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a picture of Dolly's book

Dolly Sen - What does subversion give me?

This book started as a possible suicide note and ended up a celebration of life. (An excerpt from The World is Full of Laughter by Dolly Sen)

Dolly Sen is a writer, director, artist, film-maker, poet, performer, raconteur, playwright, mental health consultant, music-maker and public speaker and is currently on our Sync Intensives programme.

Since her much-acclaimed book The World is Full of Laughter was published by Chipmunka in 2002, she has had 3 further books published, had a succession of performance roles around Europe and places like The Young Vic, Trafalgar Square and The Royal Festival Hall; did a poetry tour and won a poetry award from Andrew Motion; directed two plays and several films, appeared on TV, and has done spoken word at City Hall and Oxford University. Dolly has made choices along the way that challenge and subvert the norm. In doing this, she has become a natural leader with a huge following. She shares this in a powerpoint exploring her life in subversion and pens this case study to accompany it.

Click through to Dolly's slideshow
a cartoon of Dolly as Little Bo Peep

What does Subversion give me?

The freedom to be. I can never fit into any box, and why would I want to when there is so much freedom outside the walls. (Dolly Sen)

The freedom to be. I can never fit into any box, and why would I want to when there is so much freedom outside the walls. But it is also a political act because it is an acknowledgement that as a ‘mad’ artist, I am reacting to a society that is scared of me, and will hijack mad art and literature once our artists and writers are dead and therefore deemed safe and easy to control, corrupt and capitalise. How could I possibly feel comfortable with that?

We are already an alienated sector of society, in fact the most alienated sector of society. We are not full members of this society or culture and that is not going to change without us changing it. Because why is it in their interest to change what makes them feel comfortable and superior? It is my human duty to be subversive.

Being Dyslexic Self Portrait

The rebel in me

Whether being rebellious is a natural trait is hard to know, because thanks to severe abuse as a child, I became a passive, obedient human being, and being subversive subsequently gave me my power back.

This reaction to my history may be the reason I fight tyranny both subtle and obvious, or it could be that my ordinary heart will not tolerate it.

I don’t think it matters where it comes from; it’s how it inspires command of your narrative or denies the happy endings of oppressive people and systems that is fundamentally more significant.

Heart inside Sun

Getting people round to my way of thinking

Being authentic has its own magic; people get energy from that (Dolly Sen).

I have questioned this, because I have gone from someone who dropped out of school at 14 to a person with some influence, and it came from me being me, rather than going on a course to learn how to do it. So who am I?

I am a warm, funny, passionate person, and I care deeply about people. I am a poet and writer who understands the power of words, I use stories and metaphors to inspire and entertain, and I know that the heart is the place you go to and not the head.

If I do engage the intellect, I ask unique questions, so people arrive at new answers and fresh perspectives.

Looking at myself

Being human is an absurd and riduculous career (Dolly Sen).

I recognise that being human is an absurd and ridiculous career and showing that in my work is something people relate to – maybe you can change the world one bad joke at a time.

I haven’t stuck to the script written for me, which shows people that they don’t have to either. Following from that, being authentic has its own magic; people get energy from that.

Or maybe it’s because of my cheeky grin and wicked laugh – who knows? There isn’t really an obvious formula, but what I do know is that my creativity is my vehicle to do all this, and the ride is unforgettable.


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