Ironically, the more disabled I get and admit to being, the more art I commit.
I have chosen to “hang” work in the DAC online Gallery that tell the story of my journey from somebody who believed she was “no good at art” to a woman who identifies as an artist.
I was enjoying making bird masks for “The Changeling” when I was meant to be studying Latin and Greek, when I first realised that I was so much happier making art than studying. I was teaching my drama students to make masks when they noticed how much more relaxed I was making art, than performing. I could not believe my eyes, the first time I saw the Kilpeck Síla Na Gig (pronounced Sheela na Gig) in a book about Celtic Art, a big headed, long armed, short legged goddess displaying her genitals on a medieval church. I drew her giving birth to the sun for the Winter Solstice edition of a magazine I was editing. The experience of drawing her was like a conversation, like getting to know her. She felt powerful and unselfconscious. In contrast I often felt and feel cripplingly powerless and self conscious. The drawing was recognisable which was far more than I expected. I had been making masks and painting faces for well over ten years by then but still did not consider myself to be a visual artist. I had also been committed to undoing a lot of bad so called art and creative education as a tutor in further education colleges and arts festivals. I was continually having my heart broken to hear that I was by far not the only one who had an art teacher tell her that she was no good at art. I and my company Maskarray created events where nobody merely sat and watched. The entire so-called audience, many of whom had not done anything creative since they were discouraged in mainstream education, made masks and learned to dance with them. The dancers were encircled by a percussion orchestra, made up of the other participants who created a sound bath for and in response to the dancers. We also did “proper” plays with masks I had made, one of which, about child rape, we toured to a prison for sex offenders, amongst other venues.
The first time I saw a Síla na Gig in the stones of a church wall, I was so elated that I drove home down the M11 singing “Woman on the edge of time/ Gate between the worlds/ Doorway to life and death/ Síla na Gig” at the top of my voice. Visiting Síla na Gigs became an obsession. Then I carved them out of hard clay. Then I made my own version of one, and, finally, I drew them with oil sticks. These drawings were big and far better than the first pencil drawing for the magazine cover. Somebody told me they were better than my sculpture and I suspect he was right.
My obsessive tendencies transferred to labyrinths. I drew them in sand art on the beach and created a set of thirteen ceramic labyrinth meditation bowls which I placed within a giant labyrinth. I had a friend film me finger walking each bowl as I walked the giant labyrinth. I made a land art labyrinth in the estuary at Appledore Arts Festival 2003, documenting how the tides and cyclists collaborated with me. A photograph of my footprints in this labyrinth was published in Wemoon 2005, along with a verse from my poem “Labyrinth” and a photograph of the roof of a cave that I had taken in 2002 in my mother land Zimbabwe. Both photographs were exhibited in The Tower at Oriel y Parc, St Davids in May/June 2013 as part of a photographic poem “Slow Dance” which Cheryl and Jeff Beer helped me to record and upload to YouTube.
It was only after I made my first ever real home in Wales, on the coast of Ceredigion, in 2004 that I began to paint and write poetry regularly. I found that the bigger I painted, the happier I was with the result. I developed a five armed labyrinth, which I felt symbolised a human or goddess figure at the centre. My first large canvas painting was interlocking fire and water labyrinths, an abstract representation of Bríd, goddess of fire and water, called “Holy Well and Sacred Flame”. It was a friend who noticed the labyrinths were heart shaped. I think it was at my first solo show at Imbolc 2010 at the Mulberry Bush Cafe in Lampeter, in celebration of Bríd who is also the celtic goddess of creativity and possibly the Goddess who inspired the medieval Síla na Gig carvers, that I finally accepted that I am a visual artist. It was as I was preparing for my second solo show in October of the same year that I dreamed I was in the centre of the Earth, which is a rainbow labyrinth. Each rainbow labyrinth I have painted has deepened my conversation with Earth and my relationship with her as an Earthling. On Lammas 2012, a group of us created a rainbow labyrinth on Cwmtudu beach out of fruit and flowers and cloth and danced her with a seal as our audience. In October, I hung a ten foot by eight foot piece of calico cloth from my ceiling and began the six month journey of painting a gigantic rainbow labyrinth. The photographs of the artist dancing and lying in the heart of the labyrinth were taken in St Non’s Well ruined chapel, St Davids on the day I first danced her with friends. Two months later, I was hospitalised with what turns out to be life long heart failure. My heart muscle failed to compact while I was still in utero and this explains a number of my hitherto unexplained degenerating disabilities. This episode in hospital left me considerably weakened and has necessitated a reduction in the size of my paintings. I have discovered that water colour does not like boundaries and my rainbow labyrinths have become relaxed, jazz like improvisations. They have also become prayers. I painted “PIP ~ Personal Independence Prayer”, which is currently touring in the DAC Annual Exhibition before sitting down to fill out my PIP form. I was more relaxed than ever before as I filled it out, cheered up by the vibrant colours of my painting. I am the only person I know who has transferred from DLA onto PIP and increased my benefit without having to go through a medical examination. I cannot prove that painting my prayer helped this to happen but I will be making a painting prayer before every form filling and challenge I face in the future. I also painted “Breathe Hope For Roísin” as a prayer for my friend who was fundraising for adult stem cell treatment. Due mainly to her bravery and determination, she reached her target funds in record time. I cannot prove but hope my picture prayer helped more than the money it raised. There is a poem, “Down To Earth” and a story, “The Trouble with Trouble” which go with The Rainbow Labyrinth. I am hoping to paint and publish them this year. I also harbour a long term dream of co-creating a Rainbow Labyrinth Centre with a permanent wheel chair accessible rainbow labyrinth and gallery for meditation and creative renewal.
Quote from Brid’s poem ‘Labyrinth’ – “The spiralling, folding labyrinth/ Is a dance to the centre of time/ A place where mind and body are stilled/ And soul has a moment to sing.”
To view Brid’s film ‘Slow Dance’click here: Slow Dance Film
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