Week 9: Shadows, Puppets, Life, Death
The Arab Spring, English Autumn project ran for eight weeks. In the final week one of the group members kindly offered an additional workshop to be run by her friend, Noa, a Puppeteer, Performance Artist and Shadow Puppeteer. Two of the group members found a space in Central London for us to work in, arranged an overhead projector and all the materials.
I was excited to take part in the workshop. As a facilitator, although I felt a solid sense that I was very much part of this group, I had to take on a directive role and was not able to join in some of the creative processes. I had met with my supervisor throughout the group process and discussed the role of facilitator with her. I explored dramatherapy models and literature regarding this role and faced my own tensions and conflicts as not only a facilitator but also simultaneously as a participant, learning from and responding to the group dynamics and discussions. Being of Middle Eastern origin and growing up in the UK, there is no doubt that my intention in setting up this group was to provide an exploratory space for issues close to my heart. Whilst I did not actively contribute to discussions or creative exercises, I witnessed, empathised with and was challenged by honest and raw expressions of identity conflict and resolution.
The shadow puppetry workshop ended up being an intimate meeting, as only 4 members of the group were able to attend. One member requested we start with meditation. We sat in a circle and I led a longer -than-usual guided visualisation. I was struck by the power of simple mindfulness and meditative exercises in this group, many of whom had never engaged with breathing meditations or guided visualisations before. In my work with other groups, including young migrants and women survivors of domestic and sexual violence, I have observed that they also embrace this silent space, awareness and attentiveness to breath and body.
After the meditation I took a backseat and enjoyed letting go of the reins and engaging creatively as a participant. Noa asked us about the sessions over the last eight weeks. We each offered our thoughts. I found myself grateful for the time and space to reflect upon and share the work with her including describing some of the activities, discussions and emotions experienced. It felt important that I did this in the presence of the group, as although they had filled in evaluation forms, we had not yet had time to sit altogether and give our final thoughts on the entire process. We still have the exhibition and discussion on 12th November and after this I am planning to offer the group one more feedback session (using creative methods of course!)
We related to Noa the themes and topics that had surfaced and some of the creative arts, movement and meditation activities used to facilitate this. We highlighted how we came to use Al-Shabbi’s The Will to Life poem, which formed the basis of the final collaborative art piece. Noa asked us if we would like to read the entire poem. We took turns to read through it. She then offered us cardboard, coloured sheets of acetate, sticks, glue and scissors to cut out figures representing any elements of the poem that we were drawn to.
The Will to Life is rich in natural metaphor; I found myself wanting to create landscapes. I made mountains from card, glued on a river made from blue acetate and a sun from yellow acetate. Once placed on the overhead projector and viewed from the other side of a draped cloth, the landscape came alive- it was no longer three pieces of material glued together, but a memory and an emotional connection to symbolism and nature.
I was drawn to the question Al-Shabbi asks Earth and his beautiful description of how they she blesses life and the force that is unleashed if the aspiration and will to live is present. Whilst the poem was being read, I was aware of the dualities, of darkness and light, the changing seasons, life and death. I thought of nature expressing these qualities and used green and blue acetate to represent their relationship in a yin and yang symbol reminiscent of earth.
Al-Shabbi dedicates a substantial part of the poem to changing cycles of life. Some members of the group cut out the trunk and branches of a tree and used different colour leaves to represent the changing seasons. It crosses my mind that his figurative references to the seasons is synchronous with the title of our project.
We put all our work together at the end of the session and placed them on the projector. We made puppets- of handala (the Palestinian cartoon boy) of a wall, chains, a large tree with different colour leaves, landscapes, lightening, stars, the sun, earth and the moon and we added some cut-out words in Arabic and English.
Shadow puppetry is magical. Like other creative arts processes, it takes us out of the limitations of language and into the world of symbolism, archetype and imagination. As soon as the light of the projector was turned on, it illuminated our shadow images and brought the poem to life. We are planning to create a short shadow puppetry performance to go alongside a complete reading of the poem for the upcoming exhibition on 12th November 2014.
We hope to see you there!
VENUE: P21 Gallery, 21 Chalton Street London NW1 1JD
DATE: Wednesday 12th November 6pm-8.30pm