Mona Jebril is using poetry and photography to get her research across to a broader audience.
I am a social scientist, but this doesn’t mean that I have to be just one thing. You can use your voice in so many ways and this gives us choices as researchers and democratises access to research.Mona Jebril
A Gates Cambridge Scholar has turned to poetry to get her research across to a wider audience and her poems will go on display at this year’s Cambridge Festival.
Mona Jebril  has experimented with various different forms to get her research across to a broader group of people, from animation and comic illustrations to a podcast and play-writing. Now she has turned to poetry and some of her poetry will feature in the Creative Encounters exhibition at the Cambridge Festival, which starts on Thursday. The free exhibition runs from 4th to 8th April, 9.30am-8pm and on Saturday 9th April from 10am to 5pm in the Exam Rooms – University of Cambridge Student Services, New Museums site.
Mona is currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for Business Research [CBR] at Cambridge Judge Business School where she recently published The Political Economy of Health in the Gaza Strip (Occupied Palestinian Territory). She came to Creative Encounters through a circuitous path. Her PhD, supported by a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, focused on the past and present experiences of higher education of academics and students living under occupation and how that experience may be evolving in the shifting socio-political context in the Arab world.
She found doing her research, which was very personal to her, to be like a form of self-analysis. That meant presenting it was an emotional experience. She was also aware that she needed to give a lot of background to explain the context to her research. That made fitting it all into a conference presentation very stressful.
She decided to explore alternative mediums of expression so she took part in three film courses, including one at the Department of Archaeology. It never occurred to her at the time that this could be the start of an exploration of other creative approaches to her research.
Mona then participated in several public engagement courses offered by the University and paid for podcast training at Cambridge TV.
In 2020, she came across Creative Encounters which is run by the Cambridge Public Engagement team. It aims to help researchers at Cambridge disseminate their research to the public through partnerships with the creative industries and professionals.
After experimenting with different mediums, she came to poetry. Mona had done her BA in English Language and Literature at Al Azhar University in Gaza and she says she really enjoyed poetry. She states: “I find the interesting thing about poetry is capturing so much content in a few words and metaphors, and appealing to both the emotions and the mind as well as giving some sense of the historical era and its sentiments. So, it is smart, wise, beautiful and maybe also enduring.”
She used to memorise lines of poetry because she valued how skillfully the lines were constructed and how they have continued to inspire different generations.
When she first joined the Creative Encounters workshops, she says she wasn’t sure she would be able to write poetry, but soon felt inspired. Her research topic is focused on the political economy of health in Gaza and she was uncertain how that would lend itself to poetry. The workshop leader David Cain assured her that it would.
Mona says she feels proud of her poetic output and is very grateful to CBR director Professor Simon Deakin who has encouraged her creative endeavours. She says that by writing poetry and being recognised by the University as a poet, she feels she is breaking a stereotypical perception in her community “that glorifies past heroes, rather than adopting a progressive and participatory outlook to the future”.
Mona has also turned to symbolic photography and her photos will also feature in the Creative Encounters exhibition. She turned to this art form because, being in Cambridge, it is impossible to take photos of Gaza. Her photograph is entitled “ Healthcare Besieged”. Created with the help of Chris Loades who led a photography workshop, it highlights some of the challenges facing patients in Gaza when it comes to accessing healthcare as well as the drugs that might be available on their doorsteps.
She says: “When people tell me I am very creative, I feel very happy, but in my heart I know that everyone of us is by default creative because we are all part of a creative universe. I think the question is how much we are able to access this creativity in ourselves and what opportunities we have to develop them.”
She adds that in Gaza art can seem like a luxury, if it is considered at all. However, for her it has given her new ways of being heard. She says: “I am a social scientist, but this doesn’t mean that I have to be just one thing. You can use your voice in so many ways and this gives us choices as researchers and democratises access to research. As an educationalist, I know from my experience in classrooms that people learn in different ways so I don’t think that academia should only focus on academic outputs because that marginalises other forms of learning and dissemination.”
Extract below from A voice in the desert by Mona Jebril:
How can a voice be a voice?
Without reaching someone…
Without touching someone…
How can a voice be a voice?
Without being heard.
*A selection of Mona’s collection of seven poems, “Between Explosion and Implosion: Poems on the Political Economy of Health in the Gaza Strip”, will feature on the Creative Encounters website during the Festival and will link to a pdf download which features all the poems. There will also be printed booklets available at the exhibition with all the poems in them.
Picture credit: Lloyd Mann