Water and Light: This is how I get to you by Tuba Sozudogru

Our most important thoughts and feelings are those that are hard to put into words. Can art give them voices?

Tuba Sozudogru presented her devastatingly beautiful and profound self portrait, This is how I get to you, at synkroniciti‘s Open Mic, Broken Pieces, on January 9th, 2016. In writing the overview for that evening, which you can read here, I found that I had too many thoughts about this remarkable painting struggling through my mind to put down in that post.

She dreams that she is drowning, sinking beneath the surface never to rise again and yet, surprisingly, at peace and surrendered. Smiling, she listens as all voices are silenced and the water hugs and cradles her to its breast. Light streams about her and she rejoices that she will never have to hide again. Here at last she can be her genuine self and trace the connections between the living and the dead, the seen and unseen. There is a noise, a motion from the outside world. As she wakes she feels both relief to experience another earthly day and sorrow to be separated from that wondrous light and water.

Being underwater requires a different mode of sensation and communication, something primal that eschews words. This is why it has so often been used as a metaphor for the subconscious mind. There is so much that we experience as human beings that evades description. Could it be that these are the very experiences that connect us with one another and with the creative spirit most tightly?

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This is how I get to you is painted in bright, glowing colors upon a piece of scrap cardboard. The cardboard was damaged, the top layer removed over a portion of the surface to reveal a corrugated texture. Once painted, this texture recalls both an architectural quality of fresco painting, in which the building surface sometimes shows through the artwork, either from age or design, and the natural texture of reeds growing next to a pond. The entire piece is permeated by a sensual atmosphere of decay and transformation.

Our heroine lies exposed, cradled by bright blue water, surrounded by a brilliant yellow light that suggests an illuminated emotional state more than a sense of place. Her body is aroused and yet at peace, a contented smile upon her lips which reassures us that nothing is wrong here. A school of fish swim about her legs. These are a particular species of carp that eat away old, dead skin. The dead parts of herself are being eaten away, a disturbing and yet pleasurable experience. The cells of the human body are constantly dying and being renewed; the human self image is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Death and life are the same process.

Not far from her body lies a figure, a totem which hints at personal tension and evolution. A human body is stretched, dancing, between a large birdlike skeleton and a transparent, winged creature that seems to be a fusion of bird and fish, perhaps even a dragon or mermaid. Birds, fish, mermaids and winged dragons are all beings that have spiritual connotations through their form of movement: flying through the air or swimming through the water. They are not earthbound beings and Tuba makes a strong case that we are not truly earthbound either.

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During the death/life process, part of us decays, leaving behind only skeletal remnants, while another part, ethereal, is released, an energy that flies or swims away. It is a constant dance between that which will decay and that which will escape. There is also a profound tension between these two realms, the physical which is so obvious and yet short lived and the spiritual which is hard to define and yet enduring. We can fully describe the remnants of our past because we have lived them, but it is the future that contains our hope.

Even as we age, change and ultimately die, there is a part of us that escapes, remaining unique throughout this transformation. It is that part that we cannot fully describe in words or paint with our brush. Despite all our efforts we can only trace its outline as it moves into a place we have not yet visited. We can long for that homecoming even as we enjoy or endure our physical life.

Tuba has given us one more clue, an inscription which reads “I am what I am Written in the skies Once was love Always light”. Everything we see here is Tuba, from the brilliant yellow light to the pool, from the woman lying before us to the strange evolutionary figure. Her words remind us that the blueness of the water can also be interpreted as sky. After we leave the womb, the protective power of water still surrounds us, now as vapor. In a sense, we are all water spirits. We never leave water, but the element is diminished to a level that our consciousness and physical body can handle. Once the physical body is left behind, we do not know where the light of our existence will take us. Tuba has great hope for that journey and she is ready to share it.

Artists are often highly intuitive and expressive people who experience life in unique and individual ways. While many of us push away thoughts and images that make us explore our own death, Tuba has the gifts to explore these dark places. More than that, her art is able to reassure us when words and consciousness fail. It really does get to us.

 

Connecting Broken Pieces: Synkroniciti’s Open Mic

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Synkroniciti held our latest Open Mic on Saturday, January 9th. It is always exciting to see connections and understandings appear in a group and this gathering was especially rewarding as half of us were “regulars” and half were brand new to synkroniciti. I am so grateful to those who shared themselves and their art.

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We began with an experience inspired by the Sonic Meditations of Pauline Oliveros. The human voice carries a great deal of vulnerability, as you might guess from the number of people who fear public speaking and singing. I asked our guests to sing together, picking a random pitch on my cue, then to listen and let that pitch settle and move (if they felt like moving). We did so a few times, and the sonorities we produced were truly beautiful and magical, combinations that contained a measure of stability and richness as well as tones that reached out of the texture. The enchantment we felt didn’t come from the execution or the quality of each individual voice, but from the unity and uniqueness of the total sound.

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Ofelia shared Dripping Diamonds, a striking photograph paired with a wistful poem. One day, on her way to work in the midst of a Houston rainstorm, she leaned forward while stopped to capture a watery, misty view of the trees through her windshield. Her poem encourages us to notice how our environment cares for us, supplying us with water, light and other things vital to survival. The miracles that allow life to go on are so seldom celebrated, but we rely on them completely. You can read Dripping Diamonds here.

Saba read The Keeper, which she wrote in response to Anila Quayyam Agha’s artwork Intersections, a large carved cube suspended from above and lit from within. Intersections was displayed at the Rice Gallery last fall and The Keeper was featured in a Words and Art presentation which asked poets and writers to explore their reaction to Agha’s luminous work. This sensual villanelle is an exploration of what it means to be a woman in a society that crafts beautiful places where women can be “kept”. The refrain of “lady, stay” drummed on our ears, pleading for all women to stay in their place, to keep the order that society has sculpted for us. Such places may be lovely, some may even be safe, but because they do not allow us to form our own personal connections to society and the world, they can only become prisons, even if they are made “of a thousand daisies”.

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Intersections by Anila Quayyam Agha at the Rice Gallery Image by Katherine McDaniel

After sharing her poem, Saba spoke of the burqa, the traditional garment worn in some Islamic countries to cover women from prying eyes and promote female modesty. She led us to understand that it could be repressive in some situations and a provider of safety in others. We spoke of divorce and the challenges that it provides for women, challenges that can build our self image and personality even as they leave marks that harm us. Women have to live submerged in these paradoxes every day. We grapple with these issues in the West and in the East, although our cultures manifest them differently.

How do we live in a society in which women are required to make up for the lack of modesty and self control in men? I believe that women hold a missing piece that can help repair the human relationship to nature and the world around us, but we have to find a way to integrate it into a society that is polarized against us.

 

Tuba shared a self portrait entitled This is how I get to you. It is a vision of life, death and transformation. An intuitive soul, Tuba has dreams of being submerged in water, of being at home yet dying there and feeling that she is released to communicate her voice and her truth there. It is hard for those who are sensitive to currents in the spiritual and mystical plane to communicate these things to other human beings, who tend to miss these currents entirely and can react with fear and anger. I am reminded of the myth of Rusalka the mermaid, who wanted so much to be human, but had to give up her voice to become so. There is something about water that implies a different mode of sensation and communication, something that does not require words.

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Our subject lies in water, a smile upon her face. The fish that swim around her thighs are a type of carp that nibble away dead skin. They are taking away the old self, making room for the new. The image is both uncomfortable and pleasurable. Tuba’s inscription reads “I am what I am Written in the skies Once was love Always light”. As we evolve and change there is a part of us that remains unique throughout our transformation. If you would like to explore this artwork with me in more detail, I will be posting about it later this month.

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Michelle read A Ghost Story, a personal experience from her youth. As she related the events that followed the acquisition of a statue of a woodsman from the next door neighbor’s garage sale we all got the chills. The story unfolded with exquisite detail and cunning humor, building in suspense to the point that more than one of us remarked that we would have a hard time getting to sleep that night. At least we weren’t reading it at 3am.

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Everyone catches glimpses of strange things that happen at the corners of our experience, things that we blink away because they don’t make sense. Michelle’s story took us to a place where these things came into focus, where they persisted despite all of our blinking and wishing. The menacing figure that stood at the end of the bed and the statue that moved by itself hint at an enmity that stood between men long since dead and point to a reality we can’t comprehend. We are all vulnerable in the face of the invisible and the unreal.

Kelly walked right into the valley of the shadow of death with The First Anomaly, a poem that voices the thoughts of a woman faced with breast cancer. Even though it is still in the finishing stages, this poem rendered us almost speechless as she recorded the otherworldly strangeness of searching for a tumor with ultrasound in the same way that ships at sea find enemy vessels. We usually call that application sonar, but it is very much the same technology.

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Coral Snake © LA Dawson, Austin Reptile Service with CCLicense

In breast tissue ultrasounds, yellow and red areas show areas of above average hardness, i.e. anomalies which could be cancer. Kelly wove this together with a nursery rhyme for distinguishing the Coral Snake, which is extremely poisonous, from the King Snake, which is not. “Red touch yellow, kill a fellow; red touch black, friend of Jack” runs the childish verse. The red touching yellow on this ultrasound indicates a malignant tumor. The only hope is radiation, with its yellow, not red, and black symbol. Our heroine seems doubtful that it will prove strong enough to “bring her back”. We would like healing to be magical, a silver bullet, and although it is miraculous, it is never as clean and easy as we hope.

I shared my painting The Execution of Peace, which shows a landscape threatened by aggression and hatred. You can read my earlier post about it here. There are three areas in this picture. The upper portion shows a storm brewing, a dove being shattered by lightning and a sun enlarged to a supernova. An umbilical cord separates this portion from  the central area, which is dominated by red robed figures who fight it out with lightning bolts among the clouds while another figure is either collapsing or holding on to something between them. The bottom area shows a grey and blasted earth. There are orange shapes standing on that earth. At one point I saw them as privileged people who look on while others are killed, but these viewers saw something different. They saw warheads.

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There is so much human beings could do for one another and for our planet, yet we always seem to end up fighting. Those who will not fight are often sacrificed. Whether we cause the storm or whether the storm moves us to violence the effects are the same. I painted The Execution of Peace after meditating on fear and have always found this painting difficult to love, but my friends showed me that there is hope in it. It may be that we are all warheads ready to explode, the killing blow lying within each of us ready for detonation. We can choose to stay our hand and hold on to mercy and kindness. Perhaps this is enough to stay the apocalypse for now.

Connecting with each other is the most important thing we do each day. We may do so by words or actions, by means of art, music, dance, or any creative expression. We can also find connection by getting to know our world better. No moment connecting to our planet or our fellow human beings is wasted.

Will you build bridges with me?

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Neil and I would like to send a gigantic thank you to everyone who came to Broken Pieces: Exploring Vulnerability: Saba, Tuba, Laura, Michelle and Dave, André, Ariel, Kelly, and Ofelia. This was a very special evening and you are all precious to us. Our next Open Mic is entitled Building Bridges: The Power of Human Connection and will happen on February 20, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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