The Art of Paying Attention
“Lavender has such a strong smell, it’s like someone yelled so hard they became hoarse,” said Na’ama, my 7 year old. And I found myself wondering if there are smells that are like a whisper or weeping or a caress or a scream.
And if sounds have voices, then colors must certainly have voices, too.
Then Na’ama encouraged me not to be embarrassed to admit that I love the smell of lavender. For me, it has the sound of the expanse of the infinite. In purple.
Smells have all sorts of voices. And colors do, too.
Na’ama smells like vanilla; like cookies and ice cream and milkshakes and warmth and home. She is the fragrance of laughter , defiance and curiosity. She pays attention to things. She is perceptive. She reminds me to pay attention to things and she has many magic tricks to get me to pay attention to her even when I am busy or troubled or impatient.
In a world that doesn’t give a damn, the demand to pay attention – like paying attention itself – is a form of defiance, of resistance. And sometimes, paying attention is the difference between life and death.
If someone would have paid attention, perhaps the two little Bedouin sisters from Ein Fura, Rimas and Osnad, only three and five years old, would still be alive .http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4383806,00.html The papers reported that they were “not known to the welfare authorities” nor were they registered in educational facility. Their mother loved them and tried to fight for their lives, but no one paid attention. The people who should have realized the value of these children’s lives – the life of any child in the world – didn’t pay enough attention. Now a commission of inquiry will be established to find out why no one paid attention to the cry of the mother who foresaw that the worst of all was about to happen.
In between spins, the noise of whirling beds and the cost of maintaining the royal palace at Caesarea and the smoke screens of the winds of war, society is forgetting to pay attention to the fact that there are children here, and teen agers, and men and women whose sense of basic security – their physical safety, their basic mental and physical existence – is being stolen from them again and again.
Change begins in that moment when the silence is broken and we take care to pay attention. Before the next tragedy happens.
Heartbreak, Daniel De Lima
Drawing Change in a Palette of Colors
Last week, I met a wonderful woman, Panmela Castro. She is a Brazilian graffiti artist who has decided to harness her artistic talents and her leadership abilities for the good of feminist activity and women’s rights. She came to Israel as a guest of Shatil, to participate in a conference marking Shatil’s 30th anniversary, entitled, “People Change Reality.”
Meeting with a woman nearly 20 years younger than I, from a country that is so far-away, whose personal story is filled with courage and determination and talent and creativity, provided me with an opportunity to look at things in a new way.
Panmela creates giant murals – colorful, fascinating, moving, always picturing large, beautiful, mysterious, overt women, whose eyes are penetrating, bewitching, accusing, defying definition, avoiding our control. She pours renewed life into the image of Eve biting into an apple, paying the price for daring to be curious, daring to rebel.
She goes into the favellas of Rio, armed with a ladder and spray paint and creates, by herself and with the community, colorful wall murals that provide an opening into a discussion about women’s rights, gender equality, violence against women. And people come to draw, to spray paint, to play, to make their voices heard. And then, they are able to listen.
Her drawings make people stop, reflect and pay attention, to pay attention to the voices of the colors and make their own voices heard through color.
I saw her in action. On Sunday, we drove down to Tel Aviv for a graffiti workshop with Achoti (My Sister, the Mizrahi feminist movement), on Matlon Street in Neve Sha’anan in south Tel Aviv. It’s the part of town that the municipality takes pains to ignore. We sat, men and women, crowded into Achoti House’s coffee shop, listening to Panmela’s story. Then it was our turn to tell a story. In color. On the wall. We created the image of a large woman, larger than life, full of color, a reflection of the diversity of the good people in the neighborhood. There were moments of magic, as we painted and sprayed together and wrote out wonderful words like peace, hope and “I have a dream.” And at the same time, we asked troubling questions – is graffiti good for the neighborhood or not and why does graffiti only show up in poor neighborhoods and never in the city’s prosperous northern neighborhoods, where everything is orderly and clean and there are even garbage cans.
Graffiti, like all art, is neither good nor bad. It is what it is, says Panmela. Art is a tool that serves us to call for attention, reflection, discussion, exchange. Art, especially visual art, is a way to present messages so that sometimes they can penetrate the filters of social and political conditioning that serve to repel information that contradicts the observer’s worldview.
In Jerusalem, Panmela drew a mural on the wall of the Railway Park. An image of a woman with blazing, penetrating eyes and birds, strength and freedom. Next to her drawing, we opened up a space for children and adults from the community to draw and write.
The colorful walls in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv remain as a speaking, conversing witness to the potential power of art in the service of social change: to stimulate, to trouble, to move, to open up additional circles of discourse. And to remind us.
To remind us to pay attention. To pay attention to the voices that have not been answered. To pay attention to the hues of the colors.
If you love, you embrace
Many years ago, almost in a previous life, I fell in love with Brazil. Through a man, the people, the music, the food and the tastes and the smells and the colors and the chaos. A beautiful country – tempting, dangerous, cruel, fascinating.
A wonderful child was born out of this love and today he is an even-more-wonderful man. A wealth of memories, at once sweet and bitter, and the rounded, soft language that rolls on your tongue, which I have kept to myself.
The meeting with Panmela suddenly unleashed so many memories that I had kept in a drawer, somewhere in my heart. Meeting her brought up into my consciousness the memory of my first meeting with that land and her people, the time I first felt like Gulliver, so tall, so white, so different, when I fell in love in a place where some of who I was has remained.
It turns out that our souls can keep a tremendous amount of information, forgetting that it is there until something happens – an interaction, a song, a picture, a smell that suddenly opens that forgotten file on our hard disk. That’s what happened to me when I heard that song, as part of a campaign initiated by a network activists that Pamela has established together with several of the greatest veteran and popular musicians of Brazil, calling for an end to violence against women. The melody isn’t very interesting, the words are simple. And yet, as I watched the clip (don’t worry – I’ve put in a link), tears filled my eyes, my throat choked up. I was moved.
Some of this was very personal. Memories of a time that was and is no longer, with all of the good and the terrible that were part of it. Singers who were part of my cultural education. A meeting with a younger, more innocent version of myself. Everything came up to the surface.
But there was something else there, too. Something that moved me because a great part of my life (too great a part, if you ask Na’ama) is devoted to the world of social change. The song is completely made up of words of love, gentleness, respect, concern. It is aware of the patriarchal power relations in the society it seeks to impact, yet it does so gently, in friendship, enlisting the men while stating clearly that violence against women is a social problem, not a woman’s problem. The song is critical without being judgmental.
Na’ama would probably say that the song smells like vanilla, more of a caress than a hoarse scream, sweet rather than lashing out. Watch and decide for yourselves. I’ve included a loose translation.
If you love, you embrace.
We have come together here to say
No more humiliation.
There’s a limit to suffering.
We have come to ask each of you
For peace and contentment.
For a day that will give birth to a new day
For a tomorrow that will be much better
If you love, you help, if you love, you try
To provide affection and to give love.
If you love you take care gently, if you love you embrace
You never hurt the woman you love.
With heroism, with courage
We can, really
Save more and more lives.
All that we have to do is condemn.
We all see what is happening here
We can’t deny or ignore.
It doesn’t matter what color they are, or how old they are, or what they weigh
You are all so beautiful.
Friend, sister, mothers
Wives, girls, grandmothers.
Kindness must rule the day
Discrimination is a thing of the past
Say no to criminal cowardice
It’s time to change the situation
It’s time to change your attitude, my friend
To fearlessly denounce [violence]
We can no longer be silent!
No more machismo!
No more violence!
Enough! Stop it!
If you love someone, you embrace them.