MEET THE WRITER

'Like I need some random dude who doesn’t know anything about the world to jump to my defence…'

A conversation with the radical artist and journalist Molly Crabapple after she had drawn blood at the Jaipur Literature Festival.


Molly Crabapple says that her art and journalism “bleed into each other”. The 32-year-old radical artist, who recently published a memoir titled Drawing Blood, was in conversation with William Dalrymple at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2016.

In an illuminating session, Crabapple spoke about her art and politics, from her teenage years, when she spent time at the iconic Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, to her time as a burlesque performer, as well as chronicler of burlesque dancers at the infamous New York club The Box, where she was resident artist for a number of years.

Crabapple spoke about her involvement with the Occupy movement, and her subsequent work as a Vice columnist, which has involved travelling to Guantanamo Bay, Abu Dhabi, Gaza, and Iraqi Kurdistan, among other places.

She has illustrated and reported on the people she meets in these places, and the unequal conditions that they must navigate: migrant labourers, prisoners held without charge or trial, refugees forced to make dangerous journeys. Drawing Blood, which was released in December 2015 chronicles all these journeys that Crabapple has undertaken as an artist and a witness journalist.

Aside from her illustrative journalism at Vice, Crabapple works as a professional illustrator and helms a number of one-off art projects. Excerpts from an interview:

You’ve been quite critical of the Western gaze when it comes to West Asia and other parts of the world. You refuse to use the term “refugee crisis” that has been popularised by this discourse. How do you negotiate this within yourself, since that’s also a position that you’re in?

Of course, that’s absolutely true. I think the big thing is that I have friends from these communities who will call me out on my shit, and I have them read over my work. That’s probably the best thing. Even with my book, you know, I’d write about Turkey, or Morocco, or even experiences I had when I was young, just as a person, and I would ask my friends… am I being stupid here? Am I missing something? Basically, I just try to avoid fucking up by having people tell me if I’m wrong.

Have you encountered Islamophobic reactions to your work?

I have, a few times. It’s really gross, a lot of times if you’re a woman and you’re writing about this in America, the reaction is a lot of people writing things like, oh, you should have ISIS rape you, or something. It’s a disgusting American discourse. There’s a conservative American thing that positions what they’re doing as the defence of American white womanhood or whatever. They’re like, “oh, those people are the real bad ones!”

Do you feel that the discourse pits two minorities against each other: the straw Muslim man versus the American woman?

Exactly, yeah. As if these fucking men were ever even the defenders of women. No!

It’s also patronising, the idea that someone needs to defend you.

Yeah, like I need some random dude who doesn’t know anything about the world to jump to my defence. My knight in shining armour.

Do you think that travel advisories given to western women travellers who go to particular countries are an extension of the state doing the same thing that these men are doing?

I’ve looked at the ones in tour books, but I haven’t looked at official State Department ones. I mean, New York is also a place that has lots of street harassment. And I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to warnings against going to New York. It’s a place where people scream shit at you, that’s how my city is. So I’m not opposed to warnings, but the State Department stuff, I’ve only seen their general warnings to Americans – they’re so paranoid, and so silly, and they’re ludicrous.

Source: mollycrabapple.com
Source: mollycrabapple.com

Speaking of ludicrous, you use absurdity in your visual work a lot. Would you say that it’s a cartoonist’s eye?

I think so, I think there’s a part of me that’s ultimately like the little girl in class who wasn’t paying attention and just drawing mean pictures of people (laughs).

It is only when you got involved with Occupy Wall Street that you really began to think of your art as political. In retrospect, has that changed, and do you now think of your work chronicling burlesque dancers as equally political?

I do. Even though I was already trying to do the burlesque art in a political way, I wouldn’t have defined it as political, like a larger thing, because I was scared, I guess, and I was down on myself. I didn’t think it was something the world thinks of as smart. I think the world looks down on feminine women, it looks down on sex workers, it looks down on femme, sexy spaces so I had internalised some of that, and thought of my work as trivial.

I don’t think of the skills I used there as being different to what I did afterwards… It’s still drawing fast and being perceptive, capturing a scene around you, viewing things outside of the distinction that society wants to foist on you, it’s the same thing in both things. But when we do something that’s about the feminine and about sex and performance, people think of it as stupid. And when you do something traditionally defined as masculine, people think of it as smart because the world is just fucking down on women.

In your open letter to Lena Dunham, you said you wouldn’t work with her as long as she opposes the decriminalisation of sex work. She signed an open letter about this that…

It’s basically gender apartheid, yeah.

What do you think of this understanding of sex work as essentially victimhood, and that sex workers can’t be political and can’t ask for rights?

I view sex work as work, and work can be horrible, and work can be good, and sometimes it can be horrible and good in the same job. And workers have the right to organise whether they’re feeling empowered by their job or not, they have a right to have rights. As I understand it, though, there are some very organised sex workers’ unions in India, right?

Yes, like VAMP in Maharashtra.

Yeah, I’ve seen pictures of their demonstrations and they look amazing. I think that it’s really something admirable that sex workers around the world can learn from.

Source: mollycrabapple.com
Source: mollycrabapple.com

What is the significance of Diego Rivera in your life?

I love his work! First of all, there’s something about being a muralist who worked on this giant scale. Usually with art, people can choose whether or not to go up and look at a work, whereas when you’re working at that scale, you’re really owning the space, like they don’t have a choice. I love his work, the god-monsters of modernism that were just going to consume the whole world, and they were so greedy for everything. To take up space, to do the biggest subjects, I found this greed of art so inspiring. As a Latino Marxist, my father obviously loved Diego Rivera so much and I always saw his murals when I was growing up. I just love him.

You co-founded Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, which has now spread around the world. What do you think of some of the Sketchy’s groups you’ve visited?

It really comes from who the organiser is. There’s one in Paris that I think is the most amazing. They did one on Bastille Day that was called Revenge of the Aristos that was all the beheaded aristos coming back as zombies, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world (laughs).

You’ve also done an unconventional steampunk comic, Puppet Makers. The genre is usually so inflected with nostalgia.

Oh yeah totally, and I was totally against this, I was like “Steampunk is horrifying!” The thing that inspired me, I heard this story about a courtesan who was being presented to the Queen, and she has to do these very ritualised series of bows, and it was so physically taxing with all her stuff on her that she fainted. I thought it was ridiculous. All these rituals are so stupid that they ought to be done by machines, and not people. And that’s how I figured out the world of the comic: a society that is basically fucked up, and also has this technology - basically a mechanised Versailles, with the countryside stripped bare just to feed the vapid mechanised court rituals.

Source: mollycrabapple.com
Source: mollycrabapple.com
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.