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Mandala of identity and intersectionality - Complex

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This tool is a "work in progress" exercise to reflect on own identity and contextualize experiences of one-ground as well as intersectional discrimination in the broader context where people live. Background theoretical inputs (intersectionality, Mandala)

Aims of the tool

To explore the experiential and conceptual idea of “Identity” , its complex construction, its deconstruction, starting from participants backgrounds and realities, from their belongingness to multiple groups in the society

Description of the tool

Differently from "Mandala of Identity - Simple (uploaded also in the Salto Toolbox) this Mandala of Identity can be used in order to explore different aspects and grounds interacting in persons' life and the effect of the overlapping/intersecting grounds on people identity and experience of discrimination.

1) You can start providing participants with a short presentation on the concepts of identity accepted in the social science/psichology, depending on the context of the training and on the background knowledge of the trainers.

For the Mandala I rely on Erik Erikson's theory of personality, explaining the evolution from a static conceptualization of identity to a complex one, on intersectionality and on Mandala as tool of introspection.

2) Before reading the rest, have a look at the photo attached, that helps better understand the structure of this Mandala. Done? Ok! Prepare a simple and uncoloured “Mandala Model” on a flipchart, drawing in it 4 symmetric sections corresponding to a) gender/sex/gender identity; b) nation/race/ethnic origin; c) faith/religion/belief; d) Other grounds (each participant can choose on what particular gorunds she, he, ze wants to focus. The four sections have a common core at the centre of the Mandala.
Each section needs to be sub-divided in three smaller sections corresponding to different levels.

First level - External circle - Level of experience:
Here participants reflect on their first experiences in their memory in which they became conscious of various aspects of their identity (as an example: their gender identity; being a Roma; being Muslim; other: open for other grounds as sexual orientation, disability, economic status, etc...).

Second level - Middle circle - Level of individual interaction/reaction with that experience. Participants have time to reflect on their own interaction with that experience. How did it impact their live?

Thrid level - internal circle - Level of consolidation. Participants reflect on how the experience and their own interaction with that experince shaped their own idea abouth who they are, what they can ache for, empowerment/disempowerment, etc...

The core part of the Mandala will show the different beliefs that participants have developed about themselves across their life and can reflect on how they different grounds interact with each other: does being a woman and Muslim is different than being Muslim and man? What about being Roma transgender? Does nationality play a role? How was to experience this in the particular context/family/community/country where participants were living?

3) Ask the participants to prepare their own Mandala of Identity, in a place they feel comfortable, outside or inside. You can also prepare some candles and soft meditation music or just silence. If there is a garden, it can be done outside.

*It would be great to prepare participants with a short meditation exercise, for example inviting them to close their eyes and go through their life, giving them some suggestions (childhood, toys, landscapes).

*Suggest to participants that the Mandala Model shows just the structure of the exercise, but they are completely free for the rest: to use the colours they prefer, to choose the shape of their Mandala, to add some details which may arise during the exercise, to add sections and question the boundaries between categories...

* The idea to use a Mandala divided in just 4 parts aims at stimulating participants' reflections and discussions on the usefulness (or not) of fixed categories describing identity (disability, gender identity, ethnicity, etc....). Categories can be used as a descriptive instrument or can be rejected as insufficient or even dangerous (see tips for facilitators). This can open up debates on how to trascend the boundaries of these fixed lines.

4) Participants complete individually their Mandala of Identity using as many remembering, connections, emotions, etc as they can.
(60 minutes) and find out their intersectional areas.

Group Activity: (20')
The participants join in groups of 3-4, in which they share their Mandalas. Each participant is FREE to decide WHAT to share and WHAT NOT to share. They discuss different grounds and their intersections, coalitions that can be built across the lines of one or intersecting grounds, advocacy actions, etc...
Each group prepare a flipchart presentation on different intersections they experimented in their life and actions that they might want to implement with their NGOs.

Plenary: ( 20- 30 depending on time available for the whole session and on the number of groups)
Presenation in plenary of the groups' flipcharts

Final note for trainers:
*Even if it is a creative tool, the Mandala needs to be put in a safe atmosphere of sensitiveness, respect and trust. For this reason, it would be better to schedule this activity after a team building exercise, depending on the focus of the TC or seminar.

Available downloads:


  • This sounds wonderful. Haven'd tried before but I certainly shell. As psychologist I can say that it is multi-useful. Congratulations. Indira Mandzuka

    Indira Mandzuka , 24 July 2008 20:48:36

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SALTO cannot be held responsible for the inappropriate use of these training tools. Always adapt training tools to your aims, context, target group and to your own skills! These tools have been used in a variety of formats and situations. Please notify SALTO should you know about the origin of or copyright on this tool.

Tool overview

This tool is for

To provide participants with a creative tool to: - deconstruct the idea of identity as a monolith; - reflect on different elements belonging to their own identity, which coexist and overlap; - spend time for inner self-reflection and intimacy - put in relation their identity/identities and different roles played in daily life; - develop self-awareness, sensitiveness and empathy;

and addresses

Social Inclusion, Anti-Racism, Intercultural Learning, Personal Development, Gender issues

Materials needed:

Flipchart Paper, A3 coloured papers (one for participant), many coloured pencils, scissors, glue, tape, magazines with pictures that participants can cut and use in their Mandalas.


from 90 min to 2 hours

Behind the tool

The tool was created by

Barbara Giovanna Bello

The tool has been experimented in

In several seminars since 2008. See EMpower young women from ethnic minorities 2008 by Salto Cultural Diversity and Inclusion Resource Centres in cooperation with the National Agencies of the United Kingdom and Denmark

The tool was published to the Toolbox by

Barbara Giovanna BELLO (on 23 July 2008)

and last modified

17 December 2008

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