I AM… memoirs of addiction recovery is my journey to understand better, the lives behind much stigmatised taboo of addiction. Fingers point, eyebrows frown, people suddenly become ‘they’ and ‘we’ jump to hasty conclusions in demonising the addict.There are many kinds of addictions, substance dependence or what is commonly called drug addiction. Indeed there is much controversy in understanding the very nature of addiction itself, which essentially is the ‘loss and ‘regain of control’.
“Addicts lack strong morals. Addiction is a bad habit, the result of moral weakness and overindulgence. If an addict has enough will power, they can stop abusing alcohol and drug misuse. Drugs increase creativity. Very few women become alcoholics.” Like moths surrounding a naked flame on a dark night, such myths and misconceptions shroud the reality of addiction. WHO defines addiction as a chronic disease, determined by complex biological, psychological, social and family related factors. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong transformative process and commitment.
I AM is an arts project between UK, Italy and Turkey… presenting cross cultural memoirs of people in recovery from addiction. Two years ago I was approached by Mark Prest from PORe (Portraits of Recovery) to develop and devise ideas of engagement to create self portraits. Prior to this, I had no experience of working within a recovery community, however, my methodology of creating art via participation led projects for over two decades made this journey possible. Portrait is an artistic representation of a person that displays the likeness, personality and mood. The face and expression is usually predominant, yet one can create sonic portraits, or represent the likeness without ever showing the face of the person. This was a particular consideration in this project where sensitivity due to vulnerability of participants is required. To my delight, everyone understood the power of revealing ‘self’ as a testament to recovery. My notion of allowing my subjects to create ‘self-portraits’ is not handing over a cable release and letting the person physically take their own image. Rather it is a more subtle process of imbibing mutual trust, where vulnerability manifests in creating portraits together. A portrait where both me and the subject have a shared ownership. Performance for camera is constructed via negotiated dialogue between the artist and the materiality/presence/expression provided by the subject. The result is what I call the ‘shared-self-portraits’.
together we can (Pescara, Pistoia & Kütahya)
break the loop (Pescara)
Look the fear in the eyes… (Kütahya)
Per te Mamma (Pistoia)
Funded by Grundtvig’s European Unions Life Long Learning Programme, each residency lasted a week. The host/partners Incontro in Pistoia, FeDerSerd in Pescara and Green Crescent Kütahya in Turkey, brought together participants who were in various stages of recovery. Suggested timeline of activities planned out for each of groups offered a starting point, and as I got to know the participants better, activities were devised accordingly with respect and flexibility, guided by love and empathy. For the Italian residency, I had an additional joy of mentoring Leon Jakeman, an artist from Liverpool. Himself in recovery, his association provided me with a different perspective as I was able to bounce off interview questions. Leon not only assisted in lighting and sound recording (both new areas for him), he provided me with a quiet confidence. In this cross cultural exchange, representing UK, Mark Prest and Jackie Keight-Cunliffe were present for part of the residency to narrate their stories of recovery and partake in collective activities with other participants. Turkey was different in that I was by myself and most importantly, the participants ranged from some who were in recovery and some affected by addiction of their loved ones. One thing common, despite the difference of language and cultures, is that we all had something to share. This space for sharing was non-judgemental, where everyone was encouraged to ask questions and different point of views enriched the perspective rather than threaten anyone. For the UK residency, two outstanding artists Cristina Nunez and Selda Asal were invited to create work with the particpiants in Manchester. I am really looking forward to July, when the works created from across UK, Italy and Turkey will be platformed with a FREE 1 day symposium organised by Arts for Health – Manchester Metropolitan University and Portraits of Recovery at the Manchester School of Art on 17th July 2014.
The amount of filmed material is far more than could have been contained in these videos given the restraints of time and budget. The work is far from over. I would like to find resources, i.e, find bilingual (Italian/English) people who could spend a week with me sifting through the interviews clips to help translate so I am able to edit the narrative together with sub-titles. A 15minute short that can amplify the different perspectives put forth by the different participants.
Please feel free to share this page as well as the videos to get the works out to larger groups of people. For it is only through sharing the hopes and fears that a better understanding can be developed with love and respect. Use add #iammemoirs for instagram and twitter feed.
24th May I Aurum Pescara; Italy I 10am – 7pm – Free public event
6th June I San Giorgio Library Pistoia; Italy I 9.30am onwards – Free public event