Tuesday 18 September 2012

The Power of Art

I went to my second set of excellent 5x15 http://www.5x15stories.com/ talks at the Tabernacle last night and was blown away for want of a more appropriate way of putting things, by Ahdaf Soueif's talk on the art of the recent revolution in Egypt. She showed us a series of powerful slides, many of which can be seen here in this piece by Mona Abaza: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/4625/an-emerging-memorial-space-in-praise-of-mohammed-mThe graffitti art shows how martyrs (Ahdaf was careful to state that she used the term 'martyr' in the Arabic sense, so I hope I will be forgiven for using the English word if any Eyptians happen upon this piece) of the revolution were depicted on the walls of Cairo, initially in stencilled images that became more and more decorative until they began to be shown with angel wings or with garlands of flowers around their necks; the martyrs then began appearing in groups, as more and more simple yet profound statements about the revolution appeared alongside them.

The artists reacted very quickly to the death of a martyr. Groups of artists would swoop in with ladders and immediately begin painting the graphic images on the walls. The work drew on Egyptian Pharaonic art history as it developed and progressed. One of the most beautiful images shows women, their eyes kohled in the ancient Egyptian way, marching towards their oppressors like wingless avenging angels, scrolls in their hands. A woman with her head shaved has her questioning arm raised, palm heavenwards. Above the women is a buraq drawing of a winged horse. Particularly mocking of the barbaric and primitive acts that were perpetrated by the military is one that shows two animals fighting in the style of primitive art, the genitals of the attacking beast (horns to soft belly) are on display. Others show winged martyrs, against a hellish backdrop of dark tear gas, in clashes with their oppressors. Murdered footballers appear in their teams shirts, their stylised angelic wings rising above them. Later, as the regime tried in vain to divide the revolutionaries, by claiming that some were noble, but others were good for nothing layabouts (who presumably deserved to die?) occupations such as 'architect' began to appear above the icons.

The humanity in the work, and the bravery of those who made the work, is astonishing, and is of course fitting, given the subject matter. As their blood cries out from the walls of Mohammed Mahmud Street, these martyrs continue to speak of the revolution despite the terminal silence imposed upon them. The power of these images put me in mind of the iconic photographs of the children of the Soweto riots of 1976. https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=soweto+riots&hl=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=UVdYUNXxIpPL0AX4roC4Cg&ved=0CDYQsAQ&biw=1440&bih=700 When I woke up this morning, the images were with me, provoking me, reminding me that none of us ought to stay silent when the plight of others demands that we speak up. It seems a long time ago that I came up against the police in South Africa in a relatively and comparatively mild way, or experienced the choking fear of tear gas, not that I am, for a minute trying to align myself with what the Egyptian people have suffered, only that I have looked and I acted when I saw (when many others, for whatever reason did not). Here too, my eyes have been seared with these images, but I am grateful for it, this work is testament to the power of art to point up truth and beauty in the spiritual sense, and to condemn, by merely holding up a mirror to the activities of those that would crush the spirits of those that cry freedom.

I would have loved to have chatted to Ahdaf Soueif about the impact of the work on individuals. Certainly I would like to read her book: Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. As someone who has taught art to vulnerable groups and has seen the healing and hope and the sense of the eternal power of truth that it brings, I hope, and imagine (having not seen any interviews on the  response to the work) that these images have brought hope and healing as well as no doubt, a powerful sense of sister and brotherhood to those that stood together to bring about change in Egypt for the good of all.

More from Ahdaf Soueif can be seen in her work for the Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/ahdafsoueif

Thursday 6 September 2012

Perks from a former jerk

Disclaimer: There are 700 odd words here rather than the 500 odd or the odd 500. If this fact drives you battered and fried in advance, skip to the final paragraph that begins with 'the point.'

"I don't eat butter now that I am a big girl. I am big and I'm fat, and I'm not like you. Just marmite." Then she studied me quizzically for a moment a (my face this morning is grey and looks like it has been rudely fashioned out of the inner tubes of ancient bicycle wheels, so I expected her to say something particularly insulting yet honest.) "Oh and I have white (blonde) hair, you have dark hair and I like salmon and you do not..." and so she went on. This was my three year old's response to my asking if she wanted butter on her toast with her marmite. She is so whimsical when it comes to food, that I need daily updates. She is neither big nor fat, except on the cheek front. She is slim. But boy is she sassy and confident and big on personality. The above statement was delivered to me with chin down and eyes raised, forefingers stabbing the air in front of her to emphasise her points. What I like about this child of mine is that she is so sure of herself and her own opinions whether they are nonsense or not. She has an opinion on everything and is not afraid to deliver them. I hope to help her to stay this way, minus the nonsense of course. As a kid, I had plenty of opinions, but I was afraid to deliver them, although I often did, but usually only in outbursts. Likely due to a fractured early childhood (I am not blaming here, just stating) I had a fractured sense of self. It was not until I went to university as a mature student that I began coming to a place of understanding and confidence, which led me to stop taking **** from men in particular in any way, shape or form and ultimately led to my becoming mentally robust enough to write my book "After the Rains."

For a number of years, I taught creative writing and art in a healing context, as well as straight courses in creative writing and art. I have also run workshops using the arts, meditation and scripture to help facilitate healing and bring about a move to a more spiritual, balanced state. I believe we are body, mind and spirit, but you can believe whatever you like, the 'spiritual' aspects of the workshops worked for the hard core atheists like most of my friends, as well as for the person trying to be a Jesus follower (or someone else's) in a stopy-starty and sometimes stroppy fashion like me: the 'god' part was what you made of it or experienced. The courses were helpful to many and I am still asked years later if I will start them again. I have had therapy myself and studied and took to the poetic language of psychotherapy very well at university. As such I wrote courses for the college I taught at for five years based on my understanding of therapy and the arts to bring freedom and release to the mind and heart. Along the way, I had a kind of spiritual awakening and realised that what works is Biblical too and has been there in the ancient texts all along. Why am I telling you this? I miss communicating what has worked for me and learning in return. The years I spent teaching women freedom through the therapeutic power of art were some of the most rewarding I have experienced. Not least because I learnt so much from them. Most of these women were in recovery from addiction, many had been through prison and some were coping with mental health issues. I had battled many of the issues that they had dealt with, so there was an innate sense of understanding with these women that helped to facilitate the work.

The point: As I cannot go out to work, joyfully and sometimes screamily surrounded as I am by little ones as well as a great, hulking GCSE tackling big one, I have decided to begin teaching women again via skype and e mail. I will be offering one to one coaching for women who would like to begin working towards a state of equilibrium - or work towards this ongoing mission in life - through writing. I do not want to make out that I am some kind of guru scribe, my family will attest to the fact that I am a 'work' in progress. But I am no longer the jerk in transgress that I once was. Pipe down peanut gallery in my head. For women who feel ready to begin writing their first longer piece of creative work, I will provide coaching and editing support for their projects. So if you have a book inside you and you would like that book to come out readable, or you want to laugh your way out of a hole, or reach a deeper place of understanding your own complicated internal universe, I would like to join you for the ride. Check out my website from next week. Things will be clearer there. There will be offers. There will be perks from a former jerk. http://www.emilybarroso.com/

PS I will try to go back to the 500 odd or the odd 500 next time. I need to do more writing...