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“My Experience” Al Noor ~ Fragile Vision

Safiya Al Bahlani, Oman

It is a fact that one of the difficult things for a human being to do is to look inside themselves, with honesty; and to equally honestly express their own emotions and thoughts.

In this I am no different from anyone else.  But perhaps my own particular physical challenges make the process that much harder. My own cultural and physical reality reminds me daily that I am different.  But I am really just the same as anyone else; and I see myself as a normal person.

It has been extremely beneficial for me to be able to meet and collaborate artistically with others who have similar life experiences and who therefore share a particular perspective of the human condition.

When I was invited by British Council, Oman to be part of the Al Noor - Fragile Vision project, and a creative journey designed to bring artists with disabilities together to share experiences, I knew straightaway that I wanted to take part, that it could have the potential to be life-changing for me.

It began in Bahrain.  We were asked to project our identities onto large sheets of drawing-paper stuck on the wall.  Automatically, my hands attempted to draw a picture of a perfect person, they always do; and to draw perfect lines – continuously attempting simply to show that, despite my physical challenges, I too can draw or paint.  But Rachel Gadsden demonstrated that I do not have anything to prove, that I should be looking through a different window, more honestly expressing the identity of the person that I really am.

It isn’t about making the perfect drawing, it isn’t about proving what great artistic skills we all have; it is about finding and expressing who we are; exploring our emotions honestly and allowing them to emerge freely through our art.

From drawing, we progressed to creating self-portraits in the form of sculpted heads, the aim, once again, to project emotions into a physical form, rather than to create a physical likeness. The process showed me how to feel through my own hands; hands that many look at and are disturbed by.  But it is with these hands that I work, and with these hands that I bring into physical being my creative voice.

In Bahrain we journeyed to the tree of life: the only tree that stands in the Bahraini desert. Its great branches spread out wide…the tree significantly represents each artist in the project, individuals standing strong in the world, living as disabled women: a significant power and strength in our communities.

I have to be honest, this adventure has been a roller-coaster ride for me, I came face to face with all of the feelings that I had chosen to lock away, I was confronted by the challenges I had refused to acknowledge, because I believed no one would understand.  Being part of this artistic collective I really found freedom. I found my voice, the sense of honest expression, and I gave a free rein to my own identity in sculpture.

Disability should be both physically and spiritually visible in any society.  Everyone within a community faces their individual battles, so in this sense we are all heroes of battle; but we face particular challenges and if these challenges are acknowledged our society will be enriched. In this artistic project we are creatively leading the battle to bring cultural change; and it is the strengths that we possess as disabled individuals which enables us to lead this vision.

I had also the privilege to go to London, and to collaborate and work with Rachel for three days in her studio, creating and working on my art pieces. I also received mentoring, not only around my artistic practice, but perhaps as a person too. Perhaps because of my disability, I have always felt I was alone in this world carrying a weight of emotions, so it has been enlightening and strengthening to be able to share my feelings and my reality with someone who, to some degree, faces similar challenges.  It has been a revelation for me to be made aware that there are many people who are not only creative, but who also face similar challenges and experiences as my own.

I no longer wish to hide my true feelings; and during this whole experience I have come to understand that conversely it is time for me to project outwards, it will not only make me stronger, but it is culturally important for me to share what I have, to express through creativity the person that I am. My voice should, and needs to be, heard within my community and beyond. I proved to myself, long ago, that I am capable; it is now important to the society of which I am a part for me to express what it is that I really feel.

I can only thank Rachel for helping me to understand this, and embrace the challenge.

Posted by Rachel Gadsden, 09:10am 17/10/14

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