Saturday, 14 August 2010

Changing Arts and Minds

A couple of weeks ago sampler-cultureclash was invited to deliver a workshop as part of Craft Month in Northern Ireland. The workshop was a partnership with Leitrim Design House in southern Ireland and the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast. We were invited to work with a group of women from both the Supports For Women project in Leitrim and the Draw Down the Walls project in Belfast. The Supports for Women project has been a year long initiative taking a group of women on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth while also challenging the old negative beliefs that have been inherited as a result of the conflict in Ireland, south and north of the border. The Draw Down the Walls project is a cross-community project working with a wide range of people who live near some of the controversial interface walls in Belfast.
You can find out more about each project here:
Changing Arts & Minds
Draw Down the Walls.

So, with much excitement and nervousness Yusra Warsama and I arrived in Belfast at the Golden Thread Gallery, to a very warm welcome.

As part of Craft Month, the group from Leitrim were showcasing a selection of the work they had created over the year in their exhibition Changing Arts and Minds. So, it was a very special occasion for them - a moment to celebrate and reflect on their individual and collective journeys and achievements. Both Yusra and I felt very privileged to have been invited to share such an important day with them.

To kick start the workshop we asked everyone to introduce themselves. Each of the women spoke with such passion, openness and humanism about how much being involved in each of the two projects had meant to them and how it had changed their lives in hugely positive ways. It was a very powerful, inspiring and moving twenty minutes, and a re-confirmation of the importance and the transforming nature of creativity, and of people working together to help each other when life is difficult and through times of conflict.

For this particular workshop we wanted to explore the process of crafting physical objects and people's relationship to particular objects through the written and spoken word. As with all our workshops we wanted to create an environment where we could work collectively to create new work. To turn the visual and material into written word, spoken word (sound) and then back into the visual.

We asked everyone to choose an object from the exhibition, but not a piece they had created themselves and to think about that piece and how it made them feel - what thoughts, emotions and ideas it raised.

Yusra then lead the group through a series of written and sound exercises and experiments to create a collection of poems, each containing the line "I stitched this sampler". I'm always amazed at how powerful this process is. How what seems like a simple act of choosing and exploring an object can result in such moving pieces of writing exploring loss; memories of and thoughts about close friends, mothers, fathers, families, lovers, children, the home; to moments of happiness and excitement about the future. I think all of us taking part experienced a whole range of emotions during the day from moments of fear and sadness to laughter and joy.

We then recorded each of the poems and played them back through an oscilloscope, thus turning the written and spoken words back into a single continuous moving thread.

Here's a short film of one of the poems created.

After Belfast, the exhibition returns to Leitrim and will be shown at the Leitrim Design House from 19 August until the beginning of September. Alongside the existing work, we're delighted that the exhibition will include the audio recordings, oscilloscope films and the piano player pixel drawing piece we created together during the workshop.

This has to be one of the most moving and inspiring days I've spent working on the sampler-cultureclash project to date, and we've had many. I hope we can continue to work together in some shape or form in the near future. A wonderfully inspiring group of women, both the women taking part and the women facilitating the projects.

I wish all of them the very best as they move forward.

And a huge thank you to Orlagh, Ruth, Anna-Marie and Deirdre for working so hard to enable the workshop take place.