Spreading Hope

Open your doors to Get Creative, brought to you by Arts Health Antigonish. In the time of coronavirus, it’s necessary to hunker down. But we can do it creatively.

In some ways, we have the sense of being in exile from the world: we are separated from each other, yet we’ve never needed each other more. For me, it brings to mind artists who live in exile from their countries of origin. In some cases, these artists are forever banned from returning to their homelands. It isn’t a temporary situation, as it is for all of us undergoing social isolation because of a pandemic.

Ai Weiwei’s sculpture of a seven-headed creature, made of bamboo and paper, was shown in Paris in an exhibit called Er Xi or “Child’s Play” in 2016 (photo credit: Gabriel de la Chapelle).

Photographer, videographer, and filmmaker Shirin Neshat is one of these artists. She unveils a world in which women figure powerfully. In her photographs, women’s hands or faces are sometimes covered in Arabic script. In Neshat’s world, women stand at the centre rather than at the margins. Yet because of her social and political beliefs, she cannot return to Iran and now lives in the United States.

The prolific, endlessly inventive artist Ai Weiwei, who now lives in England, is one of China’s harshest critics. His father, a poet, was sent into exile within China when Ai Weiwei was only an infant. When Ai Weiwei returned from abroad to help look after his ailing father, he remained a thorn in the side of the authorities. He was arrested and detained in 2011. Released in 2015, he went to live in Germany for several years. His sculptures, installations, and films are larger than life and politically provocative. In his condemnation of global injustice, his stance is courageous.

Olag Sentsov is a Ukrainian filmmaker who grew up speaking Russian in the Crimea, the area of Ukraine annexed by Russia. He did not applaud Vladimir Putin’s takeover; instead, he actively resisted it. He was thrown into one jail, then sent to a maximum-security prison camp north of the Arctic Circle. He remained in prison for five years, during which time he wrote three film scripts. Because of pressure from around the world, he was eventually released.

The fact that all three of these artists remained creative in the face of very difficult circumstances gives me enormous hope. It can give us all hope.

In a small way, this blog is meant to spread hope. Shelley Long, a visual artist and arts therapist who has been doing Art Care with Arts Health Antigonish, will offer some posts on visual arts activities. Anne Simpson, a poet and novelist who has worked with AHA! since its inception, will have ideas about writing and collage, among other things. We welcome your ideas too. After all, this is a collaborative venture. We can plant the seeds of creativity wherever we are.

Anne Simpson