacteristically, ended up telling him about most of the setbacks, because at that time that was the one which was most visible to me.

My uncle asked me a question, just one, “So why are you doing it?”. And I didn’t have an answer for it; but in my heart of hearts (Thanks Dominic) I knew that doing NMF and the projects were important. I told him, “I am doing this because it feels right”. Predictably, he said it wasn’t enough. (And called me a fool for doing it.)

Forcefully moving forward (Crawling actually)

At this time, I remembered Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” There was no way I would let my fears, and problems hold me back. I steeled myself and said, “I am doing this, at any cost”, (Worst lines ever. Period.)

And I started crawling. We ended up building the exhibition, until the last moment, (We got a few artefacts hours before the private view, and a couple of things stopped working too). On the same day I was preparing for the “Fresher’s Fayre” being held in CSM the next day, meeting a few people, begging the artists to get everything to finish building the exhibition before the private view, and running around London to do all of this.

We had a successful private view, which was attended by over 75 people. NMF itself had over 250 visitors during the entire 5 day show. We learnt a lot about organising an exhibition, dealing with the artists, the gallery, PR, marketing, how to and how not to develop and maintain relationships, a better understanding for organisational hierarchy, organisational behaviour, and so much more.

A picture of our ultra-talented group, consisting of most of the artists, and supporters of NMF. From left to right — Yan Wang, Alexandria Zorilla, Raj Kiran, Katia S, Byrappa (Me), Seher Tareen, Rima Musa, AJ Valle, Christine Anserlian, Andri Andreou, Ming Mi (Max). Photo by Aaphriqueana Njenga

A picture of our ultra-talented group, consisting of most of the artists, and supporters of NMF. From left to right — Yan Wang, Alexandria Zorilla, Raj Kiran, Katia S, Byrappa (Me), Seher Tareen, Rima Musa, AJ Valle, Christine Anserlian, Andri Andreou, Ming Mi (Max). Photo by Aaphriqueana Njenga

We were happy, happy enough that we started planning for the next exhibition “Hope” to be organised for late-January or early-February 2013, which aimed to understand the hope that motivates and inspires an international student to achieve their goals. (It didn’t happen though, not for the lack of trying).

After Effects (Every action has a reaction after all)

Now once NMF was done, was when things started taking on a life of its own. What followed next was a series of cluster-fucks, enough to make even the sanest person to completely lose it. (Contrary to popular belief, neither was I ever the sanest, nor well balanced).

The understanding gained from NMF was lost on most. Rather than understanding others, and bringing people together; many ended up more divided, intolerant, and selfish. It affected everyone, Yan and me too.

My friendship with Yan was strained enough that he once said, “This is it, I don’t want us to be friends any more”; had a plagiarism smear on me for being a part of NMF; I went from a teetotaller in January to an alcoholic, and chain smoker in December; switched on the self-destruct mode; and on the suggestion of a few people, decided to quit almost all my responsibilities to concentrate on my MA project, and even play the Bad Cop, to ensure things work (Thank you guys, you know who you are and why). However, the only person I am ever, ever going to blame for anything that happened is myself.

So What Did You Gain? (Really? again?)

Once again, my maternal uncle called me in December and said, “Ok, so you did all this and now you are stuck with an unsure future, you don’t listen to anyone, do you?”, (Not that I ever did), “Anyway, you did all this, and you lost so much, so what did you gain out of this?” (His exact words).

However, this time I had an answer.

I had gained a better understanding of people, and how they can either make you important or ignore you, based on what is profitable for them, at that moment, (Trust me it changes every few mins). Of organisations, it’s hierarchies, behaviour, and psychology of people in the organisations. How internal politics in groups affect the work. Of the flaws and loopholes in any system, how to identify them and fix them. I recognised who my real friends were; understood who mattered, who didn’t, and who never did. I understood what love, hope, and fear is. Nevertheless, it wasn’t just fear I understood, I understood how this fear shapes us, moulds us, and makes us do things in self-preservation.

More importantly, I discovered the strength and the ability to not just understand fear, but to accept it, to completely let it destroy me; to pick up the pieces and rebuild myself; to recognise the courage and the hope, beyond the ocean of fear, and to take a leap knowing that fear could not stop me any more.

What I gained was a new life, to come out and live without the mask, to live with No More Fear.

A version of this article previously appeared in Medium in 2013.


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Byrappa

Founder at Rodaasim
Byrappa is The Librarian, a Philosopher in Love, a Chief Applied Imagineer, a Parenthesis Whore, a Roamer, & a Professional Bullshitter. Byrappa is an editor, ghost writer / re-writer, and publisher; and has been breaking and taking things apart (Under the guise of testing and/or reviewing) apps, gadgets, games, cameras, mobiles, and websites since the late 90's. After a long crazy ride, he delusionally thinks he can write and has just started to review books. Please feel free to contact him on Twitter.

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