A friend of mine said to me (something like), "You are working with Joy! It is so wonderful to see that, of all the things you could work with, you choose joy." This is absolutely what I do--I had no idea until he said it (thanks, Tom). All the paintings I have done are joyful in someway, either through the process of discovering the person I am painting, or through the expression of the person in the photographs, or through my playfulness as I create the underlying abstracts that are the structure behind each painting.
And, this morning, a woman came into Miller School of Art to see the paintings of many different people and age groups arranged, mindfully, all together--and she began to cry. And I know (because she told me) that the shootings of officers, the tremendous amount of violence towards Black, Latino, Women, Gay, and all the groups that become the scapegoats for hate in our society--this is the root of her grief. My grief. Our grief. Our great, societal loss.
And that this stems from the way we have systemically deprived parts of our population of what they need to thrive, I know that too.
And I am so grateful that in my work there was joy, togetherness, reflection of the beauty that is possible, and of love. That is perhaps the job of this work--to give joy, to show joy, to offer some brightness and ways of seeing ourselves that we are not able to see reflected in the tragedy/celebrity focused media, in the often ridiculous, horrifying, discouraging realities facing us moment by moment.
And for me, working with joy and love is my source for healing amidst the difficulties I have with the reality of what is happening with my son, with the realities of what is the truth of the daily lives of many of my students (I am teaching summer LA credit retrieval in Highline School District to impoverished--mainly minority--students). It may seem rather too little to late for us to stand aghast at the horrors that could await them daily (police shootings being perhaps the most extreme). After all, have they not been facing the realities of poverty, racism, and the realities of the associated behaviors--sometimes violent--that indicate (incorrectly) that they are not valuable? And the truth, of course, is that they can be targeted at any time, regardless of their intelligence, kindness, skills, or ability to engage in problem solving discourse--the skills I hope to help them practice through language arts. Irregardless of this discouraging fact, I hope that by engaging in critical thinking skills, these students will have a better chance to take care of their end of any situation they meet--through the way they speak, think, listen, and problem solve. I am hopeful, but to be hopeful requires both an acknowledgment of the odds stacked against us, and yet a willingness to be vulnerable in the face of those obstacles and try anyway. I ask them to do this--to try, in the face of every time they have failed in the past, every time they learned that there was no point to trying except to be faced with failure, to try just incase it could be different this time. I ask this also of myself.
So, there is a dream in the act of creating art, of stepping into each day, of teaching yoga, of doing anything really. The dream is that on some level what each of us does matters, that merely by changing our perspective in the moment, choosing to focus on joy and love, not as a distraction, but in the full knowledge of our discouragement--that can make a difference.
Thank you all for your support and encouragement every time I have put my work out for you to see. I am grateful, and hope to cheer you on in your efforts to put forth beauty, truth, and love into the world!
Heather Danso is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Method® Practitioner, Restorative Yoga teacher, Awareness Through Movement® facititator.
As an artist, she playfully explores work in Acrylic, printing, and multimedia, creating portraits and abstracts that explore expression, playfulness, identity, and the possible. Her CV is here.