Sanaz Alesafar

Vulnerability is a Prerequisite to Cultural Production

Rico Gaston, Nina, 2007, color pencil and photograph on paper

Our culture deems vulnerability as a weakness rather than the opportunity for personal and collective innovation. Vulnerability is where the light peeks out from the darkness, where the internal and external collide, and where your camouflage does not provide invisibility anymore. Vulnerability is either a response to a threat by fractious forces or the emergence of new possibilities that open up the space to collaborate with visionaries. Ideologies, cultural and social norms, empires, systems of power, institutions, and governance are all contextual factors related to the depth required for vulnerability to emerge. Individually and collectively, we navigate these external forces in order to situate ourselves in places where the making of meaning can occur.

Culture, its manifestations, and the communities that are built around it are a necessity. Culture serves the human spirit, gives purpose, and seduces us. Culture radiates light to the dark—the pull from the stationary. Culture reigns through its intricate network of language, beats, stories, images, flavors, movements, archives, and discourses: the originator, the sample, and the remix.

Jeffrey Gibson, She Never Dances Alone (Ice Blue), 2020, Multi-Channel Video, Courtesy of Times Square Arts, Roberts Projects, and Kavi Gupta

According to professor and author Brené Brown, despite the threat of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, vulnerability is the willingness to show up and be seen. This emotive response is “the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”1 People tend to shy away from self-exposure due to a fear of shame. Brown explains that the experience of believing that we are flawed and unworthy of connection fuels the emotion.

Yet for artists, cultural producers, and activists, it’s vulnerability that is the point. It’s the prerequisite for positioning the meaning-making, producing the cultural artifacts, and amplifying the need for regenerative and necessary policies. Creating culture requires the documenting, contextualizing, articulating, or archiving of an action that is meant to live beyond its initial conception. Creatives intervene into our constraining social practices and image culture in order to resist and then reimagine the status quo. The coercive neo-liberal ethos has led us to value the accelerating domination by the market while the economic shocks paralyze the general population. The system claims to support inclusivity and to be accessible for all yet propagates hostility and displacement.

Despite the proliferation of creative relief grants, the current system is not set up for global crises. The entire cultural ecosystem is upended and requires reimaging the mechanisms of cultural investments. Cultural producers are providing a necessary outlet. These producers keep the collective morale inspired, engaged, and in some cases, provide alternative experiences. Our collective coping relies on these talents.

While we experience enforced stillness, we see the fissures in governance and the emergence of neo-fascism. The meaning makers have been pushing back, connecting the dots, exposing the wounds, and imagining new alternatives. The collective psyche needs aspirational ideas and safe engagement from all of the chaos dancing together in the whirlwind of hardship, anxiety, inconvenience, and anger. So to open up, to be vulnerable in such a hostile environment, is magic.


  1. Brené Brown, TED 2012 

Sanaz Alesafar is a cultural strategist working within the intersection of art, culture, and film to promote narrative and social change. She is a graduate of University of California at Berkeley and received her MPA from L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris.