Circles of Life: Making Art, Creating Communities of Hope

Circles of Life: Making Art, Creating Communities of Hope – A Mixed Media Exhibition by adult cancer patients and those who care for them – Students of Heidi Darr-Hope, founder of Healing Icons.

 

A Tribute to Creating Hope

Vista Studios/Gallery 80808 in Columbia SC

Vista Studios/Gallery 80808 in Columbia SC

To mark our 20th art as healing anniversary, I wanted to create something significant, something filled with celebratory hope.  Lots of ideas floated around our board of directors meetings.  It was a stressful time filled with the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.  First of all, we knew wanted to honor our courageous participants and those who cared for them.  Secondly, we wanted to give the general public an experiential understanding of our mission as well as an appreciation of why art matters.Thirdly, I longed to pay tribute to the healing arts of Tibet as they had influenced the design of my creativity practices. Why Tibet? Read my last month’s post Travel Inspiration to find out. Finally, we landed on the idea of a 20th anniversary art exhibition – Circles of Life:  Making Art, Creating Communities of Hope.   

Gathering the Parts and Pieces

Hope filled pilgrims on their way to the sacred Mt. Kailash in Western Tiber.

Filled with hope, these pilgrims are on their way to the sacred Mt. Kailash in Western Tibet. Photograph by Russell Johnson.

 

The dates of the exhibition were set.  Vista Studios/Gallery 80808, home to Healing Icons and my personal art making workplace,  was reserved from October 30 – November 7th.  The publicity postcards and posters had been printed and distributed.  Our wonderful board member Deana Rennick had our PR plan in place.  We were ready to “do this thing.”  In beginning days of October, our survivors began to deliver their art.  Then the Mystical Arts of Tibet photographic exhibition, Magical Land of Spiritual Wonders arrived mid month.  It was more beautiful than I anticipated, but then again this was a Richard Gere and Drepung Loseling Monastery sponsored production so I knew we were in good hands.

Two traveling exhibitions, ours and there's.

Two community traveling exhibitions, ours and there’s.

 

Our traveling exhibition, Sometimes Words Are Not Enough, was in the process of being unpacked.  The three anchors of our 20th anniversary exhibition were in place but I had no idea of how to wrangle these disparate parts into shape. Plus we had three fun hands-on Tibetan inspired actives to integrate as well as establishing a space for the Tibetan monks who would be arriving November 1st to create a sand mandala of healing. I was panicked and super stressed on how to pull all the pieces together.

 

Making Sense Out of Chaos

Stuart & I stopped by our local Gourmet Shop for Saturday Brunch and unknowing sat beside our event poster. It's getting real!

Stuart & I stopped by our local Gourmet Shop for Saturday Brunch and unknowing sat beside our event poster. It’s getting real!

After laying all of the works out in the gallery I called two other wonderful board members, Christy Clonts and Michelle Baker.  The good news is we had a full week for our creative juices to kick into high gear and then a full week to make some sort of creative order out of this messy chaos. What a constant metaphor for us.

When my life is filled with confusing experiences and I feel out of control and off balance, I worry and churn things over and over in my mind, examining everything from every point-of-view. It is exhausting, many times paralyzing and difficult for me to know which step to take.   My mantra has always been to be patient and trust the unfolding but we were on a time line and performance anxiety had its grips on me!

 

Relax.  Trust the Process.

Trusting Hope and Art

Christy and Michelle beginning to let go and play.

You teach what you need to learn.  Oh yes, this came around again to bite me once again.  For 20 years I have taught my students who were filled by fear, anxiety, and stress to trust the creative process.  “If you relax, let go of expectations and play with the materials in front of you, the language of Art will show you the way.”  So that is what the three of us did.

You have to start somewhere. Christy and I begin.

You have to start somewhere. Christy and I begin.

 

 

 

 

A Stunning Exhibition

It took us every single minute of our week to set up this exhibition.   Our student’s Healing Icons, Visual Journals, Mandalas, Talismans and Prayer Flags were now ready to be received!

After hanging the small prayer flags that our student ambassadors created for this exhibit, our confidence was filled with hope.

After hanging the small prayer flags that our student ambassadors created for this exhibit, our confidence was filled with hope.

 

Main Gallery

Main Gallery at Vista Studios/Gallery 80808 in Columbia, SC

 

Our visitors, our guests were deeply moved

Our visitors, our guests were deeply moved by our survivor’s Visual Journals, and their heart-felt chronicling of their cancer journeys.

Visual Journals

Diaries, day-books, and journals are written accounts of how we experience our personal world or perhaps envision it. But many times we are left speechless, wordless with a burning deep desire to express and record what is happening in our lives.  Often words alone fail to communicate what is necessary and we are left with a feeling of alienation.

Tibetan Sacred Text - words and images.

Tibetan Sacred Text – words and images.

When trauma sets into our lives we can lose a vital connection with our soft-spoken inner voice.  It is easy for our tender, interior landscape to be overpowered by the loud overwhelming voices of stress and anxiety. Visual journaling can kick start a conversation with our inner voice allowing us to quiet into reflective, thoughtful thinking.

The visual allows us to go deeper than words, unfolding us into an open and comfortable place where we can discover and reconnect with who we truly are.

The way in which Tibetan sacred texts are bound and stored for safe keeping has inspired our visual journaling practices.

 

Healing Icons

Bold confidant statements, these Healing Icons convey themes of strength and healing.

Healing Icons

The word icon derives its meaning from the Greek word eikon, meaning likeness.  When we create art, we are making a likeness of how we see and experience our lives.  Art helps us tell our stories about what it is like to be human.

Tibetan Ghau or Prayer Box

Tibetan Ghau or Prayer Box

When words are not enough, when things are not quite speech ready, we need another language to express our hopes and fears around of life, and death and what really matters.

We guide participants through various creative methods, to shape a physical “likeness” which represents their unique wisdom, strengths, and restorative processes. These objects, these holy, hallowed icons created by brave individuals facing a life threatening disease, are intimate treasures discovered within a deeply personal wellspring of resilience. Many of the Tibetan Buddhist sacred objects have influenced our art-making practices.  The Tibetan Ghau featured here opens to a concealed inner space, and is traditionally used to hold a picture of their favorite deity or Lama, a folded up scroll of sacred mantras, special herbs or sacred relics. The Ghau is used as an amulet to help the wearer to ward off negative energy and attract blessings.  Our Healing Icons have borrowed from this tradition.

 

Mandalas

A mandala, a symbol of wholeness, unity and balance.

A Tibetan mandala is a tightly balanced geometric composition wherein deities reside..

 

Mandala, the Sanskrit word for circle, is an archetypal symbol of balance, wholeness and unity. They have been created for centuries as meditational symbols that when contemplated, lead to self-awareness, insight and peace. Think of stained-glass, rose windows in cathedrals, moon gazing, Sufi dancers, and Buddhist sand paintings.

Tibetan monks prayerfully create mandalas with a specific purpose in mind – loving kindness, compassion, healing… Housed in the center is an image that represents the overreaching theme of the mandala. When completed, these mandalas not only are used to convey Buddhist teachings but they become a visual symbol to mediate on.

 

 

Our Intuitive Mandala Practice

Our Intuitive Mandala Practice

 

The mandalas we create begin prayerfully with the theme of hope and healing.   Quieting our minds, we open ourselves to the creative process, providing the space for our inner voice to speak. Our classes always begin with the creation of an Intuitive Mandala.  Working within this shape allows us to experience feelings of calm, tranquility and peace.  These two previous posts will explain more about these stress relieving practices: Calming Practices: Creating Mandalas and Tranquility Practice: Creating Radiant Mandalas.  

The mandalas created in our healing practices are visual testaments to the wisdom gleaned through the cancer journey.  I am thankful for the inspiration that the Tibetan mandalas have given me.

Our Community Mandala of Hope and Healing was one of our Hands-on Tibetan Inspired Activities. Chalk Mandala was a huge hit and you can learn more about it in in your post Tibetan Inspired Community Art: Mandalas, Talismans and Prayer Flags.

 

Our community Mandala of Hope and Healing was created by our exhibition guests.

Our community Mandala of Hope and Healing.  Guests were invited to trace their hand within the mandala and fill it with colorful energy, uniting us as one.

 

Talismans of Healing

Tibetan Talisman of protection and healing.

Tibetan Talisman of protection and healing.

Talismans and amulets are simply physical objects that are believed to have powers to cause good things to happen.  They are tangible symbols that focus our thoughts on a specific idea or intention.  Think good luck four-leaf clovers or horseshoes for protection.  For the ancient Egyptians it was the Eye of Horus, for Christians it’s the cross.  All cultures and spiritual traditions have them and we are inspired by them all but especially the ones of Tibet.

Many of the Healing Icons as well as the Visual Journals have hidden spaces where amulets are hidden.  Students create Talismans from found objects such as river rocks, herbs, flowers, thread, bones, sea shells, feathers.

Our Community Talismans of Healing was another Hands-on Tibetan Inspired Activities. You can learn more about it in our post, Tibetan Inspired Community Art: Mandalas, Talismans and Prayer Flags.

Stones were wrapped with prayers and placed around Kuan Yin, Goddess of Compassion.

Visitors to the gallery created Healing Talismans by wrapped stones with prayers and placing them in the mandala that surrounded Kuan Yin, the Tibetan Goddess of Compassion.

Prayer Flags

Students created hundreds of prayer flags to bless our 20th anniversary exhibition

Students created hundreds of prayer flags to bless our 20th anniversary exhibition.

For over 2,000 years Tibetan Buddhists have created prayer flags to honor their spiritual traditions. They have hung the flags over mountain passes and rivers to benefit all who would pass underneath, as well as outside their homes and in places of spiritual worship.  Our student ambassadors, survivors who have been in our classes for many years and serve as mentors to our new students, created hundreds of prayer flags for this exhibition.

Our Community Prayer Flags of Hope and Healing was another Hands-on Tibetan Inspired Activity.  You can learn more about it in our post, Tibetan Inspired Community Art: Mandalas, Talismans and Prayer Flags.

 

Our guests were invited to think of an intention, a prayer, a blessing, something to give thanks for, something to let go of, something for another person, a wish for our community...

Our guests were invited to think of an intention, a prayer, a blessing, something to give thanks for, something to let go of, something for another person, a wish for our community…and add it to our Community Prayer Flags of Hope and Healing.

A Tibetan Evening:  Engaging All the Senses

On Thursday, October 29th, 2015, We hosted A Tibetan Evening - a preview opening

On Thursday, October 29th, 2015, we hosted A Tibetan Evening – a preview opening

Agata, one of our incredible board member, helps me greet our guests.

Agata, one of our incredible board member, helps me greet our guests.

My grandson Wyatt contributed to our Community Mandala.

My grandson Wyatt is thrilled to contribute to our Community Mandala.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Community Mandala of Hope and Healing was a tremendous hit.

Our Community Mandala of Hope and Healing was a tremendous hit.

 

 

 

Now we can't wait for the Tibetan Monks to arrive on November 1st to create a Snad Mandala of Healing for our community.

Our preview opening was a huge success and now we can’t wait for the Tibetan Monks to arrive on November 1st.  They are creating a Sand Mandala of Healing for our community.   

Comments Please

If you attended our exhibition, Circle of Life: Making Art, Creating Communities of Hope, we’d love to have you share your impressions with us.  

6 Comments

  1. Donna McGreevy on November 11, 2015 at 5:22 am

    Twenty years of healing hearts and minds with “Healing Icons” was celebrated by the whole community. During the week I was able to come to see the exhibit and the progress of the sand painting. Every day there were so many people of all ages and walks of life. Heidi Darr Hope has given us all a wonderful gift in sharing her talent and encouraging others to discover their own. I felt very fortunate to be a part of this event and have benefited from the Healing Icons program since 1996. Many thanks, Heidi.

    • Heidi Darr-Hope on November 18, 2015 at 9:12 am

      You are most welcome Donna! It truly was an incredible experience for all!

  2. Mae E. Wells on December 4, 2015 at 5:11 am

    What a tremendous experience it has been to participate in the Art as Healing Communities of Hope – A 20th Anniversary Exhibit! To exhibit prayer flags, mandalas, and visual journals was an awesome experience that I will always treasure. My association with Heidi Darr Hope and “Healing Icons” has given me HOPE and a renewal of life – for which I am thankful.

    • Heidi Darr-Hope on December 18, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Mae. Your enthusiasm and dedication for art and healing has encouraged so many other survivors. It has been an honor to watch and witness the growth of your creativity practice!

  3. Mickey Collins on December 17, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    I was privileged to be in the very first Healing Icons class in 1995. I was living day to day knowing that my cancer was terminal. It was a giant stretch for me to go to an ART class.. the experience was wonderful. I met other people going through the same experience I was, not the same cancer but the same feelings.. I learned how to use art as a new language to express how I was feeling, even though that fear may not be a conscious feeling. I have been a constant student over these 20 years. Not every class, but it’s wonderful to recharge my batteries.
    I am now an Ambassador to Healing Icons and I love telling my story.
    I am in remission.

    • Heidi Darr-Hope on December 18, 2015 at 9:20 am

      Talk about an incredible ride and I am honored to have shared the road with you! You continue to be an anchor and an inspiration to so many other survivors, making their journey less scary. Thank you for all that you have given!

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