Raising voices

Alexandra Crosby

Alexandra Crosby, photo by Joanne Saad

In summary: 
  • Casual Academic and PhD student Alexandra Crosby is part of EngageMedia’s Papuan Voices project
  • She’s helping locals in Indonesia’s contested West Papuan region tell their stories and publish them online
  • For her work, Crosby received the Creative Media Social Justice Award at the UTS Human Rights Awards 2012

Teaching university students can sometimes be difficult. Tutoring West Papuans on video production, however, can be even harder.

Casual Academic in the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences and Design, Architecture and Building Alexandra Crosby has encountered both. She started teaching in 2011 while undertaking her PhD at UTS.

“My PhD is in International Studies but from an Indonesian studies and cultural studies standpoint,” explains Crosby. “I’m interested in social change and activism, particularly creative forms of activism and understanding how global and local forces work to shape those.”

The writer, researcher, designer, ethnographer and project manager also works with EngageMedia on their Papuan Voices project. The project aims to promote creative activism in Indonesia’s contested West Papuan region by helping local storytellers film their stories and publish them on EngageMedia’s website. This year, for her work, Crosby received the Creative Media Social Justice award at the UTS Human Rights Awards.

“Because it’s a tightly controlled military zone, there’s not a lot of stories that get out into the wider world, and those that do are usually about the violent conflict,” says Crosby. “So we’ve been trying to help people in West Papua tell their stories through video and then distribute it online.”

In order to “learn the skills necessary to broadcast to a global audience”, the storytellers each attended one of the project’s video production workshops. Crosby was the Project Manager of a regional training event called Camp Sambel, in Indonesia in 2010 and then Malaysia in 2012. It wasn’t her first foray into the field – in 2004 Crosby spent a year living on the outskirts of Jakarta producing digital storytelling and live performance with the group Teater Buruh Indonesia.

“The Papuan Voices participants were all experienced storytellers in other ways but they hadn’t necessarily used video to tell their stories,” says Crosby. “Part of our workshop process is about figuring out how stories can be told in a visual format.”

Over the last three years, Papuan Voices has created and published over 80 videos. The response has been massive – for some films, viewers have written subtitles in different languages, and others have been publicly screened.
Crosby says the project’s success comes from a hunger, outside Indonesia, for West Papuan news. “People are desperate for news from West Papua, there’s very little investigative journalism and so it’s one of these times where citizen journalism is the only voice there is.”

Though she graduates with her PhD next year, Crosby says she’ll continue working with UTS and EngageMedia – planning for a Papuan Voices 2 project is already underway.

“Using the videos to encourage discussion is a slow and tricky process, but one that I’ll do more and more of. I hope my professional work will inspire students in my classes to discover how they can use emerging media technologies to make positive change.”

To see and hear Papuan Voices, visit papuanvoices.net.