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  • Kirsty Thomson

In Conversation: Audacious Aunties

With national lockdowns and far more free time than we had been used to, more students than ever are starting up podcasts. A really fun way to share ideas and spark conversation, there are so many great ones local to Edinburgh run by students that we just had to chat with them. Starting off, we want to introduce you to Audacious Aunties by Mavir Dobb and Asyia Iftikhar, who have embarked on their third sensational season.

The Audacious Aunties (Instagram: @audaciousaunties)

K: Let’s start off easy: When did you guys start the podcast? What made you decide to do it? Why this particular subject?

M: We started it out in the summer of 2019, after spending a long time thinking and chatting about all we had learnt at University in our first year; we were both unimpressed about how our curriculum hadn't really widened up to the world and was incredibly Western-centric. I study History and Spanish and Asyia does Classics and while they tried a little, neither were quite there. It’s frustrating for me that we’re at such a high level of education and nothing was being done to try and decolonise the curriculum; if it isn’t happening at university it won’t be happening at any of the lower levels. We also thought it would be a really great learning curve for us both; you’ll see in the podcast we don’t act as though we are professionals, we genuinely are just going on this learning curve with our listeners. It’s been really fun, I think especially within the arts which are considered to be heavily whitewashed. I know within countries like the UK its hard for people of colour to feel as though they are being seen and represented, but we’re able to show that art is happening everywhere. It’s nice to open people’s eyes to just how diverse the arts can be.

A: I honestly couldn’t add any more. Manny’s genuinely summed it up perfectly.

K: I love that. I do History too with English and we’re actively trying to write to the people higher up about how they need to change things. Do you think Edinburgh specifically is particularly bad and lagging behind? Within both the university and beyond?

M: I think they are trying but sometimes I feel as though it's tokenistic; I remember in first year we had a course in medieval worlds. You’d think the course would be about the world because it literally says so in the title but they spent barely two lectures talking about what was happening outside of Europe. If the course is 22 lectures, it's really upsetting that we weren’t learning more. I’m in my third year now and I look at all the courses and whilst there’s a couple which are really good and very interesting when you look at them compared to the endless list of Western courses, it’s really problematic. I find it funny that there are courses dedicated to tiny moments in Western history, but there’s nothing that goes into that level of focus for the rest of the world.

K: You can’t really specialise till honours level either so for all the first and second years, you only have what they feed to you. I’m not sure about Classics but within History and English, you can’t delve into things at all.

A: It’s much the same really, you have a lot of compulsory stuff but we are given the opportunity to do some modules outside of the discipline. Often though they are very competitive so a lot of the ones I applied to I just didn’t get into because they were either already full or other students were given priority. I feel it’s very much for show; if you say to the department that you want more modules on something else they just dismiss it, saying that you do have the option. We don’t really though.

M: The fact that it is so oversubscribed in itself shows that there are people who want to learn about what’s happening!

A: Exactly. It’s infuriating.

K: It’s important they try but it's so clear that there is just so much more that can and that should be done. I wonder if perhaps five years or so down the line whether or not things will have changed. I have this very real hope that things will change for the better-especially amongst students there is a clear demand for change. I just hope it does happen and the people higher up listen.

M: Me too. I see there is this sort of attitude where they are patting themselves on the back thinking they have achieved it but clearly it’s not true. I think though at the moment with the added pressure of things like BLM and student protesting they will be forced to reanalyse the systematic racism in their departments.

K: Goodness. Right, on a much happier note, the podcast! I absolutely love it; I’ve not found anything else like it and I love that it is so unique. There isn’t anyone else really who does what you guys do. I’m a big fan of the student podcast scene right now but especially in Edinburgh, I don’t see the diversity that we have in the city.

A: Yeah.

K: What are your hopes with it? Where do you see it going? I know the third season is upcoming but have you got any exciting things planned? What’s in the pipeline?

A: Well! I guess it is kinda fitting that we are doing another season during this lockdown period; it’s funny because our last season was pushed on by the last lockdown. We are sort of hoping to expand out of just looking at specific areas of art and moving into wider movements which we think is quite relevant to what we have been seeing over the last couple of months. At its core though, no matter how many seasons we do it’ll always be us laughing over art, which I think is beautiful.

M: We have to though don’t we, otherwise you’re always going to be inundated with stories of people of colour going through things. It’s always about the problem, whereas with us we’re showing that we actually can smile and have a giggle too.

A: Yeah, definitely.

K: Yes, completely. It’s funny you mentioned lockdown, I was going to ask about that actually. Has it made things harder? I know you aren’t living together so it’ll all be done digitally. How have you found that?

M: We bought a microphone for Audacious Aunties which I own and Asyia, unfortunately, doesn’t have one. The way we work it then is that Asyia is on a phone-call with me and I record it through the microphone. It sounds very dodgy but so far the sound quality has been okay. It’s difficult but it has been a really fun challenge to try and navigate through. If anything really, not much has changed: we still have our chats pre-show and it’s still a very natural flowing conversation. Of course, there are bits when the Wifi goes a bit weird but thinking about it lockdown has forced us to think about the podcast more and think about what we want to do with it.

A: Last time when we were restricted to recording in person because we were both at uni whenever we saw each other we would have to treat it like a business meeting and bulk record! We’d go delirious by the end of it! This though has opened up a whole new world of just being able to record when we are both able to and not record five at once.

M: It’s hilarious, we listened over to bits of season one and there are points when someone is talking and it’s just so monotonous because we were so tired by that point. The other person was just kind of like ‘yeah, that’s great, yeah.’.

K: I love it. That’s brilliant. With the future in mind, I don’t know what you’re thinking but I am hoping for seasons upon seasons upon seasons. Where do you see things going? I envisage so much change, I know it’s opened my eyes to a whole world of new things which now I love. What’s the dream?

A: With Audacious Aunties, we want to get the listeners more involved and get more input and more voices. Up until this point, it’s very much me, Manvir and a Wikipedia page conquering the art world together. I’d love though to get guests in and incorporate more voices and just see where it goes from there. More generally though it would be nice to see change over the next couple of years or so. Right now, we’d find an artist or a poet and there would be very limited information on them; we really have to work with the one or two pages we can find or that one thesis someone wrote ten years ago. It would be nice to see active change and far more information out there that we can use and learn from. That’d be nice.

M: I agree with everything you just said. I kinda have this hope that Audacious Aunties will someday take on the BBC?

K: YES! I’d absolutely love that.

M: It’s baby steps! Really though I just want it to grow. If we look at our audience at the moment it’s very heavily dominated by women, which is great, but I’d love to open things up to a wider audience. It’s great that we have the support of so many women and women of colour, but the white man is the one who needs to listen to it the most. Really, we just want to find a way to coerce them into coming over to our side. With the world though, as Asyia said it would be great to see more information that properly reflects the rest of the world and that generally, people are just more aware. Hopefully to the point where Audacious Aunties isn’t really even needed because people are already filled with so much information about the things we talk about.

K: When you think about the fact you have only done a couple of seasons, the amount you have achieved already is incredible. I can only see you guys getting better. I know you were joking about it but I would love to see you guys on the BBC.

M: We’ll put it in the plan.

A: I don’t know how our chaotic energy will fit in with the BBC…

K: It’d be fab. I guess finally, with the second lockdown looming up here in Scotland, I’d love your recommendations for stuff to listen to, read and watch. I’d love to discover some new things at the moment and I know there’s loads you chat about on the podcast but if you did have any recommendations what would they be?

M: I can see Asyia rattling her head for just one recommendation already! Okay so barely five minutes before we started chatting I was reading this book; it’s partly for coursework but also for my own reading. It’s by the Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli and it’s called ‘El pais de las mujeres’ which means ‘the country of the women’. It’s about this world where women are in charge of everything and I think it’s going to be a really interesting take. It gives me Lord of the Flies kinda vibes but in a good way with women instead? We’ll see how it goes. I think in the 1980s there was a telenovela soap opera made about it as well, which I reckon especially in the 80s when feminist ideas were still evolving would be really cool.

A: Recently I watched a series on BBC iPlayer called ‘The Art of Persia’ which was really really interesting; it takes you outside the Western perspective of classics as well as giving you the general history of Persia. I really enjoyed it, super interesting and good vibes.

K: I’d love that. It pains me to say; I’m rubbish with world history. My sphere of history is very much Eastern Europe, I’ve dug deep into my Polish heritage, but I would love to know more. With what I want to do after uni, I want to celebrate and be able to tell people about the exciting things happening all over the place.

A: That’s what I love about Audacious Aunties though; it can feel so scary and difficult to know where to start so I really believe in making things accessible. Hopefully, we can act as a good springboard for people to find things they didn’t know they would be so interested in.

Interview conducted by Kirsty Thomson.


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