Art as Healing
This month the Face Forward artist community explored the topic of Art as Medicine. Ricardo Levins Morales, a dynamic artist/activist/trickster/healer, facilitated a compelling Artist Dialogue in which he shared his process of healing communities through art. He identifies the ailment—what’s keeping a group powerless or hopeless—and offers up a piece of art to empower and inspire. When asked if he makes art that’s healing to him personally, he replied that his community art is self-healing.
Ricardo echoed a thought that kept coming back to me throughout the month of Face Forward events: what’s healing to the individual is healing to the world. As I explored the intersection of art and healing with the Face Forward community, I reflected on my own artistic process. I began to use my art more intentionally to heal the broken places within myself, and “Soul Portraits” emerged.
"*enthusiastic guitar and percussion noises*" -Lewis
This spring, I dove into a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program with Yoga North Duluth. Out of the entire training, five minutes stand out as the most impactful. “Choose a partner. Sit facing one another. Decide who speaks first. For the next three minutes, tell your partner what makes you come alive. Listener, just listen without responding. Then switch.”
Watching Marcee’s eyes light up as she recalled her days as a midwife and the magic of being the first hands to touch a child as it comes into the world brought me to tears. Marcee and I still look back on this exchange and continue to receive nourishment from the memory of sparking one another.
“I feel most alive when I have the chance just to be who I am in the moment.” -Julia
These kinds of interactions are my favorite medicine. My personal healing process is ultimately a journey of reconnecting spirit and matter, grounding myself in my body and yet transcending separation. When body, mind, and spirit are one, I experience the spiritual depth of the physical world. My body softens, energy flows freely, and heart opens as I surrender to something higher than my separate self.
"My mama gave me life, and the rest is history." -Ayo
“Soul Portraits: Witnessing Spirit” is a game I created for myself, a way to conceive of life as a playground and live more in that state of openness and ease. I go through my day with curiosity and reverence for the people I come into contact with or pass by. If the moment feels right, I invite them to take part in my project. I set up my phone to record audio and take the cap off my camera lens and ask, “What makes you come alive?” As the subject reflects and shares, I try to capture the spark in their eyes and the animation in their bodies. They radiate spirit—life force energy—simply by recalling and sharing their sources of inspiration, the ways they find meaning in life.
Witnessing another being’s spirit helps me to recognize the sacred in everyone I meet. It allows me to be in the world how I wish to be: creating meaningful connections with all kinds of people, knowing that we are One. The project has become a bridge, an excuse to approach a stranger, particularly if they’re not someone I would normally find myself drawn to! This intentional curiosity pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone and challenges my limiting beliefs about with whom I can experience union. Gratitude fills my heart for the opportunity to share vulnerability as people trust me with their stories and their image. The energy emitted by someone speaking about their passions is contagious and inherently healing. No matter how I was feeling before the exchange, I leave feeling present and inspired.
“Connecting with the beat of my heart, the beat of the drum, the beat of our Mother Earth.” -Colee
In return, I get to reflect that light back. I provide a space for others to remember what inspires them, what ignites their life, and I receive and celebrate their beauty. They do not have to do or be anything other than they are to be lovable or magical; if only for a moment, they can experience their mere presence on this planet as a gift. The art emerges in photos and quotes, but most importantly in the connection we form, however brief.
The most painful experience I’ve had has been separation, the feeling that I do not belong in this world. Art can help us to create a world in which we want to belong, in which we can be ourselves and give and receive love. What could be more healing?
Click here to learn more about my project!
“I love putting on shows and seeing people enjoy themselves and have a good time…if people are meeting each other and connecting across any boundary, across any lines of identity or background or music genre or art, then that means I’m doing a good job.” -Maya
By Rivka Shapiro, @RivkaShapiro on twitter. Rivka Shapiro is a registered Artist and Financial Development Intern with Face Forward. Her art flows between movement, music, poetry, visual art, ceramics, wildcrafting, and healing practices.