Tag Archives: art

What’s in a Squiggle? Notes on Facilitation

By: Benjamin Freeman, Fall 2020 Practitioner in Residence at the Swearer Center and member of The Glitter Goddess Collective

I am a facilitator. As a facilitator, I create experiences that support people in tapping in: to their own curiosities and rumblings, to the wisdom that others have to offer, and to a shared set of ideas or problems, work that needs to be done. Facilitation depends on the so-called “soft skills” of listening, empathic communication, and care, skills that have historically been ascribed to women and femmes and relegated to being of second-class importance in a misogynistic society. In this piece I want to explore facilitation as its own art form — an art form that awakens the artistry in others — and consider how this might be a specifically feminist way of thinking, feeling, being, healing. As a window into this, I want to invite some silliness! I want to share what I have learned facilitating an exercise called the Squiggle Game in my work as this semester’s Practitioner in Residence at the Swearer Center. The Squiggle Game is a deceptively simple activity: one person draws an impulsive squiggle and invites other participants to contribute to it, to make something together. Ostensibly the drawing, the product, is the point. But the drawing is also an entry point for us to reflect on the process of making creative choices together, to re-examine our own relationship to what it means to be a creator.

GOOD WORK TAKES TIME

In her essay “Uses of the Erotic,” Audre Lorde writes that “the sharing of joy…forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” This sharing is one of the core tasks of facilitation that sees justice or equity as its aim. But when do people feel safe enough to share joy, to be vulnerable in play? We cannot come to the conversation assuming we understand each other. The threat of difference has been inserted into our lives by design, and the pleasure of coming to know each other will have to be the product of deliberate creative work. Creating justice is a new kind of performance all of us will have to participate in.

In facilitation I always notice the time it takes to relax. We can’t get to the heart of what we are feeling or thinking or may be needing to experience together right away; there is too much anxiety hanging in the air, too much anticipation of what and how this will be, which precludes the possibility of experiencing it now, as it actually is. Too much fair worry as to whether we will feel safe and seen here. Competitiveness arises for many of us, both in ways of feeling superior and inferior, but rarely feeling ourselves as whatever we actually are. When we can acknowledge this in community it is a grace. Krista Tippett, the host of the podcast On Being, writes about the pressure she experienced in the early years of producing the show to make the episodes punchier, quicker, more concise. She resisted, trusting the slow work that conversation can do. Each time I play the Squiggle Game in a workshop, there is an initial surge of creative energy, then a lull, and then, if I have been skillful in tending to my own sense of urgency, a second wave in which the picture — literal and figurative — gets richer and intensifies. Stopping at the first lull is appealing. It takes immediate care of my anxiety, and it gives us something presentable to work with. But it’s a mistake. It comes at the expense of process. Good work takes time. 

HOW WE COME HOME TO OURSELVES

I have said that, in the Squiggle Game, while we are ostensibly focused on one thing, something concrete, something else happens. Something intimate and vulnerable, something we can choose to be curious about. Most Squiggle Games that I have played include faces with exaggerated expressions of joy; many take dragons as their central protagonist. Eventually, in most Squiggle Games played by Zoom, someone discovers the stamp function on the annotated whiteboard and, in what seems to be a spontaneous flurry owing in part to digital lag, the screen fills up all at once with hearts and checkmarks and stars. People’s accounts of what happens for them in the Squiggle Game usually foreground a sense of silliness and play that they feel renewed permission to express. So the form and the process of the drawing tend to mirror each other: what we create in the Squiggle Game reflects the childlike part of our consciousness that we are tapped into, a way of being that we experience increasing societal pressure to discard as we age. Maya Angelou wrote:

I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.

We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.

How do we come to ourselves? The fundamental genius of child mind is the gift of seeing all things as dynamically alive, which also means that fear and isolation can take on overwhelming proportions. The other set of responses that tend to come up in debrief: this was difficult, I didn’t know what to make, I felt silly in a self-judging way, it was hard to relinquish a sense of autonomy and lean in to collective process and collective mind. What I hear in these responses is the reality that playing can be hard work. That playing is vulnerable, and that it can be unnerving to feel estranged from the native language of learning of our early lives. What accounts for this estrangement? How and when do we learn that playing is something we should devalue and disavow? Sometimes the most important thing a facilitator can do is deliberately raise the level of discomfort in a room, to say: I think there might be something we are collectively avoiding here. Something intimate, something vulnerable. Let’s slow down, look at it, be with it together. The difficulty of coming home to ourselves, and the things that stand in the way of our feeling safe when we go inside: strong facilitation practice regards all of this as valuable. It is not just concrete deliverables that are on my mind in facilitation: it’s our ability to relate well to one another that is always fundamentally at stake, and this depends on our ability to relate well to ourselves.  

THE CONVERSATION THAT ONLY THESE PEOPLE CAN HAVE

In her book Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown says: “There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it.” That is the most elegant definition of facilitation that I have encountered so far. And the idea that the conversation exists, whether or not we choose to attend to it, and that that conversation can be illuminated only through the unique gathering of people present in a given moment, is part of what makes facilitation a spiritual task, as well as a feminist one. A non-feminist ethic is one that says: you are valuable to me insofar as you have something to offer that can advance my own purposes. A feminist ethic is one that acknowledges: you have your own reason for being, and I have mine, and there is an abundance of possibility at the nexus of the two, if we will stay in relationship (thoughtful, considerate, principled relationship) long enough to find it. A feminist ethic knows there is enough time and space for everyone to be heard.

Justice work is healing work.

Justice is relational. 

Healing our relationships, with others, with ourselves.

Everything spirals upwards from there.

Underneath the conscious layer of what we do to make our lives “work” in social context (what Angelou characterizes as finding parking spaces and honoring our credit cards), I feel aware of the fact that there is pain — private, quiet, isolating pain. All of us are asked to discard parts of ourselves that don’t fit the mold, to deaden ourselves to our own suffering and the suffering of others. This is part of how systemic oppression works. I am always curious about these unspoken whispers, these unacknowledged ghosts in a group. Facilitation with a liberating praxis asks: what is just beyond the edge of what feels safe enough to say here? And then: what work can we do to make this space something that might be capable of holding that with tenderness and respect? How do we build spaces that are worthy of the full and complicated selves we actually are, rather than the selves we think others want us to be? We are still talking about the sharing of joy, just through the prism of meditating on pain. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes: “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside / You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” The Squiggle Game is a queer little journey into the heart of that flow, the heart of what makes us human. I have said that facilitation is an art form, one that awakens the artistry in others. It is also a practice of coming back to each moment with clarity and curiosity, and asking: “What might I learn in relationship with you today?” 

What is Feminist Art: A Virtual Exhibition of Children’s Artwork

By: Shanelle Haile, PhD Student in the Department of Sociology and Grad Parent Coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center

We received 23 submissions during our open call for feminist art from the youth in the Brown community. Children were asked to create feminist works of art. The open call’s interpretation of “feminist art” includes abstract art submissions, such as the epic Dibble Dibble Dap Dap by Winter (age 3); depictions of historical figures Frida Kahlo, Harriet Tubman, and Annie Oakley in The Dessert Party by Lola (age 7); and a Lego sculpture by Milo (age 5). I was particularly inspired by the work of our teenage artists, Bella (age 15) and Natalia (age 16), who submitted thematic pieces (Grow Further and Crying), which invite us to reflect on varied gendered experiences. For example, when I look at Grow Further I think of the liberating nature of knowledge. Crying makes me think of the complexity of social norms surrounding femininity. I don’t know whether these interpretations are what our two young, talented artists had in mind but this is the beauty of art. Each of us take from a piece what speaks to us.

I hope you also enjoy this virtual exhibition of children’s artistic expression. The children in our community are certainly a creative group of budding young artists. Cultivating their talents continues our work at the Sarah Doyle Center to foster community and encourage the next generation of potential feminist thinkers and artists.

Note: Five submissions were selected at random to win one of our art kits. The winners are: Claudeline Chery, Chantel Pheiffer, Regina Peick, Laura Stokes, and Isabel Mattia! Winners will be contacted via email.

Children colorful painting drawing on the wall, child dreams, background texture

The Future of Feminist Art: An Open Call for Children’s Art

By: Shanelle Haile, PhD Student in the Department of Sociology and Grad Parent Coordinator at the Sarah Doyle Center

We are kicking off a new academic year of feminist parenting programming by inviting your children to submit works of art to the Sarah Doyle Center’s Radical Roots blog. Feminist art is often associated with the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s, a movement that challenged male dominance, sought the recognition of women in society and questioned gender assumptions. Thus, artwork categorized as feminist often depicts images and concepts pertaining to gender in society. We welcome feminist art submissions that depict these images and concepts but also recognize that some of our little ones are only just learning how to hold a crayon. So we also invite “abstract art” submissions. Take a look at the short video linked here where my own toddler creates a doodle titled “Love”; doodling can be a great way for young children to express themselves during the early stages of their artistic development. Abstract art can also be a means for older children to create images that are unbound to gender or to gendered concepts. And the best thing about it is that no special tools are needed!

Submit your child’s work of art (whether feminist or abstract) by October 20th and be entered to win one of five art kits. Each art kit includes a book Women in Art: 50 Fearless Women Who Inspired the World and an art toolkit for doodling and drawing. All submissions will be digitized and added to the SDC blog/digital art gallery. Simply snap a photo of your child’s artwork and upload on this google form. We welcome artwork from children of all Brown University graduate and medical students, staff, faculty, and postdoc parents.

Be sure to check the SDC Blog for programming updates and to view your child’s featured artwork.

For an abstract art idea, take a look at the Dangerous Doodle instruction video linked HERE for an easy abstract art tutorial.

Image credit: Raimonds Kalva LV/Shutterstock.com

The Two-Pager Club

By: Nicole Sintentos, Claritza Maldonado, Jacquelynn Jones, Maggie Unverzagt Goddard, Kate Duffy, Doctoral Candidates in American Studies

Providence, RI

This time has changed the way that we gather and create.

In late May, Nicole Sintetos reached out to the other graduate students in the American Studies department with an invitation to participate in a writing club. Below is her email, rooted in a feminist praxis of collaboration and care.

To: American Studies Graduate Students

From: Nicole Sintetos

Thu, May 28, 2020 at 5:32 PM

Re: The Two Pager Writing Club

Hi All,

I have been struggling to write the last two months: perhaps it is the isolation that curbs one’s confidence, or just the general depletion of joy in the world, or the increasingly overt brokenness of this country,  but let me tell you the words are not flowing. And yet, the dissertation (or any pressing deadline for that matter) needs to get done.

I’m interested in starting an unorthodox writing club. The rules: everyone in attendance must upload two pages (not three! two!) of any type of writing by Monday at midnight. Truly, any type of writing, as long as it is fresh off the press. It can be a dissertation chapter fragment. A journal entry about one’s frustration writing a dissertation chapter fragment.  A series of incomplete stream-of-conscious ideas written at two in the morning after too much wine in which you are haunted by your incomplete dissertation chapter. A partial fields essay in which you fight with Foucault. A poem about your love for Foucault. A McSweeney’s List. Really, anything.

Then, on Tuesday, over lunch, we will each discuss our individual submissions (simply, one thing we are still struggling with and one thing that we think might be fruitful).  We must then isolate just a single sentence from our submitted writing that we think is worth keeping and read it aloud.The scale of the writing group is to celebrate kernels of ideas, not fully fledged essays, and to hold space for the joy of writing at the sentence level. We actually will not edit each other’s work: the uploading is simply to provide an accountability structure for ourselves, though others can read and offer global compliments. Lunch will not exceed an hour.

I have long-felt that graduate school should be seen as a team sport. The same holds true for writing. And, frankly, I miss the spaces of community where we can casually talk about ideas.

If interested in joining the Two Pager Writing Club please shoot me an email.

Nicole

In addition to gathering virtually each week, Nicole’s email prompted us to focus on both process and the creative work that we do beyond graduate school. Below, each member of the Two Pager Club shares a look into their creative lives and practices beyond our research and dissertation projects. We hold this space for each other to recognize and celebrate the life that we live within and beyond the academy. We encourage you to experiment with art supplies (broadly conceived) and think more about creative process rather than sheer productivity.

Collage image of rhubarb plants and fruit with image of a hand and record turntable.

Collage, Claritza Maldonado

Collage, like poetry, has taught me a lot about fragments, small pieces, and the many beautiful (and sometimes ugly) things that form from them. Most of the images I cut out for this collage are from different tourist magazines, food magazines, fashion magazines, and advertisement pages.

Photo of jeans with sunflowers painted on the back pockets. Yellow, orange, and brown paint bottles with paint brushes and painter palletlay next to the jeans.

Jean Art, Jacquelynn Jones

I started painting jeans because I wanted to use what I had to create something new. Painting this design, while using a new medium, has shown me that inspiration takes time and imagination needs space. It has also served as a needed reminder to slow down, to be patient, and to enjoy the process. 

Photo of an abstract watercolor drawing and art supplies.

Watercolors, Maggie Unverzagt Goddard

I’ve always wanted to understand different watercolor techniques, but I’ve also been intimidated. By playing with different materials, I’m trying to suspend my sense of judgment and allow myself to experiment—a kind of curiosity and acceptance that I try to bring to my writing too.

Photo of a red door within an old stone wall on a sunny day.

Photo, Kate Duffy

I walk around the neighborhood, taking time to notice, ponder, and appreciate the things I see.  This red door in an old stone wall has become a favorite point of interest. Since the pandemic began I’ve observed the vines grow thick with green leaves, then begin to fade again. On and on we go.

Photo credits: All images are by the creator named below the image.

An Offering of Fortitude, with Consuelo Jimenez Underwood

By: Teresa Conchas ‘22, Sarah Doyle Center Student Program Coordinator 

My antique dining room table in hot and sticky San Antonio, TX

Consuelo Jimenez Underwood is a bright soul who sings to the world with welcoming arms. In her early seventies, she beams with an optimistic and enthusiastic energy that is especially touching these days. Each time I experience the treasure of being in her presence, I notice a change in my body and mind — my shoulders relax and my words flow out with ease. Consuelo has a gift for opening, and it comes to her so naturally. 

As many of you in our Sarah Doyle community may recall, Consuelo visited Brown this past fall on a week-long artist residency, during which she collaborated with a group of undergraduates to create Exposing Unseen Boundaries, the most recent installment in her “Borderlines” series. The exhibition showcased a combination of new and old works: the “Brown-Violet Borderline,” “Apocalyptic Rain Song,” a hand-woven barbed-wire basket and tapestry, and photographs documenting a performance along the borderlands. Her artwork reaches deeply into the dynamic political and ecological forces emerging from the U.S.-Mexico border, and sifts through these complex entanglements with bold strokes of color and texture. 

I was fortunate to spend a couple hours chatting with her one afternoon in mid-April. Below you will find some personal reflections and meditations in response to our conversation together. Moreover, I had the opportunity to help out with elements of the Exposing Unseen Boundaries exhibition; included are images of the “power wand” I created (first photo) and the “soil blessings” I arranged (third photo) for its two main wall installations. 

On Solitude

As a fellow textile artist myself, I am all too familiar with the labor-intensive and social distancing aspects that accompany the art-making process. And while I find comfort in the company of my needle and thread and the repetitive motions of embroidering in and out and weaving over and under, every now and then I feel as though asking us to commit our whole selves as artists to the work is too much of a demanding sacrifice — the piling hours of isolation and concentration can become unbearable at times. Thus, when I look upon Consuelo’s beautiful and intricate weavings and paintings, I am filled with wonder and appreciation in reverence to her ability to inhabit this liminal space, carving it out as a universe of her own and transforming it into one of truth, liberation, and imagination. 

When I inquired into her experiences with solitude, she addressed it with a warmth reserved for old friends, referencing Emily Dickinson’s perspective on “solitude of space.” For her, this solitude of “a soul admitted to itself” is long-term, and she is intimately acquainted with its sacred possibility, urging us to presently “do something with it,” to share and create in it. 

Her words on solitude particularly resonate with our moment, as we learn to navigate the difficult and lonely waters of our newly-imposed social guidelines. In our state of quarantine, how can we learn from solitude, find grounding in it, and most importantly, care for ourselves and our loved ones amidst it? I am convinced that art has a vital role in addressing these big questions, in helping us process and understand the new world we are confronted with. Art is healing and unifying, and we should embrace creative practices as a vessel for learning to live with ourselves and our thoughts during this period of remaking and adjustment. Though she is “sad that it’s happening so harshly,” if we have the time and energy, Consuelo asks us to pause and rest, to listen and reflect (inwardly and outwardly) in the silence of our solitude. It will be challenging — approach it with an abundance of patience and tenderness for yourself — but I am excited for the learning, discovering, and imagining that will come of it. 

On Borders

While this is a time engulfed in fear and uncertainty that has exacerbated division and inequality in previously unrecognized ways, Consuelo insists that we resist growing and expanding borders and boundaries — which can be a particularly troubling task when we are required to remain six feet apart. We concluded that borders have reached a new extreme, as we carry them with us on our own person now, “like you’re wearing them.” Several weeks later, this statement still haunts me, its implications becoming further real with each passing day. 

However, rather than dwell in this fracturing, I am choosing to think about borders in the counter-context of inhabiting a shared world through strengthening ethics of connection and care and deepening meanings of community. Nowadays I find myself being more purposeful about acknowledging and cherishing living presences of all sorts — whether that’s greeting neighbors I hadn’t spoken to in years along my daily bike rides or tuning into the birds happily chirping from my front porch — gestures that had long gone neglected and taken for granted. Our restorative solitude has allowed us to “get to know ourselves in order to better understand others,” making our points of connection that much more intentional, enriching, and precious. 

On Hope and Art Futures

Consuelo also emphasized our collective human resiliency, expressing that “we can sustain anything” while we firmly hold onto hope and resist the defeat of despair. Although we are enduring immense pain and devastation, she considers our current moment a call to shift and improve, for “when there’s chaos, it’s a time to change the world a little bit.” A profound structural change is long-due, and it is up to us to accountably fight for it — we owe this to ourselves and the loved ones we have lost. Equipped with a renewed vision of justice and the might to see it through, we will mend and repair the fabric of our humanity in radical ways. 

She assures us that the arts aren’t going anywhere, and that their power to build consciousness and uplift communities is more important now than ever. Anticipating a return “back to the hand” and the rise of guerilla art activity in a public reclamation of art that is accessible and relevant, she views this as a positive reinstatement of the arts as being for and belonging to everyone, the “big empty gallery and museum spaces were getting to be too stuffy for their own good” anyway. And though the arts are the first to be cut from budgets, we will keep them alive and flourishing with our creative resourcefulness. So dream tremendously about the world you want to live in and then take part in actively creating it with your pen, brush, guitar, voice, body, etc. 

Consuelo believes in the promise of young people with her whole heart and spirit. Her confidence in this next generation’s potentiality to sew the tears and scraps of our broken society together bestows dually upon us inspiration and commitment. We will continue to make movement, breathe, survive — and surely do good too. 

For those who missed our series of events featuring artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, included are links to the artworks she created and the talk she gave while on campus in October:

High-resolution photos of the Exposing Unseen Boundaries exhibition available at this link: https://brown.widencollective.com/c/pv5fm3af  

For more information about the artist and her collection of works/exhibitions, visit her website at http://www.consuelojunderwood.com/

Image credits: Photography by Nicholas W Dentamaro/Brown University