On this episode, Amy and Miriam speak with two of our visual artists from the Fall 2021 issue of The Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability: Iris Gildea and Sharoni Sibony.
The Colours of Forgiveness: Visual Art, Spirituality, Trauma & Mental Health by Iris:
These images were painted as a means of exploring, communicating, coming to terms with, re-imagining and accepting childhood trauma. While recovery from childhood trauma is a difficult and emotionally challenging journey, I have found it is also a journey that is unparalleled in the depths of spirituality that healing and creative expression have manifested for me. My creative practice, like my spirituality, is influenced by a deep reception to interfaith wisdom traditions that guide me toward experiencing and representing what is always an ineffable contact between the human and the divine. I believe strongly that those of us who journey through the more intense spectrums of trauma and the mental health responses that inevitably mark such journeys are also able to access invaluable insights. These are insights to rich experiences of spiritual and human reality that normative culture fails to recognize and/or integrate as an essential part of the human experience.
Living in these margins of spirituality and mental health encounters can be isolating. In my experience, cultural approaches to trauma recovery tend to fail survivors. Yet, art as a means of self-exploration and creative transformation is able to support us as, in my case of surviving childhood sexual abuse, we reclaim the parts of ourselves the cultural norms teach us to silence and repress. That spirituality and art intersect in the on-going recovery from childhood trauma is a beautiful reality to me that I seek to explore creatively. These images are a witnessing to and manifesting of that exploratory process.
My Body's Keeper: Provocations and Possibilities by Sharoni:
I initially made these images for an exhibition in the Virtual Gallery of the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in downtown Toronto, February 2021, and am so grateful for the opportunity to reach a different audience and embark on a broader conversation through this journal. I welcome correspondence with folks in different religious communities about how you’re navigating similar questions about chronic or episodic illness. Disclosure of invisible long-term illness or disability is a fraught and frightening experience but I hope that sharing these personal reflections will only lead to an ever-increasing understanding of our whole selves in our collective spiritual communities.
Both pieces can be viewed here: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/cjtmhd/issue/view/2302
Welcome to the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast,
hosted by Miriam Spies and Amy Panton, which
comes out of the Canadian Journal of Theology,
Mental Health and Disability. We both live
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And now, here is our episode.
Hello, welcome to the Mad and Crip Theology podcast, we are so glad that you joined us this afternoon, well sorry where we are it's the afternoon, um to uh tune in for another episode. And today we are joined by Iris and Sharoni two of our contributors to the um recent issue of the journal and they're both artists so we're so blessed to have you here with us and over to you Miriam. And we wondered if you could introduce yourself so your name, your pronouns, how you're connected to the journal, to the field of mental health, disability, and spirituality,
and also a physical description of yourself and your background so maybe we'll begin with Iris.
Thank you so much. I’m so lovely to be here and meet you all today I’m really grateful. Um so I’m Iris J Gildea use she her pronouns, um I connected to the journal because I’m doing like I found out about the journal because I’m doing my I’m a student the MPS program at an Emmanuel College um and was so excited when I saw the call so especially excited to see an inclusion of art around these themes of spirituality and disability and was just really grateful to see that. Um and I am speaking to you today I’m actually in British Columbia um I’m not in Toronto because I’ve been working and doing everything online um so I’m on one of the Gulf Islands, Cortez Island and I am sitting here at my desk with a cup of warm coffee and of if glasses on that are green glasses and long curly somewhat frizzy brown hair.
I'm white cisgender female um and I just turned 40.
Oh happy birthday, thank you Iris. Um and Sharoni? Yeah thank you so much for having me and happy birthday Iris. Um so my name is Sharoni Sibony and I am a white cisgender woman I use she her pronouns and I am located in Toronto or Tucaranto um and I have dark brown shoulder length hair and black glasses and I am currently just a little floating head in a zoom box sitting against a multi-coloured watercolour wallpaper background, yellow, purple, and sort of reddish tones in it. Thank you, oh and my connection to the journal I was going to tell you um yeah I came to you um Amy and Miriam because I had shared a couple of images of my work on Facebook and a friend of mine knew some people who knew your journal and connected me to it, so I’m an alum of U of T but I didn't know I don't I’m not keeping abreast so much of what's going on these days because my work is not in academia so um it was just really exciting to get connected to you and to see what you're developing with the journal so I’m really impressed and thank you so much for including me in it.
Well we're so happy that both of you could contribute to this this issue and um we've had such awesome feedback about your work from both of you so thank you so much. And the first question we wanted to ask both of you is about your art so we wanted to ask you both that you turn to art as a means of expressing your spiritualities so can you tell us when you first found out that art was helpful or healing to you? I’m wondering Iris if you wouldn't mind starting off for us. Of course um it's kind of funny because as Amy was just asking that question I had a flash of myself as a really young child making art in my room and so I think my answer is different than what I thought it was um I think in the way that children do I just intuitively went to the arts and and um as my work expresses I I lived with a lot of childhood trauma and came from very abusive home and so I think being in my room making art with glitter and colour was a way of both cultivating safety and expressing myself, um but that said it was actually much later into my late 20s when I came to visual art, um unfortunately like many people through the school system like when I got a bad grade on an art project in school I took it as my failed like you are not an artist and and for me I was like a perfectionist in school so it was like okay that's not what I can do, um and it was really once I was really processing my trauma and integrating and healing um that my my Buddhist gestalt therapist actually recommended, I came in saying that I have like I started waking up with like colours in my head and I was telling her about this yellow band in my head and she was like well why don't you draw it and I was like what I couldn't do that and then I started painting and it was just like flooding out of me images and experiences and um it all happened quite organically for me and then I trained in expressive arts and developed more of a formal practice but briefly that's I guess my my journey there.
We're so glad that you didn't give up after the school gave you a bad grade on your art and you know I can totally I’m sure Miriam also can um say that both of us because we're both PhD students right now getting feedback on some of our written work we have the same kind of experience like me this week wondering you know should I give up should I keep going is this worth it and yeah it's um I’m so grateful to the people in my life who encourage me and uh get me to keep going so so thank you Iris. And Sharoni can I ask you to uh tell listeners your answer to the question? Yeah sure and I just want to say also Amy um as a person who eventually did leave a PhD some years ago and I’m very happy in my life now um but had a whole transition period out of that just you know stick it out but don't put don't invest all your um all your emotional energy and response to the people to the advisors' responses right the world is much bigger than those two or three people on your committee so. Sometimes sometimes it can feel like it's not but yes thank you. I know I know I have a lot of friends who have gone through grad school PhD programs and I always find myself offering that kind of counsel because now that I’ve moved out into the world outside of my department I you know I see it in a different way. But anyway yeah I I don't have you know I saw your question in advance and I didn't have a concrete answer to it I actually uh I don't know I think it's just always been there as a tool a art as a tool for spiritual self-expression or just self-expression in a way that I didn't necessarily understand as spiritual for most of my life and um most of my artistic practices until the pandemic were in a clay studio, and I had done pottery as a hobby for 25 years or something and I came to it um really not through a high school class but through a summer program that we had in high school and um just loved the medium just loved working with clay and and just kept going with it as a hobby for years and years and then about five years ago I quit a full-time salary job and went back to school to Sheridan College in Oakville on Ontario and I pursued um part of a degree, again didn't finish that one either, um in in clay and craft and design and I’m drawn to it all the time and my my greatest struggle I would say is that in the last two years since March 13 2020 I haven't been in a studio and um I haven't had my hands in the mud and it's it was always um a process for me that allowed a lot of emotional regulation right? It was always a meditative calming practice whether I was sitting at a wheel or carving clay and shaping coil pots or something like that, but there's um there's an inherent spirituality in the earthiness of the material I think and then working directly with it my hands in it as opposed to having tools in the way I know Iris talks about that and you talk about that in your own work a little bit or different kinds of tools right but um for me that really tactile experience was emotionally grounding more than consciously a spiritual thing and it's only in the last couple of years that I’ve kind of expressed it or understood it as a spiritual practice for myself um and it's partly because it's since the pandemic started and zoom opened up the world to us and I’ve been able to go to classes elsewhere that are like trans geographic classes now right? And I uh I found an organization in California called the Jewish Studio Project and they have a whole thing about creative process as spiritual practice it's informed by expressive arts therapy practices but it's re-centered in a Jewish communal space and then art making becomes kind it becomes a prayer right in a sense and it's really beautiful they talk about the studio as a sanctuary and like there's just all this amazing language around it um and there's a ritualized way of doing art making in that space and I’m now training through them in uh what they have a creative facilitator training cohort right now so I’m doing some training with them and so I’m much more immersed in it on the daily and um and really much more conscious of how I use that as another mechanism to access my connection to Jewish community or my sense of the divine and the creative source in the world and coming through me or my sense of inner calm, um you know all of those pieces and my sense of like social revolution a little bit is nurtured through that too like how can I how can I put more healing energy into the world in a sense right, more love and more goodness through the art so um that's where I’m at with it now but that's a conscious thing that's only happened in the last couple of years I would say.
Wow it sounds so interesting and I love I love what you said about thinking about art making as prayer um I know part of the in part of the program that Miriam and I are in they talked to us a lot about writing as becoming writing as a spiritual practice and trying to frame like our daily likes like slugging through our writing as as a prayer or as an offering to god so I really appreciate that Sharoni, thank you so much and I think Miriam has our next question. And this is for Iris and your piece talks about you being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and often we hear about stories where churches or spiritual communities have been a source of more harm than healing in this in these stories and so we are wondering if you can tell us about something that someone in your faith community has done to help with your healing journey.
Thanks Miriam um I saw this question and unfo unfortunately in my experience um as Miriam kind of suggested there of the stories that you hear like in my particular experience I would say I have received more harm from formal um faith communities and that's not it's not intentional like um and I think part of the reason is like I I work I’m also a feminist trauma theorist and I work with this language of the deficiency praxis which is kind of the the model that a lot of um mental health approaches survivors from and it's kind of this idea that because of circumstances that that we are somehow deficient right and and I think that's what a lot of folks are trained in you know and it's how the literature is set up it's how mental health literature is set up so I think when folks in positions of power whether it's a minister or sometimes even a therapist come and this has been my experience um there's this intention to fix instead of to be with. Um and so that's so that said I I have to even in even in my Buddhist community I didn't find much support but I did find a lot of support in the expressive arts community um and I think this is for a lot of the reasons that Sharoni was just mentioning about what the practice is in being in the body and allowing the creative spirit and soul to come into presence and working with teachers and really fellow students where also I mean this is why I come to the arts intuitively and theoretically because some of us bear stories that like our nervous system actually is programmed not to speak in explicit language and it's part of being a human and this is trauma but this is also incredible spiritual experiences as well and it's like we need different languages to communicate and so I think being in a community in the expressive arts committee was the first time I was with people who could kind of intuitively allow the body and spirituality to be present in the creative process and I did share a lot there like I shared a lot of my own story through my art, through the art making, through the process that is expressive therapy training. And so I would say that's the community where I kind of first actually found support and that said my own healing has been the most rooted in my own spiritual practice which has absolutely been entwined with art and entwined with nature but again it's those art based ways of knowing those land-based ways of knowing that for me let me tap into my embodied way of being and connecting and I think there are definitely faith leaders out there that do that work I just didn't happen to connect with any of them in my path. Yeah and maybe you can say a word or two about how a faith leader might respond
differently so that embodiment in the art, in the healing can happen in that in those communities as well.
Yeah I think it's true I think it's tricky because I think that you know there's this line that no two survivors respond the same way and I think it's I think true so it makes it difficult but for me it is just about being with in the true sense of witnessing without any attachment to goal or object other than actually just being with you know and if a person wants to talk then listening, if a person is asking for certain advice you know especially around faith and perhaps doing that but I I I think for me one of the biggest pieces that a faith leader can do in that situation if they haven't had these types of of childhood traumas is to acknowledge that and to acknowledge that they might know they might not be able to understand and that theory and dogma is not actually able to touch into the complexity that we bear with us um and so for me again that just comes back to being with and just moving from that authentic love and compassion um
and absolutely not trying to fix anything. Yeah yeah thank you Iris. Can I jump in on that for a second Miriam is that okay? Yeah. I just want to say I just in the last few weeks met a rabbi who um I think she was trained in the Hebrew Union College, reform Jewish seminary so liberal denomination of Judaism um Emily Erinson is her name and she's got a new project called chronic congregation sorry chronic congregation I think it's findable on Instagram and I’ve seen her do a couple of talks recently where she's talking about the intersection of chronic illness, disability and Judaism in a way that I rarely hear Jewish leaders talking about it. And one of her things that she talks about is a theology around chronic illness and um she has envisioned to speak to your point Iris she has envisioned a God who sits with us and cries with us like a pastoral counsellor right and the power of crying together shedding the tears together but not speaking and not you know not processing it in another way and like not verbalizing your pain and stuff and like that that image is really powerful to me um that sort of that idea of a God who sits you know or like somebody who sits alongside you in the pain because you know suffering of one sort or another is everybody's lot in life and um I think for me it's just really empowering to hear her talk about that because I don't I think on an individual basis rabbis that I know speak to people who need the help in very compassionate and supportive ways but I’m not sure that from the pulpit you necessarily hear this um as a conscientious part of their discourse and that's something that I’m curious to see if it will evolve in different ways, there are, she's not the first rabbi I know who's done uh healing work and work around illness and disability but um she seems to be doing something a little different with it now so I just wanted to share that with you. Thank you Sharoni and thank you Iris, the being with is so powerful and part of why Amy and I wanted to create this journal and podcasts. We also wondered if you could pick out a painting for Amy share and you to talk tell us a bit more about it.
Um sure so the one that kind of jumped at me was the one her her light drips me um
yeah that one and you just want me to talk about it Miriam?
Um you know I I guess the reason that I was drawn to this one is I just see so many textures present and maybe also as we're just talking about this um
and for me like all of my work is about the necessity of the arts in healing childhood trauma and integrating and for me when I see this piece like which was very much like as I said in the thing like I was really listening to Ani DiFranco at this point in my life and her guitar and like I would just I would just paint like for so long in the evening in my apartment alone with my cats and they would get paint all over the place and like I I just am brought into my body with this and like the the satisfaction that I received from using my fingernails and using nails and rocks um for me like in that very the personalized political way like I I think there is a resistance to what we're taught has to be a pretty painting or proper technique or in the ways that all these colonial and patriarchal paradigms like take over our meaning making processes and so for me when I see when I see this and I see all the energy that that I see on the screen from just paint in different directions and different colours um it speaks to me of of that embodied practice and it also speaks to me of the ability for especially visual art, abstract visual art for me to express the complicated history of emotions um that a survivor of childhood trauma lives with every day um in a way that is for me beautiful and safe and brings joy through the act of creating um and maybe I’ll leave it at that. Thanks Iris, it's such a provocative and beautiful piece so thank you for sharing.
Do you want to pull one of mine up now or sorry I just jumped. Yeah sure we can pull one up for sure just give me one sec here and for those people who are listening to us and if you want to go check out the pieces you can just navigate to our journal uh to the um
to our most recent issue and you'll be able to see them there and if you are watching on YouTube uh you'll be following along with us I’m sure sorry just give me one second here um did I pass it I passed it ah here we go
uh is there one Sharoni that you are thinking of. Yeah I was thinking I mean I think the last one the way you presented them I think it's the last one was probably the one that started me going on this project yes okay so this is um okay. So for those of you who are listening in this is an image the background of it is uh what I I took um painters' tape but very thin strips of painters tape and I’ve just created a pattern derived from images that I found of um uh medical photographs of fascia tissue the collagen connective tissue that holds basically everything in place in our bodies I guess um and and so the background is watercolour painting um against that tape and then when the tape is removed these white lines appear and then there's a layer of um diagrammatic uh bodies I guess there there's a figure and a half on this image where I took the um diagnostic diagram that they use for fibromyalgia which is the condition that I live with and it's got demarcated spots on the body to indicate where they test you to where they apply pressure to see if you express tenderness and then if you hit 11 of the 18 or more than 11 of the 18 they diagnose you as having fibromyalgia if they can't find anything else to diagnose you with I guess and um on top of all of that there is um I don't know how many of you know what this is in this so what I’ve what I’ve done in this whole series is I’ve combined um my own objects of self-care things that I use to take care of my pain like to manage my pain on a regular basis with images drawn from Jewish sacred spaces, from synagogue life so in this instance it's a tool that's called the back buddy and it's like a plastic thing that you hook over your shoulder or around your neck and when you pull it toward you or pull it sort of away from your back um you can apply pressure to certain trigger points and for me that's very helpful in relieving certain kinds of pain some days um but I reimagined it here so that every end of it where it points is a little hand and that is um I guess an homage I don't know what the word the best word for it is but that's supposed to be representing the um Torah pointers that are used in synagogue life so you're not supposed to touch the Torah directly or get your finger oil on it because it's parchment usually and um or or yeah some kind of skin right and uh and so we use um a kind of prosthetic device to extend our own reach and it's just like usually a metal or wooden stick very ornate most of the time with a little hand sculpted at the end of it so that you can track the line as you're reading from the Torah if you're the community's leader right so um I was really interested in thinking about all these different layers here and I want to try to work with this kind of thing more um going forward like more of a kind of layered palimpsestic or collage like kind of quality um thinking about uh the medicalization of these things and the absence of diagnostic tools or the insufficiency of supports um that's sort of playing in my mind when I look at this and then also like all of these um I guess all of the things I’ve had to suss out for myself over the years like from word of mouth recommendations from people who also are dealing with variations on chronic pain to find things like a back betty or whatever like there's no doctor who sits down and tells you here's a shopping list you should get yourself you know these 20 items that will maybe help you manage this when I can't help you manage it right so um part of it was thinking about that and part of it was putting this forward in people's direct line of sight so that people could experience a little hint of what it's like to have all of this stuff around you kind of um the day-to-day routine of self-care in my life and making my invisible disability a bit more visible that way and then also specifically combining it with imagery from synagogue life because I saw the potential and I just I saw these two visual vocabularies kind of merging in my mind as I sat with these things and I was intrigued by what it would mean then to handle my body as if it were a) as sacred as a Torah because I’m not sure I’ve always treated it with you know kind of sacredness in my life um but to take that tender care of it in that way and also to think a little bit about what what's conjured up for us when we come to the Torah with the kind of sensitivity of keeping in mind the people in our community who are living with the ebbs and flows of chronic pain or disability or trauma or crossover of all of these things right and what it would mean to hold that Torah pointer and offer new readings and insights on the text and you know new language for prayers or whatever it is thinking about it that way um to come to the Torah with the same kind of tenderness that I’m now taking on my body I mean we do we do I’m not implying that people mishandled the Torah in the first place but um you know just to to come at it with that that extra layer of sensitivity I think would be really powerful so that's where that came from.
Well this is such a beautiful piece and um I I love the colors of this one Sharoni it's uh in the background it's like these beautiful warm like pinks and purples and kind of oranges and then the front and there's white running through it and then there's like really beautiful rich dark purple in the front it's so pretty so thank you so much for blessing us with this artwork today I’m gonna stop sharing now
So we wanted to ask you Sharoni um how do you imagine synagogues as places where people can turn to for comfort and care so you've you've talked about um the integration of some images that and like tools that you might use while you're at synagogue um do you could you tell us a little bit more about care and comfort? Yeah thanks I mean it's a it's a very difficult question for me to navigate I currently work part-time in one synagogue in Toronto and um hop around among different learning Jewish learning communities and synagogue spaces and alternatives to synagogues I guess like the Jewish studio project that I mentioned earlier and I think that the amazing thing is that in many ways if people have a good relationship with the rabbis in their congregation if they're synagogue members then they do find that they have that kind of individual individualized attention and care right and most of the rabbis I know in my experience and I’ve worked in the Jewish community for a while so I know quite a number of rabbis are incredibly compassionate tender people um and they're they're even mindful in their um frontal kind of lectories like sermonizing moments right but I think that there's room for a little bit more of that and one of the things that I think is
like part of the challenge is that in Judaism like in a lot of other places there's a structured kind of um codified code of prayer uh you know ritual performances various kinds of ritual acts right? And then there's the more spontaneous effusion of this moment of intention of you know what do I bring here to the table today how am I feeling what's the what's moving me in my heart so if you think about prayer for example you have like the formal we call it like the formal traditional structures of prayer and then you have what we call kavanagh in Hebrew this idea of like this intentionality of this like this this move like the spirit's moving me in a kind of way right and sometimes it's very hard to achieve a mix of those two in a moment and so one of the places that I’ve really struggled with in my community experience and that I hope that a synagogue could reimagine even better than it's done so far is a prayer for the sick so when the Torah is open in um in our services we often offer an opportunity for people to name the community members that they're thinking of who are ill or struggling with some kind of um illness and I have struggled with this because a language is a the prayer is usually translated into English as um a prayer for complete and speedy healing or complete healing right so there's like a curative model of the language and in most of the translations and um and secondly is a person who's lived with 25 some extra years of chronic pain like am I supposed to put my name forward every week for this, am I supposed to stand up and say I’m having a flare up sorry can you take care of me this week and also what what extra care beyond the prayer would be on the blessing is then offered when people do stand up and say like okay I know somebody who's ill, and you know so I think communities do organize around um recognizing there's a tradition of be core haleem of taking care of the sick and in the Jewish community and there's you know a huge um network effort to support people who are known to be ill but I you know those questions of disclosure and like admission of like when is it bad enough that I’m gonna get my name said and when is it well this is an okay week maybe I don't feel like I need it and you know how old am I and when I was younger it was so much harder to put myself forward just to have people say my name or whatever because it was just like I was so self-conscious about having an invisible disability and then people knowing that and then I worked in the community and I didn't want people to know that because I didn't want people to um I don't know not hire me for the next job or whatever right and or have have their doubts about my um ability to commit to work so I think that there are a lot of ways in which those things I don't know what the answer is yet I’m hoping to meet the people who can help me think through the answer or who are already further ahead in that thinking than I am um but I think that there's still room for navigating all of that stuff in a more conscientious more mindful way in those spaces that's what I'll say to that for no. Oh thanks that's so great I was thinking as you're talking there's a there's an article online like I’m I can't remember the author's name but it's called hurry up and heal and it's about some of this like um
this like push that people get often times from people which is like aren't you like healed yet like hurry up like you've been going over this for so long like it's time to move forward and um yeah I if I can find it I’ll link it below the podcast when we post it so yeah it's a really good one to uh to read so okay Miriam over to you.
This is our favourite part of our podcast besides meeting all you beautiful people that we can hear you talk to each other about your work so reminded I wish if you had a question or a thought about Sharoni's work you might share.
Um yes there's so much especially everything that Sharoni you just said in that response really resonated with me really strongly too um but I guess if I have if I have to ask you a question about your work um I was just wondering if you would talk a little bit about your process like you did talk about a little bit when you're talking about your piece but just um
like is it a long like in doing the colour backdrop and then in deciding what to juxtapose it with like is it experiential? Do you plan it out beforehand? Do you do drafts like I just have process questions for you or whatever you want to talk to. Yeah thanks I mean I have process questions for you too um and I’m gonna throw my question into the mix right away because it's part of my answer to you which is that um a lot of a lot of the work especially this this collection that you published in the journal Amy and Miriam um a lot of this work is very cognitive and I was really moved by your work Iris because in part because it's more it feels more immediate to me, it feels more um directly emotional like you've tapped into something that I I’m not always good at tapping into because I’m up in my head a lot and um so part of uh you know part of my process here was I think I was just like I I I guess maybe because as a um I don't know if it was like my personality or my training but because of my background in research I sit and think a lot before I do anything, I don't know if any of you can relate to that, but I sit and think a long time before I do things usually, um and so in this instance I had been sitting and mulling over the objects that surround me in my home and noticing that there were affinities between I think it started probably with the foam roller Torah idea that I was looking at this massage roller like this rolling pin that I had and I was like oh if you put two of those together it kind of looks like a Torah scroll I wonder what could come of that and I started talking to people about it and one friend saw an opportunity to say to connect the um the tens machine the electrode thing with phylacteries that you wear around your arm around your head in Judaism, um and another friend suggested the pomegranate pill box and um and so you know I just sort of it evolved from there in terms of um building up a collection and I was imagining uh I was also in shopping for a medicine cabinet around the same time and I was like oh these beautiful tourist scrolls or Torah containers rather these wooden and um metal cases that come from parts of the world like Syria and Yemen and um I think also Morocco they they have these like really elaborate cases and what would it be like to reimagine that as a medicine cabinet so the imagery started there and then I was trying to visualize like how do I like what do I do with that on paper? Because I was imagining it as a sculptural a set of sculptural objects first actually because I was in the studio working in clay at the time and then the pandemic hit and I was like how can I do this as sort of sketches toward this sculptural installation and I don't do a lot of I hadn't been doing a lot of work on paper for years so it was definitely a challenge and I would say I just started looking at medical images and like photographs of different tissues and things like that and thinking about all the different systems that I feel are interplaying in my own fibromyalgia situation the nervous system the fascia the like all of the things that I’ve gone for acupuncture for or massage therapy for or like you name it I’ve tried this you know craniofacial um like I just have tried all kinds of different things trying to figure out like which system needs their help today right so I was interested in thinking about um that embodied experience and like as a background and then I think the rest just came more intuitively and one one of them I probably did uh something you could call a draft because I chucked it and colours were way wrong and then I redid it so but mostly I would say like the colours were more intuitive I looked at the paint container and I was like ah these these appeal to me right now right um and then I just started building it up that way so yeah.
Does that answer your question Iris? Yes it does I love also imagining you like the fact because I forgot how you had started talking about the clay and like that that is how you would have been kind of envisioning this and then moving um so now as you were talking I was like trying to look at them and see if I see like the earthy clay quality and I feel like I I don't know I maybe I’m imagining it but I feel like I can still tap into that even a little bit um but I love the building up too. Yeah I think I was maybe thinking about them as um more porcelain like decorated porcelain objects or more maolica style objects in clay um myolika is a really interesting technique where you take usually um not a pure white clay off in a red clay and you cover it with a tin or lead-based glaze like something that's made the the clear glaze white right and then it's a very stable glaze that you can paint into so you can do really very interesting decorative painting work in myolica um so I had been playing around with one or the other of those kinds of things in my head before the pandemic and then you know just I’ve just stayed home for two years now I haven't left my apartment
um I’m afraid of all of you people.
Can I ask you my question for you which is related to that yeah? um so because I was saying my process is so cognitive it's like it's so up in my head like how can I marry these ideas from these different places how can I do some background research and find some inspirational images and you know think about the layers and the diagrams and all of those pieces um I was especially moving I’ve been trying to tap into that tactile embodied experience of painting lately just by finger painting um just getting my hands dirty with acrylic paint and like kind of activating the badger brain part of my head that likes to carve things away and dig things out and that hasn't been activated for you know not being in my clay studio so I was really moved by your pieces um by the application of colour, the layers, the the seeming chaos especially in the piece you just showed us like there's a kind of um an uncontained quality to that piece especially right um but still really meditative and there's this really interesting balance that's coming across for me between those energies and then to learn that you were doing it with um like with nails or with your fingernails or with rocks and things like how did you come to that process, you talk about this like land-based embodied sense of communion that you have I just want to hear you explain that to me so I can tap into it too.
I don't know that I can. I’ll do my best but I don't it's such a visceral way of being it's like um you know I think the first part is that because I came to painting later and I also as everyone has expressed um I like I work professionally as an academic, I I have been in academia my entire adult life so I think that for me like there was so much freedom in allowing myself to just paint with no rules and the fact that I had no training whereas like when it comes to writing and researching like I have all the training like this was like no training and it was so liberating for me and I think that it was it was having no rules that allows me I think to just follow the pain and it's like simultaneously it's like the impulse in my body is connected to the colour and it's just following it in a very meditative way I think um and then that interestingly really started reflecting because I I’m also a poet and it started reflecting in my poetry and letting me break down like those rigid rules of writing that I had been taught but in terms of the
like I think because so much of my healing has come from being in nature um and just just being with nature, being quiet in nature, walking in nature, whether it's High Park or it's out west um and then like so I'd be walking I used to go to High Park is like like something you said about the like uncontained energy like I feel that within myself and so I would just go to High Park and I would walk and I would like I started just collecting rocks and I was like I’m gonna paint with this and it was like bringing it into this this more connected process for me um
but rarely think I think in the beginning I was thinking about it like I remember being like oh I’m gonna make images of fire because I wanted to work with that like intense fire energy but that didn't it didn't last that long like. And then training and expressive arts also because like part of the like the visual art is like being blindfolded and making a mark on the paper and then having to work out of that so it's like having done a bit of training in there where I got the prompts to like okay splash paint and then emerge from there um so I think I’ve also trained myself to like and it's a very meditative practice for me and I do meditate regularly as well so I think it's like just like I practice watching the thought and letting it go like I pract like oh my gosh the critical the judgment voice is like what is this what are you doing like it pops up and then I’m like okay nice you know and it's like okay and then I just try like it's just following the colour, but I also think I don't I do actually paint with music um and that gets me into a rhythm and into the the body as well um so it's all these different I don't I don't think that's an answer to to you at all but it's just describing the process a bit.
Yeah no it's it's great I mean Miriam and Amy I don't know what you want to jump in with it I’m just also moved by the the nails that will eventually rust over time but that are a feature of that painting um I think there's a lot of powerful symbolism in that too and um and just like thinking about the potential scar tissue of the canvas in that moment um yeah just it's beautiful.
Yes it's so beautiful thank you so much for sharing about your processes both of you that was amazing and I feel like you know when people ask you the question of what would you do with your life if you weren't doing xyz I feel like part of me would want to be an artist um maybe that's something I can explore later on after I’m done all this academic stuff. So we wanted to ask the last question for you both today is what does your soul care look like while you're doing this work and how do you nurture your your spirit while you are engaging with some of these difficult um themes that we explored today so I’m wondering uh Sharoni would you like to start us off. Sure I was hoping that you would go back to Iris first this one is tough for me I I don't know that I’m conscious of it well that's not true. Um I would say somewhere along the way when I left my PhD and I gave up on um what I thought would be a fairly linear ambitious path of a career in as faculty somewhere I reoriented something along I don't know where in the last dozen or so years I’ve reoriented to describing myself as not ambitious in a career sense like I’m not trying to climb a ladder I want to have impact in the works in the various jobs that I do but I don't feel the need to like be ambitious with a capital A like that but I feel I tell people I’m ambitious when it comes to my soul and um I feel like I’m constantly trying to cultivate some sense of my soul in this world and I don't know exactly what that means but for me in the last couple of years certainly uh I mean learning learning is a big piece of that for me so I spend a lot of time in online learning communities and online classes and meeting with people in dynamic dialogic spaces because I really like that exchange rather than just sitting down and reading on my own these days I uh I also do some poetry but not publishable um I’ve been taking workshops the amazing thing by the way through the pandemic is the poetry foundation in Chicago has been offering free workshops, hot tip, um online every week it's amazing Maggie Queenie is the teacher she's wonderful um so I feel like I’ve learned a lot about getting rid of the critical voice that, like I was an English literature scholar so it was not in my imagination to be a creative writer because I had so built up that critical voice so disabling that critical voice in a sense um and kind of enabling the creative voice has been a hard balance a hard activity but I think I must that must be part of the soul care work right so it's you know a good bath and music while you're painting or doodling and you know Murdoch Mysteries in the background some days I don't know something like that right and like just trying to um to learn more to hear from more people who were not part of my immediate inner circle in my first phases of life and um you know to grow in community in those ways feels like real school care work to me too and it's all intertwined with the art and the creative process at this stage so that's where I’m at with that. Thank you so much Sharoni and what about you Iris?
Yeah it's not an easy question I agree and I was really grateful that you went to show me first um I think you know I think the way that the arts I think I look to the arts to teach me how to lead a more integrative life um
from I think it's interesting like a a number of we've been mentioning this tension with academia with critical thought right that that is and that is something that has been in my life since not when I was an undergrad but when I entered grad school um in my in I don't know how old I was 22, um I’ve always been at odds with this learned idea of what intellectual thought is and for me I also recognize that I think that conceptual thought is a beautiful art form when it is allowed to be an art form and so for me the soul work is like trying to take out these learned categories of here I am an artist and here I’m a professor and here I’m a student and here I’m a friend you know and it's like allowing this fluid mess to emerge so that I don't because I think when I’m trying to separate those parts of myself so I’m hiding and I’m hiding always the survivor and so it's like when she is allowed to just be who I am like that's the soul work for me and and the arts have taught me that about myself they've taught me about that inherent creative rhythm that can be in everything um and so I think and like can I just emphasize the good bath like like this whole work um it's funny too I hated baths for the first half of my life and then I again trauma related learned to love them and they are like such a place of integration and release for me um and like the heat and again the body right like allowing the rest and for me this soul work is actually like like I will go through periods where I don't paint for quite a while and then I’ll be painting and then I you know it's like not putting the pressure that I need to perform a certain way or I need to share it or like really unlearning the whole like it's only worthy if it's published or it's only worthy if it's been approved by someone else and like claiming the process of it um for me the soul work is being in the process and actually not attaching to the outcome and trying to find a way to continuously learn to do that because it's so hard in this consumer-driven capitalistic patriarchal colonial white supremacist world that we live in in North America
Yeah thank you so much Iris and Sharoni um this has been a very thought-provoking, creative collaboration and conversation and I’m not an artist myself but I’m so in awe of your work and how you bring how you live the process
so thank you for sharing that and I agree with a good bath or a good book or a cheesy tv show to make let the brain stop a bit
and we wondered if there was anything else you wanted to share today that you haven't had a chance to say, if not that's totally fine too. Yeah I’ll just make a book recommendation um and maybe Iris you've come across this but um the the woman who runs the Jewish studio project that I keep mentioning because I’m training with them now and it's very much foremost on my mind um rabbi Idina Allen is the daughter of a an expressive or an arts therapist who ran something called the open studio project and she has a book her name is Pat Allen she has a few books but one called Art is a Spiritual Path and it might be for people who are interested in this kind of conversation it might be a really good opening uh place to start exploring this a little bit more and Miriam I would say you're not not an artist right like everybody can be an artist I’ve literally I’ve been finger painting lately and it's kind of amazing what happens right so um everybody can be an artist if you just start tapping into that creative instinct that was maybe overridden by teachers or parents or everybody over the years right but you can get back to it if you just put all that aside and just play with the materials right because Iris was saying it's all about process not product and that's really the fun of just like lose yourself in the materials and see what surfaces, that's the beauty part.
Thank you Sharoni. I would say that book actually is interesting because that book I do know that book and it was the first time I had like seen someone that was like artist and I was like this is what this is me this is my spiritual language around this and it was um and it was really like helpful again that solidarity right and that just knowing that that that yeah the process I won't go into it but I also wanted to say um I also just want to say how much I really appreciated this journal and this like when I read through it when you send like I sent it to so many people because I think it's wonderful and so needed and the range of experiences and articles and just bringing these conversations creating space for them um like this is how we change academia in these systems um so I just wanted to thank you for the work that you are doing.
Thank you for being part of it and thank you to our listeners today we hope it sparks some creativity in your lives.
Here here thank you very much to both of you and to Iris for the conversation and I just I want to echo what Iris said I felt really empowered by um your choice but by the fact that you've selected my work for publication and and to be part of this broader conversation is really exciting for me so thank you.