Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast

The Future of Storytelling: New Media Artist, Filmmaker, and Technologist Tamara Shogaolu of Ado Ato Pictures

December 19, 2021 Tamara Shogaolu Season 1 Episode 19
Fulbright Forward - A Diversity Podcast
The Future of Storytelling: New Media Artist, Filmmaker, and Technologist Tamara Shogaolu of Ado Ato Pictures
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Fulbright Forward, we talk to Tamara Shogaolu, a Fulbright alumna whose work in filmmaking and immersive media disrupts the norm of uni-directional single narrative storytelling. Tamara’s many award-winning media projects integrate animation, VR, AR, and other immersive technologies in telling stories that are rarely given the space to be heard in today’s contemporary mediascapes. Her multi-part series Queer in A Time of Forced Migration  was developed from interviews she conducted during her research on migration while she was a Fulbright scholar in Egypt, and she has continued to use immersive media installations to engage audiences to interact with underrepresented stories and narratives.

Tamara's groundbreaking approach to storytelling  has led to sources like The Guardian and Vogue Magazine naming her a leader in the field of new and immersive media. She is a 2018 Sundance Institute New Frontier Lab Programs Fellow and a 2019 Gouden Kalf Nominee. She was a Burton Lewis Endowed Scholar for Directing at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, a Luce Scholar in Indonesia, and an Academy Nicholls Fellowship Semifinalist.

In 2014, Tamara launched Ado Ato Pictures, a Los Angeles and Amsterdam-based film and XR studio, expanding her work that shares intersectional stories across mediums, platforms, and virtual and physical spaces in order to promote cross-cultural understanding and challenge preconceptions. Her most recent work,  Un(re)solved  is a multi-platform installation and investigation that examines a federal effort to grapple with America’s legacy of racist killings through the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. In the interactive experience, the stories of those murdered are brought to life in part through impressionistic animations rooted in archival source materials. The project makes available to the public for the first time a comprehensive interactive list of all those whose cases were re-examined by the Department of Justice.  

In this episode, Tamara discusses her methodology and approach in creating immersive media experiences. The concerns of identity, voice, and the representation of stories of historically underrepresented and marginalized communities are centered in the media she creates. Her projects confront audiences to consider the roles of responsibilities of their role in encountering these stories. She also reflects on her experience as a first-generation American in applying for the Fulbright program, and shares suggestions on how we can make our work as Fulbright participants as collaborative and accessible as possible, endeavoring to institutionalize ideals of justice, inclusion, and access in Fulbright programs around the world. 

Kelli Swazey:  00:09
Welcome to Fulbright Forward, a podcast that explores the concepts of diversity access, equity, inclusion and justice in the Fulbright Program and the work of Fulbright participants in program partners in communities around the world. I'm Kelli Swazey, the diversity and inclusion liaison for Fulbright programs in East Asia and the Pacific. For the last 75 years, the Fulbright Program has provided an opportunity for scholars, artists, students and professionals from over 160 countries to travel abroad, not only in pursuit of educational goals, but perhaps more importantly, to engage in immersive cross-cultural experiences. My decision to apply to the Fulbright Program, as I imagine is the case with many of our prior and future Fulbrighters, was driven by a desire to connect with and explore the perspectives and stories of communities and societies outside of my own. Even in an age of unprecedented access to media, and the immediacy of our digital connections, the stories we hear, the narratives we consume, and our understanding of the experiences of others are filtered through fields of power, that shape whose stories get told, and how. Being welcomed into educational institutions and into the lives of our colleagues, research collaborators, and host communities through the Fulbright Program allows us privileged access into the lives of others, presenting us with the question of how we ethically engage with the process of studying, researching, and representing our findings and our experiences to a wider audience. Today we are joined by Tamara Shogaolu, a Fulbright alumna whose work in filmmaking and immersive media innovatively disrupts the norm of uni-directional single narrative storytelling. The concerns of identity voice and the representation of stories of historically underrepresented and marginalized communities are centered in the media she creates, and her projects confront audiences to consider the roles and responsibilities of those telling and consuming these stories. In 2014, Tamara launched Ado Ato pictures, a Los Angeles and Amsterdam based film studio, expanding her work that shares intersectional stories across mediums, platforms and virtual and physical spaces in order to promote cross cultural understanding, and challenge preconceptions. Driven by the vision to produce unexpected content that breaks boundaries. Ado Ato pictures develops and produces film, TV, interactive, experiential and immersive media screened in theaters in home entertainment, installations and activations across the globe. The studio's multimedia work aims to explore issues that are socially and globally relevant, especially those that are often denied attention by conventional entertainment platforms. Tamara's many award winning media projects integrate animation, VR, AR, and other immersive technologies in telling stories that are rarely given space to be heard in today's contemporary mediascapes. Her multipart series Queer in a Time of Forced Migration was inspired during her research on migration while she was a Fulbright scholar in Egypt, and she has continued to use immersive media installations to engage audiences to interact with underrepresented stories and narratives. Her groundbreaking approach to storytelling has led to sources like The Guardian and Vogue Magazine naming her leader in the field of new and immersive media. She is a 2018 Sundance Institute New Frontier Lab Programs Fellow and a 2019 Gouden Kalf nominee. She was a Burton Lewis endowed scholar for directing at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts A Luce Scholar in Indonesia, and an Academy Nichols fellowship semifinalist. Her most recent work, Un(re)solved, is a multi platform project to investigate the federal government's effort to grapple with America's legacy of racist killings, mainly against African Americans, telling the stories of lives cut short and the federal effort to investigate more than 150 cold cases that date back to the Civil Rights era. Un(re)solved was produced in collaboration with Frontline, Ado Ato Pictures, Story Corps, Hudson Scenic, Northeastern University's Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, and Black Public Media. The project's world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Fest was broadcast by PBS, and you can access the experience through the project's web interactive platform hosted by pbs.org. Hi, Tamara, welcome to Fulbright Forward. I just want to start out by saying today that I think I want to congratulate you and your team, as your project Un(re)solved, has just won the Best Doc Lab Digital Storytelling Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, which I think you just finished up with. So congrats on that.

Tamara Shogaolu  04:57
 Thank you. 

Kelli Swazey:  04:58
Before we get into discussing your huge achievements in the world of filmmaking and media production, I want to just to go back to the time before you started film school. So from what I understand you were studying Economics, and you received a Fulbright award to study in Egypt. And I think you also spent time here in Indonesia on a Luce Program grant. So I get the sense that your initial projects in animation and immersive media and storytelling began when you were part of the Fulbright Program in Egypt. Can you maybe just tell us a little bit about your time there, and what it was like in your life then, how your experiences and educational exchange led you to your work in documenting stories and translating them into different forms of media, and eventually to starting your own production company Ado Ato pictures?

Tamara Shogaolu  05:46
Yeah, sure. So my interest in film started when I was in undergrad still. And I was studying economics. And I had a job working at a place called the Intercultural Community Center, where I was responsible for designing programming for other students that promoted ideas of inclusion and diversity and social justice and exploring different themes. And I thought that film would be a really interesting way to kind of like generate discussions. So I started recording and doing interviews with people on campus about different ideas and subjects. And then creating these public screenings where people  from the community would come and like see themselves talking in these films. And then I learned how to shoot and record and at the same time, a lot of like my econ research at the time, I focused mostly on labor economics, in the Middle East, I had a lot of like, qualitative research aspects to it. And now looking back, I realized that I used economics as a form of storytelling in a way. Because I was looking at what the stories behind the statistics and numbers were. So I started incorporating film and video in my economics research. And I would go and record certain interviews and use that as documentation. And even when I would present or write papers, I started making films that would kind of go along with it. And it was a growing interest. So when I got the Fulbright and I went to Egypt, my Fulbright research was centered on this, the impact of male migration on women left behind, and in particular, on like, how that impacted them socially across different social classes, and required doing a lot of qualitative research and interviews. I had, there were some limitations. Based on my visa, it was a sensitive subject, on what type of interviews I could do on things that I could do. But I got really involved when I was in Egypt, on doing interviews, I started volunteering in my free time with different like women's rights organizations. And there was an organization that was doing work on sexual harassment of women in the Middle East, I started then using this film experience that I had with shooting and recording, to support and document different stories of sexual harassment and things that could be done. So in a way, my research was in tandem with my my film interest. But I didn't really realize at that time that that could be a career path, because I thought I wanted to just be an economist.

Kelli Swazey:  08:29
That's really interesting, because I think there's been more of a movement towards using film and media as part of ethnographic research. And so to hear you say that it was part of what you were doing, because it was something that you were interested in, but wasn't really the methodology that you had planned on using, I think that's part of the interesting genesis of when we're in the field. And, you know, we start to develop our methodology about how we're going to interact with people and and record their stories. I had been listening to another interview that you did, where you were talking about the difficulties or the the challenges of recording people or taking their photos when you're talking about sensitive subjects. And is that something that you experienced while you were in Egypt as well?

Tamara Shogaolu  09:09
Yeah, definitely. And I think that's when I started getting really interested in audio. And and the main thing I think, was that I realized when I was doing economics, I mean, people hear economics and they think boring for the most part. But I mean, I still find it super interesting, even though I'm a filmmaker, because I think economics is basically another storytelling, a way of telling stories. And I, I started, I wanted people to be able to connect to the stories that these these different research, like economic research papers and things were saying, and I was realizing that a lot of these stories were just kind of dying in libraries or in papers. And I thought that creating media around it would be an interesting way of sharing this research. So that was kind of one of my motivations. And when I was in the Middle East, In part started working on this series that I worked on for, for about 10 years called Queer in A Time of Forced Migration, people were really afraid of being on camera. So I decided to utilize audio recording and just started conducting, like oral histories basically, with people. And I traveled around with an Egyptian journalist, friend of mine. And we went like all over different parts of Egypt over the span of two years, from the beginning of the revolution, through the the first presidency. And we started just conducting these interviews. And we were able to utilize animation to kind of represent people visually while protecting their identities. And I realized how much more open people were when there wasn't a camera involved as well.

Kelli Swazey:  10:47
Yeah, that's amazing to hear the way that you were thinking through these challenges that we have of protecting the people that we are working with and collaborating with when we do research. And I think that, um, my background is in anthropology, and so I think a lot about these issues of both protecting the people that we're speaking to, but also the way that we represent them. When we get to this product of research, you know, how do we engage people in, in understanding these stories and connecting with them? And also, how do we present the stories in a way that's fair to the people that we're working with. And I think that sort of is something that really struck me about your work is that way that you've addressed the issues around like voice and representation, and the way that power relations affect whose stories get told but also how they're told. So the way that I've seen some of the representation of historically marginalized or underrepresented communities, is that they sort of get consumed in a way that can be a form of objectification. And it's kind of a form of exclusion, even though we're trying to represent the stories and maybe educate people. And so I think this idea about how we present the stories and how we present our relationships with the people that we are working with, and doing research with is so important. You have said that part of your approach, and creating Queer in a Time of Forced Migration is kind of to push audiences to give something back in the process of consuming these stories. And you said something that really struck me, that people sometimes feel like they're entitled to other people's stories. And you wanted to design a project where there's a space for more interaction in the encounter with these stories, and maybe some more fairness to the people whose stories are being represented. And so can you talk a little bit about how you designed this project, and the ways in which you built in those spaces for interaction?

Tamara Shogaolu  12:35
Yeah, I mean, I think fighting erasure or something that is really important to me, like touching on, on what you said, on the first part, and I think it's something that definitely drives my work. And even with Queer in a Time of Forced Migration, I realized that these stories weren't part of the whole narrative, when people were talking about the so- called migrant crisis. These voices and stories weren't part of it. So I wanted to make sure that they were incorporated. And then in the design of them, I feel like often when you're talking about stories of marginalized communities, there is a certain level of entitlement, consumption, or some people call it like, poverty porn, where it creates, there's this hierarchy, even in the way that things are designed. There's some VR pieces that I've seen that feel invasive, where you're just like, entering someone's home. There is a piece I saw many, many, years ago, that where you visit a refugee tent, and like camp, and you enter this young girl's tent, and I felt so invasive, like I, I was standing there, and also the eye level was different. And there's all these subtle things that you think about when you're setting up that create this dynamic of you are this poor person that now I get to kind of take a tour of your trauma. And I don't think as humans, that's how things should work. And you need to kind of talk to people on an equal level. So whenever I'm working on these pieces, and new media, I'm able to really think about how to create the eyesight or things and for example, a virtual reality piece that is part of this series, called Another Dream, we use gaze interaction, so that you have to be looking at the characters for them to speak. So if you start just kind of like dozing around and looking around, they stop speaking, because that's how conversations work. And you don't get to just like enter someone's face, and not really listen or talk to them. Or there's part of the interaction as well as you have to write certain words in Arabic, that are part of their story. And you basically have to learn how to write in Arabic because I think it's a language that has been politicized a lot. And it also wanted to relate to kind of like the effort that it requires when somebody is searching for asylum in a new land. They have to completely learn a different way of communicating, a different way of living. And I wanted to make sure that audiences were had to do something or sort of like, share, commiserate  or I mean, not necessarily commiserate, but partake in that, that experience with the characters because it's something that they're talking about. And I didn't want people to just get to go in, consume this story and, and walk away without giving a piece of themselves, because for these people to share something so traumatic and personal to them is giving a lot of themselves and  something that I don't think should be taken for granted.

Kelli Swazey:  15:33
Yeah, and I see the same issues sort of playing out in the academic world as well, in the sense that there's a lot of discussion now about researchers who are coming in from Western nations to places that, you know, may not have the same resources that we do to come in and do any kind of research. And the fact that we are taking some sort of knowledge away, which we're then representing as part of our own careers, oftentimes in a language that people that we're working with don't speak and can't have access to. And so I think your point about language is so important. The interacting with people stories in their own language, really is meaningful in a lot of ways. And also this idea of them having access to the products that we create, whether they are in collaboration, or they are from research, so that it isn't that we're just taking away knowledge, but we're creating knowledge as some sort of collaborative process.

Tamara Shogaolu  16:25
No, for sure, I think that was something that I try to think about a lot in, in my work, and particularly in interactive work and trying to make sure that the interactions are meaningful and can provide some sort of reflection or questioning of how we normally relate to these subjects and issues.

Kelli Swazey:  16:45
What do your audience members say to you? I mean, do you have any stories to share about their reactions to this kind of virtual reality or this interactive, immersive process where they have to look a character in the eye? Do you find that their experience is different than if they were just watching a film or watching a television show about these issues?

Tamara Shogaolu  17:05
I mean, it's really interesting to see like and hear people's reactions often because, I mean, a lot of the reactions I often get are from people from these communities who are like, wow, like, I'm so happy to be seen. The whole series was recently at the Amsterdam Museum this last year, and I went to an opening. And I mean, no one knew  it was it was my work. And I was just listening to this one woman, who was a refugee from from Sudan, and also LGBT. And she was giving her friend a tour and was like, explaining the whole exhibition to her friend was saying, like, Yeah, this is like, what happened to me, and if you see this, and this is this story, and just seeing, like, the level of ownership that she had of the space was like yes! This is why I made this. And it was, it was amazing, it was like one of the most impactful experiences that I've had. And it doesn't necessarily relate to the interaction, but I think it relates to the aspect of the erasure and, and just how powerful and significant it is to be seen. And I think that the interaction creates like an even more intimate connection to the story. So when people normally come out of it, they really feel like they've been engaged or connected to the to the people. And similarly, like, maybe on another side, I just finished this project, Un(re)solved what you mentioned, and part of the interaction is that you have to say the name of the individuals who are victims of racially motivated murders. And there's a sculpture that utilizes augmented reality that you travel, you move throughout it in a physical space, and it was in New York and in Battery Park this summer. And now it's touring, it's at different museums, it's at the museum in Chicago right now. And then there's a web interactive which people can experience from home and the user experiences is very different in the two. But in the the physical installation, we we have to do a lot of testing on like how many times to say the name of the person, and how that would work. And also, like, you know, utilizing voice recognition and all of this because there's 152 names. And in the testing process, I noticed that in particular, when you say the name three times, by the third time people start to get uncomfortable. And and I started noticing a trend like in the testing that we were doing that for the most part particularly like white men got really uncomfortable and annoyed that they had to say the name three times. And I realized in the process that the first time you say a name, it's kind of like, "Oh, I'm just saying this name", and it's part of this gimmick for this tech thing. The second time you say a name, you're kind of starting processing and realizing this is a name, this is a person. And the third time you say a name, you realize this is a name. This is a person who was murdered because of racism. And it's that third time that like, people get kind of quiet. And I think you really realize the weight of this name. And people, some people got really uncomfortable and, and I decided to leave it on purpose that you have to say the name three times so that people go through the psychological process of realizing this isn't just a name so that this app works, and you're able to explore this thing on your phone, but really kind of calling not only like these people back to life, but really reflecting on why these people's names are on this list. So it was interesting seeing like that reaction. And just looking because we were, we do a lot of testing, and collect data on like, who's doing, how different groups of people are reacting. And I noticed just like a particular trend in that way. And and I had conversations with people about it. And it was interesting, because there was like a level of sort of guilt or discomfort that comes from that realization of like the racial implications of why these people are on this list.

Kelli Swazey:  21:14
So this idea of trying to represent stories in a different way in which an audience has to be engaged can be you know, something that can be very confronting, and uncomfortable. And I think that's very interesting in the sense that these are often the kinds of discussions that we're having around diversity, inclusion, equity and access, even in the Fulbright program now, and, and sitting with that uncomfortableness, or finding a way to work through the uncomfortableness in order to confront what actually happened in the past, or to confront what's happening right now, is such an important part of that process. But it's also a really difficult process for many people, to have those feelings of discomfort in talking about things that that make us feel threatened, maybe because they are confronting because they are about violence. And it sounds like your project has really sort of created this, this arena in which people can, can confront that and do that. And they sort of have to, in order to interact  with your work and your project. The other thing that really struck me about Un(re)solved is the way in which you're you're addressing this idea of being silenced, and I think, I work with historically marginalized and underrepresented communities, and I think, you know, throughout my research and my thinking about working with these communities, that idea of people being silenced in so many different ways in so many different parts of their lives, or in the processes that we're going through in our academic work, really is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. And I was really kind of struck by your use of I think you said that you used the the tradition of quilting, as somewhat of an inspiration for this project, because quilting was a way that some communities were able to commemorate and save the memories of either incidents, or individuals, or community history in situations where they weren't allowed to write those down or speak them aloud. So I was just wondering if you talk a little bit about how you came to to using that as part of your methodology.

Tamara Shogaolu  23:12
So when I started working on this project on Un(re)solved in particular, I was reading through a bunch of cases, like of all these cases of these, these murders, and it was also around the same time as the George Floyd protests. So it was a really heavy time for me. Definitely. And I just started thinking about the cyclical nature of these, like I was reading cases of stories that happened like 30, 40 years ago, and then also seeing the same thing in the news today. And it was insane, like looking at what was happening with George Floyd. And then you look at somebody like Jimmy Lee Jackson, and you realize there's so many parallels, even though there's so much time that has gone by. And then I started kind of looking at other intergenerational ways of telling stories and commemorating memories, because I didn't want this to just be about trauma and murder. And and I wanted it to also be about what are the intergenerational lessons and like, how do we change this for other generations, and really reflecting on not only looking at these as individual cases, but something that is systemic and part of a bigger picture. So in doing that, I started thinking a lot about quilting traditions, which is something that is very American, and for something a lot of different cultures engage in, and I was particularly interested in how African Americans have been using quilting where, you know, when we weren't, when literacy was illegal, basically, for African Americans when we weren't allowed to like read or write by law. And you know, people's families were separated when their children were sold to other plantations, etc. There was no way of sort of like documenting our history, but quilts became a big part of this. And they became a way of like passing down motifs and like some historians even speculate that they were symbols for the Underground Railroad were woven into these quilts. And it became like our way of writing down stories. So I really thought that I wanted to kind of like utilize this because it's an intergenerational storybook and really look at quotes as a storytelling platform, which I think they are storytelling platforms, and turn it into something that could be a physical manifestation that you can actually like, explore and interact with. And that's why I call this the sculpture aspect of unresolved like a living quilt, that you're able to use augmented reality to interact with and kind of scratch the surface and see what other stories and look at the whole context of, of these, these stories and look at things really as a system. And it's shaped in a cyclical way. Because there's different rings, similarly, to how there's like rings on a tree. There's different generations of, of stories that are woven within this quilt.

Kelli Swazey:  26:01
And that's been something you've worked with in other projects, as well, this idea of of traditional knowledge or indigenous knowledge, and the ways that we can recognize how those are so important to different kinds of memory, commemoration, and learning. I know you did some work with indigenous voyaging and the stars at some point. That's something I have particular interest in living in Oceania, the way that, that traditional knowledge of interacting with the environment really has a lot to teach us. So I love that your project not only becomes this, this form of allowing people to voice these histories, and to get other people to interact with voicing, but also is saying that these kinds of forms of knowledge are valid and important and things that we can use to help us understand the world. And I think that is so essential, as we're moving forward, as you know, people who make media or or academics is to really recognize that and also try to, you know, utilize those kinds of forms of knowledge in our own work as well.

Tamara Shogaolu  27:00
And I mean, I think it's also a statement to sort of like the power and beauty and like the legacy of of our ancestors, because I think often in marginalized communities, especially when we talk about intergenerational trauma, we just look at the trauma and I think some it's important to also look at what are the beautiful things that we've inherited, and I think it's incredible that, you know, people who are denied literacy created a new way of, of communicating and passing on their stories and fighting erasure. And, and I, I tried to look at it kind of like on the positive side of, of not just focusing on all of the oppression that has has gone down.

Kelli Swazey:  27:45
I wanted just to to ask you a question that's a bit more related to Fulbright. We are marking our 75th anniversary this year. In fact, the celebrations are going on in DC right now. And I think that part of our aim in this podcast has been to kind of think about what it means to move the Fulbright program forward. That's why we call it Fulbright Forward. What we really hope to see in the future of the program, you know, what's the program going to be like as it adapts to new social, cultural and political realities. And I think everything that we've been talking about today about different ways of engaging as Fulbright scholars, different ways of representing the stories, or the research that we do when we're in the field is a really important part of that process of reflection, about thinking about the program and what it's going to be like in the future. I think it's also we're in this process of kind of assessing and reflecting on the ways in which the Fulbright Program can be elitist and exclusivist given its history as a program of diplomatic and cultural exchange, originating from the United States. And so, you know, we invite people like you on this podcast who are thinking in an innovative way, who can help us to think about how we're going to shape the program to better serve and institutionalize ideals of justice, inclusion and access in Fulbright programs for the future around the world. So I was just wondering if there's any advice that you might want to share with us and other Fulbright scholars and, you know, seem to be scholars and people who are going to participate in the Fulbright Program, kind of around the ethics of recording and representing other stories, how we can make our work as Fulbright scholars as collaborative and accessible as possible, not just for the people that we're working with or doing research with, but also for a wide variety of audiences who maybe don't feel like they're a part of the Fulbright community or don't feel like they might be good enough to be Fulbright Scholars. 

Tamara Shogaolu  29:40
Yeah, so,  I'm a first generation American. And I don't think I realized when I applied that it was like, so highly regarded. Um, I was just like, cool. I want to go back to the Middle East. I want to do this research. I'm really into it, and this program would let me go there, I can keep studying Arabic. Because at that point, I had been studying Arabic for like two, two years, I had already lived in Jordan. And I wanted to continue being in the Middle East. And I then applied and the program, I don't know how it is now. But at the time when I was in school, you had to kind of apply to the University first, and then they select and then after that you got passed on. And when I applied, I got told by a professor at my school that she didn't think I was Fulbright quality. And she was a former Fulbright, she told me that maybe I should explore other options in life, this woman had never met me, and just didn't find what I was doing interesting, I guess, and decided that because of that, I didn't have what it took to be a Fulbright. And I was just like, okay, like, cool. I'm, I'm still gonna apply. I was applying for different things. I met the requirements to apply. So I did. And then I got it. And and, you know, I spoke to the dean of my University at the time, and told them what happened to me. And then of course, she emailed me and apologize. But I started thinking, I was like, if I had a lot of friends who were first generation college students, who didn't apply for a lot of these opportunities. And if I wasn't as hard headed as I was, I could have given up like, this woman would have told me, no,  I think you should focus on other things, which is literally what she said to me, without having known me. And I would have missed out on a tremendous part of my life. Because I mean, being able to do Fulbright led to me leading like a third of my life in the Middle East, like, I learned Arabic. And it opened up the way that I think and look at the world, I created a whole group of different friends I found discovered this part of myself of wanting to be a filmmaker, I was given the space to to figure out how that would work in relation to my academic interest as well. And even though like my trajectory, I don't think is the traditional trajectory, but I don't know if there's a traditional Fulbright trajectory at all. But, um, I didn't continue in academia, but I was able to discover other things about myself. And the skills that I was able to pick up in terms of like language and, and, and analytical thinking. And all these things through Fulbright have helped me in my career, and being a Fulbright opened a lot of doors for me. But I do think that because maybe I was just not so aware of like the elitism associated with Fulbright, I didn't go into it thinking like, oh, I want to be a Fulbright, I went into it thinking, I want to live in the Middle East and do research. And I want to go back to Egypt, because I'm fascinated by these things. And I really want to spend time there. So that was my motivation. And maybe that's what communicated. But then when I was with Fulbright, I mean, some of my best friends today are Fulbright's, I think my favorite part of the whole program, honestly, and I don't know if they still do, this was the regional conference. And I met some of my best friends today at this conference, which is like we always laugh about it, because you would never think we met at a conference, a Fulbright conference. But but we did. And I met such incredible people who are still a part of my life and are doing amazing things in this world. Like, one of my closest friends from this is like, now an advisor for the administer current administration. And I'm a filmmaker. And another friend of mine is like, a really big journalist now and we all met at this this conference. And that's the next generation, right? Like, how else would you have like an artist, a top journalist, and like a nuclear physicist, be friends, you know, and I think that, that Fulbright created that. So I am very grateful. And I think within it, like I've met really amazing people who don't buy into to the hype, and are just people who have genuine interest in the world around us, basically. And not to me was the most exciting part of Fulbright. And I think once I was in this space, I didn't really so much feel that much of this, of course, there's people while I'll be honest, like my Fulbright year, who were very caught up in the idea of being a Fulbright and felt like they had to perform a certain way like, you know, once you have this label on you, but I would say the vast majority of the people who I interacted with, were just people who are genuinely interested and fascinated in the world we live in, and different aspects of it and, and that's something that I really value and I find really important, and has shaped my life, my many aspects of my life. So I'm grateful to that. But I do think about if I had listened to this professor, and I could have missed out on this whole thing that that changed my life.

Kelli Swazey:  35:00
I really appreciate you sharing that story with us. Because I know that's quite a personal thing to talk about. And I think that just goes to show that there still is work to be done with the program, there is this sort of sense of, oh, there are certain kinds of people who can be Fulbrighters that's developed over time. I'm also a first generation college student. So I remember having similar experiences of not really knowing like, am I the kind of person who can apply for this program, and it changed my life as well. And really this transformative power of the cross cultural, I think situation that Fulbright creates, and the people that you meet from all different walks of life, from all different kinds of backgrounds, really can create, you know, lifelong relationships for people as well as really jumpstart, interesting careers are things that you never dreamed that you were going to do, because of these experiences that you have. Maybe you can give us some sort of sense of what you think we can do in the program to make not only our program more friendly and accessible to all sorts of people, I mean, you've had a lot of experience in making things accessible to different audiences. So there, you know, is there any kind of input that you can give us in terms of the program are even for individual participants and scholars about what they can do to make their own Fulbright time, more collaborative, more accessible, and the products of their research, something that a lot of people can can take part in

Tamara Shogaolu  36:28
The things that I really loved about my Fulbright program, where of course, the language aspect, like that extra grant to be able to just focus on studying on language, that was definitely a highlight for me. And then the additional support, to be able to go to conferences, I thought was very helpful as well. And being able to travel and present your work, I struggle with the idea of making it more structured. Because I know some people feel like, Oh, you just have to figure out everything on your own. But I feel like as a researcher, that's life. And it kind of prepares you to structure yourself and figure out your goals. And what you want to do. And I also feel like the type of people that tend to get Fulbrights are the type of people who are able to kind of like craft these journeys, what I do think might be helpful is maybe figuring out a way to like promote sort of collaborative work, maybe like I was, when I was in Egypt, I met some of the Fulbrights who were leaving, like a few times, but we still felt like very separate communities. And I think it would be interesting, because those are some of the brightest minds also that are going to go somewhere else. And it would be nice if we all met together, and there was more of a relationship between the the Fulbright's who are going to the States, and then the ones who were tour coming, if there was like more of an overlap, I don't know if they could be included in a conference or something like that. So that you're really creating community within that as well. And I think another thing, maybe, um, that would be nice is like when I was in Egypt, like I helped organize, like I was really involved in volunteering when I was there. And I helped organize a Cairo Refugee Film Festival, when I was there that started. And I think that it might have been cool to have like, be able to have some sort of support or funding, like I've gotten other awards and been part of other things where sometimes you can create things with local community, and being able to like work with other local people to create joint events, maybe I'm or that opportunity to create something so that you're really integrating, because I think sometimes it can be easy to be in a bubble. And particularly like if you're going there and you're like at one of the top universities and you're in the library, and you're just in this kind of elite academic circle, it doesn't really force you to connect to the place so much. And it's possible, I knew people who lived in bubbles, so you kind of have to shape your life in order to really get involved. So I think things that promote you to once you're in country to connect with other people who are doing work in a similar area, or working in that subject matter locally. And in terms of like the application process beforehand. I think maybe like, I don't know, because I understand how complicated it is to have so many applications and that it's time and resources as well. So I understand why they partner with universities to be able to create these these sort of filters, but I don't know if it's having conversations with the selection committees or the awards offices at these universities. And really, you know, pushing through that it's not an elitist thing. It's not and that you want like candidates who are interested in different things and really kind of shifting the narrative on what it means to be a Fulbright and then maybe communicating it with people like even as early as like sophomore year, so they started Thinking about that that's something that they can do, because I definitely had to seek it out. And I think, I don't know how it was for for other people. But it was something where like, I had to go to the awards office and be like, "Okay, what are these things I can do?" And because I worked in economics, and I had a background in research, I always knew I had to apply or write proposals to fund my research. So I knew that that world existed. But for people who maybe are in other fields, they don't really know that that's the thing. Those are my suggestions.

Kelli Swazey:  40:30
Yeah, that's great. I mean, those are some really concrete things I think that we are working on as part of the program. I think, definitely your point about collaboration with local organizations and local scholars is something that I also find really important, you know, this is about building things together, not about to separate programs that people go into the US and then coming to these countries. And I think that the more you know, time we can spend in collaborating and creating projects together, the stronger that the program is going to be. And the more that everyone gets out of it in the end, really. And your career is really like this beautiful example of that, you know, you you had these stories of people that you met, and you found a way to share it in a way that keeps you connected to them and honors them in the telling of the story. I'm sure you still probably keep in touch with a lot of these people who stories are in your projects and exhibitions, and probably will for many years to come.

Tamara Shogaolu  41:21
Yeah, no, they're definitely a big part of my life. Yeah.

Kelli Swazey:  41:24
Well, Tamara, thank you so much for sharing your stories and your work and your time with us today. I wish you the best of luck in your future projects. And I hope that in the future, we will have time to spend together somewhere in the Fulbright space and maybe can do some creating and collaborating together. Thank you so much.

Tamara Shogaolu  41:43
Thank you, my pleasure.

Kelli Swazey:  41:51
You've been listening to Fulbright forward. If you're a Fulbright participant or partner and you're interested in sharing your story with us. Contact us at Fulbright diversity coordinator (all one word) @gmail.com and tell us about your idea for an episode.