It is said that home is where the heart is.
But violence wounds our hearts, leaving us emotionally physically, and spiritually homeless, even when there is a roof over our heads.
Our battles rage on . . . . Come walk our neighbourhood, your street as we break the silence and shift our foundations from dark to light.
Excerpt from group statement, We Are Your Neighbours, 2008, quoted in Transformation by Fire, 2013
As explained in my last post, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic has, for the past ten years, provided a program where women create sculpture related to personal experience of violence, then exhibit their work at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. Transformation by Fire: Women Overcoming Violence Through Clay is a retrospective based on this work.
Among the Transformation by Fire sculptures, haunting skulls, a train wreck, a fanged monster give a visceral feel for the experience of violence. We respond to such experience, explain the women who created this exhibit, by speaking out, by inviting others to join us, and by finding a new basis for life. Many sculptures include elements that indicate the shift of foundations from dark to light: A flower opening, leaves on a tree, a woman arms upraised emerging from a lotus, a child in the arms of a caring adult, a woman on the crest of waves, a heart cradled in large, gentle hands.
The words, sculptures and video in Transformation by Fire often mention healing, sometimes referring to the shaping and firing of the clay as a metaphor for the process of inner transformation. Ethelrida Zabala-Laxa, a participant in the 2003 Gardiner expressive arts group, explains this metaphor beautifully in “Within and Out of the Mud” a short performance posted on YouTube (Thanks to comedienne Elly Litvak for pointing me to this work). Many people know the idea of “a healing journey,” and several sculptures refer to such a journey. Healing metaphors can provide a narrative structure for responding to emotional pain, for helping, as the Transformation by Fire creators say, to shift the foundations.
As well as offering moving words, a fine video, and gorgeous sculptures, Transformation by Fire is important for several reasons. People who have known violence often conceal the experience as shameful, and emotional pain and healing are usually treated as private concerns. So such experiences remain mostly invisible in the domain of public awareness and discussion. As a major art event sponsored by a leading cultural institution, Transformation by Fire affirms in the strongest possible terms that violence, emotional pain, and healing are appropriate and important for public discussion. The exhibit and program also demonstrates how a public event inspired by painful lived experience can be engaging for audiences, yet at the same time deeply respectful of the individuals who are sharing their creative work. Finally, the entire exhibit and program is an invaluable opportunity to understand and discuss the healing metaphor as a viable alternative to an illness metaphor in relation to emotional pain and violence.
So, tell everyone you know to visit the Gardiner in the next couple of months. Though the exhibit never mentions the words “mental health,” Transformation by Fire is critically important for thinking about mental health issues.
Production: Transformation by Fire, February 7-April 28, 2013, 111 Queen’s Park, Gardiner Museum, Toronto. Free admission.