Spreading Hope And Empathy Through Art

by | May 31, 2020 | Art, Kulture, Latest, Psychology, Wellness | 0 comments

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The Durban Art Gallery and Ethekwini Parks, Recreation and Culture Unit (PRC) kickstart a conversation around mental health in partnership with the ‘Empathy & Hope Project’, in efforts to destigmatise the subject.

Compiled by: Blacklight writer
Main image: Supplied

According to Chantelle Booysen, the Global Mental Health Advocate, Social Impact Entrepreneur and Programme Manager of the Empathy & Hope Project, the travelling exhibition aims to use visual communications as a catalyst to start conversations that often difficult to have.

“In many communities and inter-personal relationships, talking about depression, anxiety, loneliness or even suicide is an absolute taboo which means people don’t get the help they need,” said Booysen.

“Even more so, people don’t understand why they feel the agony which translates in confusion and perpetual difficulties.

“People are inherently drawn to imagery for storytelling rather than words and this platform we can use art to show these stories and engage people in exercises that help them express their feelings and thoughts.”

For the Durban Art Gallery exhibition, they featured works by the late photographic artist from Johannesburg, Thabiso Sekgala, works from Witness Change, a non-profit that captures visual story-telling often focused on human rights abuses, and the Denis Hurley Centre for the homeless facilitated two workshops called PhotoVoice.

“The works by Thabiso Sekgala were of particular interest for me, and one of the main reasons I wanted to start this project,” explained Booysen.

“Another body of work by Witness Change was incredibly important as it vocalised the stories of the survivors and loved ones of those lost in the tragic Life Esidimeni saga, where a 150 psychiatric patients died due to starvation, dehydration and hypothermia. It was a grave human rights violation (to this day have not held anyone accountable), and once again disregards people with mental illness as being lesser humans.”

“There are scientific studies that prove people become more hopeful if they are given the tools, and promoting good mental wellbeing is the cornerstone of being and feeling hopeful.

“This project engages some of those often muted voices of vulnerable communities, those who live in the shadows of societies because it is not easy to digest and hard for people to see.

“It explores the environmental challenges of individuals and communities, like being homeless, for instance, a basic human need for shelter to feel safe which reduces stress and anxiety, alcohol and substance abuse in poverty-stricken environments.

“When people are susceptible to peer pressure but also don’t have a space or feel like they have a contribution to society because they are unemployed or want to escape from violence, even if it is momentarily

She continues: “Hope and Empathy are both concepts that can be taught and people aren’t necessarily born with these traits. A big focus of my work as a Mental Health Advocate and Programme Manager is focused on youth which includes schools and university students.

“There are scientific studies that prove people become more hopeful if they are given the tools, and promoting good mental wellbeing is the cornerstone of being and feeling hopeful.

“If you re mentally healthy your will feel hopeful about the future. Treating people with empathy, being able to relate to their situation and background can be the difference in how you are received by others, whether it is at the workplace, at home or school.”

For more on the Empathy & Hope Project: empathyhopeproject

We spoke to Ndabenhle Myeza, a Behavioural Psychologist, who was also part of Empathy and Hope Project, about the impact of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) on local artists and creatives.

Blacklight: How do you think this pandemic has impacted humanity?Myeza: We are talking about economic anxiety. We are talking isolation. We are talking psychological cohesion. And we are talking about despair and joblessness. Those are the major things that are causing major degradation in the humanity of people under lockdown. 

Art tends to tickle the part of the brain that is not constantly used but comes fully alive when it is activated. You look at things like visual art, music and dance etc. which have been used vastly in the history of mankind because they draw out something deeper inside people.  

BL: What struck you most about the impact of this COVID-19 Lockdown on society?
M: I noticed the change in our climate. Yes, this is a novel virus, but as the world, we are going through something bigger than we think. It has shaken the world into standstill so that we can go through human and earth detoxification. 

When this began my heart instantly thought of artists, and I wondered if they were noticing this change and documenting or capturing it. I wondered if they saw the clear skies in some of the busiest and most polluted cities, and the clear waters in various channels.

For example, when you looked at aerial shots of Johannesburg, it looked like the bluest summer. I do hope artists captured or will continue to capture this period because they will not have another chance to.

Ndabenhle Myeza, a Behavioural Psychologist

BL: Artists are some of the people who have been hit the hardest by the economic impact of this virus. How do they continue to be creative when they are in distress? 
M: In South Africa, art, as an institution, has been seriously taken for granted. As a result, what you find is that most artists are suffering from some form of depression.

Art is very important in the society because it allows us to know ourselves better. It enhances our lives and reduces stress. It taps into our imagination and allows it to run free and helps us release negative emotions. When you look and marvel at an art piece, in that moment there is a paradigm shift in your stress levels. Things like music allow us to express our emotions that we fail to sometimes express in words.

When it comes to this critical moment, we must turn to nature itself to be the observation of the body, in terms of health (mental health). We need to take care of our bodies. Nature is the greatest physician. Though time heals, I believe it depends on what you do during that time. Artists, right now, need us to project the positive energy to them and also contribute whatever we can to their practices.

BL: How do people use art to find hope and healing in such confusing times?
M: I believe that everything we can imagine is real. So I want to challenge people to use social networks to showcase and celebrate our art. When you look at international websites in Europe and America, they are always showcasing and celebrating their art. They preserve their art and boast about it to the rest of the world. 

Their pop culture (for instance in the film) also showcases their historical art landmarks to promote themselves to the rest of the world. If our pop culture does not depict and promote our artistic nuances and culture, then we will end up appreciating other people’s art.

I also don’t think art has been given a good conversation. I want to see us have hard-core conversations around art. One thing we must understand, creating takes courage. When an artist creates they want to be seen, heard, felt and experienced. If you are not given that opportunity you become the cradle of suicide, that is why artists in past have resorted to suicide, after experiencing depression because they were not seen, experienced and heard.

BL: What is your message for creatives who doubt their importance in society, especially in this time?
M: A beautiful body perishes but a work of art never dies. I want to see our artists standing firm. The purpose of art is to wash off the dust of our daily life from our souls, it is cleansing. We need the artist to live, be able to work and be given a space to do so because they are the last umbilical cord between my past and future, between my heritage and now.

We must start in primary school and find promising artists and put them in special art programmes. European countries do a masterful job of spotting artistic talent at an early age and nurturing it.

We need to protect and nurture our artists. I would also advise parents who are struggling to parent during COVID-19 to implement art as a tool to study. We must plant the artistic seed while the children are still young. We need to restore the dignity and the value of art, because in art lies true healing.

To seek professional help contact SADAG (The South African Depression and Anxiety Group) on 011 234 8182

Suicide Emergency line: 0800 567 567 / SMS 31393

24hr Helpline: 0800 456 789

Or call LifeLine, 24/7 24hr Toll-Free: 086 1 322 322
24/7 counselling: 011 728 1347
Whatsapp: 065 989 9238

If you display any of the flu-like symptoms and suspect you might have COVID-19, contact your doctor or call the public hotline number on 0800-029-999 immediately.

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