Frozen image ‘manual’: embodied work on discrimination

The exercize

The participants are asked to take certain roles. If the topic is discrimination, this could for example be:

  • the discriminated person
  • the discriminating person
  • someone related to the discriminated person
  • someone related to the discriminating person
  • a bystander, not related to any one of them.

At least two participants need to be ‘external observers’.

Frozen image: expression by body position, without dialogue or movement.

Step one: the tension situation

The roleplaying participants are asked to construct a frozen image that would depict a situation of discrimination. When the frozen image is constructed, the external observers are invited to describe what they see. Then one by one, the roleplaying participants are invited to finish two phrases:

– ‘How I feel right now is…’

– ‘What I need most right now is…’

Step two: tension resolved

The roleplaying participants are now asked to construct a frozen image that would depict the same situation, but now with the conflict/tension/discrimination resolved. Again, the observers are asked to describe their observations and the differences with the first situation. All roleplaying participants are invited to finish the phrase ‘How I feel now is…’.

Step three: analysis of the situation

Participants are asked to reflect on what they felt, what their thoughts were, what underlaying dynamics might have been in this situation and how this all relates to discrimination and the resolution of discrimination.


Variations and additions

An additional question for the observers during the frozen image might be:

– How about power dynamics? Who do you think is dominating and why?

During our try-out, the person who was embodying the discriminated person noticed that (as a white male) it was difficult for him to ‘get into the role’ of a person that experiences discrimination. We then asked someone who is actually repeatedly confronted with discrimination (a non-white female) to ‘sculpt’ the person in a body position that would reflect her experience and then asked the sculpted person to finish the phrase ‘How I feel right now is…’

To experience empowering, we then asked the white male person to sculpt the non-white female person into a body position that would reflect his experience and asked her to finish the phrase ‘How I feel right now is…’


Benefits of this method

Some of the benefits of this particular method mentioned by the participants were:

  • less focus on talking – more feeling and acting
  • offers the opportunity of developing empathy; and the opportunity to actually change a situation (at least within the play)
  • shows the importance of body language


Risks of this method

Embodied work can be a very powerful method, so it also needs awareness of the risks and some precautions. Taking the time to build a safe container for this exercize is crucial.

  • Body expression has a direct impact on our emotions and has the ability to call for strong emotions. If as a facilitator you would like to use a real-life experience as a situation, check with the participants if they feel okay with this, otherwise use an imaginary situation.
  • People who need a ‘safe distance’ from the possible emotional impact of the exercize might feel more comfortable in the role of external observer.
  • For some people, theater methods or embodied work might feel awkward. It helps if you start the session with a small energizer or exercize that involves body awareness and that loosens up body expression.
  • Both the frozen images, the phrases as the anaysis will varie from group to group, as this exercize relates to personal views and experiences. Facilitators need to be flexible and sensitive to the needs of the group.
  • Throughout the experience of (strong) emotions, this is also inner work that requires safety. A facilitator should be sensitive to the right timing, for example by planning this exercize at a moment that the participants know each other better than at the beginning of the training/workshop, or for example by only using topics/situations that might involve strong emotions if there is enough time for analysis and recovery after the frozen images.
  • If the method of sculpting is used, check that participants are okay with touching and being touched. If participants feel uncomfortable with that, the sculptor can also give verbal instructions

Thoughts of participants about this method

  • you need a very sensitive way to instruct this method, especially when you’re dealing with a real experience of a participant – but it can be really powerful and can lead to deeper reflections

„the East“ and „the West“ in a little Western German village…

Until now my project is nothing but a theoretical idea and maybe the implementation will be not that easy in the end. Here you can read my first ideas about it. Maybe I will also change the topic or focus during the working process (for example I could imagine a shift from focussing on the cold war era to East – West stereotypes or something totally different).

I’m glad for any kind of feedback and helpful ideas!

Topic and content

To deal with history and especially the history of Eastern and Western Germany (and the whole world that was shaped by the iron curtain) is probably an easy thing to do in Berlin. But what about a small village in the South West of Germany that is on the one hand not that old itself and on the other hand there are no visible signs of remembrance or even traces of a former separated world and society? This is the starting point for my little project.

Postkarten_4My mother and one of my brothers are living in a village called Friedrichstal (it’s close to Karlsruhe in Baden-Württemberg). This village has around 5000 inhabitants and was founded at the end of the 17th century by refugees that were driven out of France, Belgium and Switzerland because of religious reasons. Nowadays this village is a quite sleepy one: there is a school, a football and sports club (and probably some more clubs), a protestant and a catholic church, a stop for the tram to the next town, even a station for the regional train, a small industrial zone. So nothing really special. No lovely old village center – instead of this the biggest parts are single family houses starting from the ’60s including a growing larger settlement of family houses that are built within the last years. Most of the people are working outside of Friedrichstal.

So how it’s possible to implement a project about the time of the iron curtain and its consequences in such a surrounding? This is the challenge I would like to take up.

Target group

Together with a friend my brother is leading a children group. The kids are at the age of around ten up to twelve years and they are meeting each Friday. This offer is connected to the youth work of the local catholic parish but in reality they never really spend time on religious or spiritual contents, it’s more about playing group games and offering outside activities – so it can be seen more as a part of the local youth welfare work (at least in the group of my brother and his friend).

I decided to take this group of children as the target group of my little project because I can have quite easy access to this group of kids through my brother.

Pedagogical goals

* spreading awareness for a society that is shaped by socio-historical backgrounds

* offering information about the cold war era

* evoking interest in and curiosity for history

Pedagogical approach and methods

* action research → there are no “natural” places that are depicting symbols for the cold war era, but I will spread some material at several places (maybe five) in the village where the kids can get information or impressions (so it’s a bit more like a treasure hunt) and in the end they are sharing what they have seen/heard/read/thought

* contemporary witness (living library)→ if possible I would like to provide one station with a person that experienced the GDR (maybe my mother could do this) and that could tell some personal impressions and stories; if not possible I would use some audio material

I’m open for ideas/suggestions/hints for material that I could use for this kind of setting (what means: no actual places of remembrance, so that I have to


The evaluation I will separate in two parts: On the one hand I want the kids to give me a anonymous feedback. For this I’m planning to use the method “suitcase, question mark, garbage bin”. This means that in the end of the project the kids will have the possibility to write or draw on different coloured papers what they have learned todicons-feedbackkarten-gray (suitcase), which questions they still have in mind (question mark) and what they didn’t like or what was unnecessary in their opinion (garbage bin). If possible I will try to answer the written questions in the final circle.

On the other hand I want to do a reflection on my own acting and how the project was working. For this I don’t have yet a good idea for a useful method. Any suggestions?

Agreements with local partners

My local partner for this project is my brother and his friend who are leading this youth group together.

Timetable and milestones

* May → looking for useful material

* beginning of June → preparation of the single stations of the action research (incl the material, the questionnaires for the groups)

* one week before the project: introducing myself and informing the kids that there will be a special offer next week

* 17. or 24.06.: doing the project

* after the project: self-evaluation