June 11, 2019

Am I My Brother’s Keeper? @ St Paul’s

Written by Niki Barbery Bleyleben – a Bolivian-American philosopher, social scientist and mum of two…

You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians –Nina Simone

Art can mitigate the numbing effect created by the gulf of information we are faced with today, and motivate people to turn thinking into doing – Olafur Eliasson

An artist stands, ink-in-hand, before a blank canvass or a sheet of music; the dancer stares back at herself in the mirror, feet already aching with anticipation of what might emerge. It is difficult. The noise of the world feels increasingly cacophonous. It becomes almost painful for the artist to hear her inner voice so as to make sense of things that appear nonsensical on the outside.

Vulnerable and open, the artist cannot help but ask the question: how futile will this act of creation be? Will it start with me and end with me or will it become something greater than myself? For the fortunate artist, a moment will come when the mind quiets. Out of stillness, the emptiness of that space, the artist’s left-hand fills with wisdom, while her right-hand fills with compassion. A perfect mudra of awareness within the continuum of consciousness gives rise to the self, which is embedded in the whole. Art is born.

Prior to 1800, artists mostly glorified war with works that included bloodless battles, coloured only with heroism. Perhaps the fear of political reprisal was simply too great before then for artists to speak their truth. In any case, it was not until the works of Francisco Goya were revealed, 35 years after his death in 1863, that society’s perception of war began its dramatic shift. Goya’s scenes of violence, starvation and humiliation gave birth to a new universal language around war that was immense and lasting.

Great art is an expression of wholeness; it contains universal and timeless themes that shed light into the depths of our human condition. It exists to awaken the spirit and grows from the altered perception of those lucky individuals who are awakened by the embodied experience of that work of art. Great art is luminous. It is a slight pang in the chest. Great art forces us to inhale with all our might, to hold our breath as if drowning while we process the emotion, until we exhale, eyes wet with tears, because we understand something more than we did before. Art does not necessarily teach us what we do not know, but rather reminds us what we know in the depth of our soul.

On June 5th, I attended a Sung Mass at St Paul’s Cathedral dedicated to the plight of refugees. In the far-left corner of the Cathedral, erected under the light of two towering windows, is a used UNHCR tent—an unfamiliar sight to some, but home to far too many. The tent came from a camp in Jordon, where artist Kate Daudy spent time interviewing displaced families and then weaved their stories into the canvass fabric. I was with Kate when she first received the tent from UNHCR. I watched, as she stood over this blank canvass and desperately tried to figure out how she would begin her weaving. Over the next two years, I watched as this beautiful project evolved and was exhibited. Seeing it at St Paul’s, however, was something otherworldly.

Mark Rothko once explained, “I don’t express myself in painting. I express my non-self.” Rothko makes clear that the self is only valuable if the ego is removed from the process in search for truth. Artists have the gift of transmitting messages from beyond our material world and in so doing, they channel our collective conscious. This is why the work of great artists is a search for truth and is never futile. We measure art by its consciousness – not its unconsciousness, not its ego. Great art acts as a mirror to the soul, our collective soul. The search for truth is a quest in understanding, in reconciliation through empathy and forgiveness; its ambition is a call to action. Gazing upon Daudy’s tent, I exhale, eyes wet, but comforted in the knowing that love is greatest motivating force in the expansion of consciousness. Our greatest hope is that more angel-artists bless us through their vulnerability and channel the collective force of love.

Kate Daudy’s work entitled, Am I my Brother’s Keeper? is on display until the 27th of June.

The project was developed in partnership with UNHCR and Counterpoints Arts


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