Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorable Meals Intensive Week

Having just lost all the text I posted for this post I now realize you cannot make a post in the blog alone.  So one more thing added to the to-do list.
Trial run of memorable meals group mural activity with classmates

Our intensive practice week started on day 3 for me, and I was returning from California refreshed and ready to go. I had missed what sounded like an uncomfortable group ‘choosing’ process, which sounds like it would have been interesting.

As I said in my last post I feel that I have a good balance between the controller/promoter and the clown/nurturer/supporter that Phil Mullen talked about in our seminars. A skill I continue to work on, that has been useful, and that I noticed I do utilize when working in groups.

As I don’t have a problem being put in a group, and am confident and flexible enough in my practice to work with what ever comes up- some other good skills when working with the public- I was happy to land in the middle of three other amazing brilliant skilled art practitioners, with different skills to my own, who had pretty much established what the theme of the week was going to be.

I realised that having time away from ‘thinking’ about my work and the action of facilitating another group of people in an expressive arts workshop, solidified the need to digest information before I can really comprehend what is happening.

Having a positive frame of mind seemed to also affect my fellow artists in the group.

As we clarified what we wanted to do, we were spurred on by Sarah and Phil at every chance- Why are you doing this?
The Why are you doing this? question was a great way to then hone in on exactly what we should be doing to fulfil the why objectives.

I recall one of my first sessions in which we discussed the conditions necessary for creativity.
My suggestions were:


Dave Adams 2006

Social Synergy

I'm going to be working with several groups of people in the Phoenix Project, so our work on group dynamics was particulary useful. 

We were invited to review the work of Anthropologist Ruth Benedict. June 5, 1887 – September 17, 1948). She was an American anthropologist and folklorist. Am surprised she did not know the work of Josheph Campbell, the Mythologist I mentioned in my last post.  She gave a series of lectures at Bryn Mawr college, before WW2  focused around the idea of synergy. She wrote a book Patterns of Culture (1934).

The language is academic and flowery, so I probably won't be reading too much of it, but have found some interesting 'translators' one being  Virginian Heyer's book
Ruth Benedict: beyond relativity, beyond pattern (2005) University of Nebraska Thomson-Shore Inc

In this text I also found some more interesting and relevant information on Benetict's ideas about freedom.

From our class notes the basic concept of synergy is given as such:

It’s not just about people who work collaboratively being more successful than one person on their own (the whole being greater than the parts) but involves active generosity to others within the group process.

Then I found this great website, that I was immediately drawn to contact.

On Eagles Wings, David Adams, (nkimadams)

(the one with the ideas)
Positive qualities
·       Inspirational
·       Adventurous
·       Energetic
Negative qualities
·       Too much going on at once
·       Lacks follow up skills
·       No attention to detail
(one who takes charge: also called Leader)
Positive qualities
·       Gets results
·       Takes charge
·       Initiates
Negative qualities
·       Autocratic
·       Impatient
·       Might be a bully/insensitive
(one who tries to make things work out, make group function)

(the one who sees all the details)

The model above is one of many that have been created to highlight the different characters or players in any group setting. One of the things that have come to mind with the models that we have reviewed it that they should be seen as organic and flexible, rather than rigid and definite.

I would hope that an any point during my practice (depending on what role i'm playing, as I wear many hats), that I would be all of the above, depending on who I was talking to, what I was trying to get done and the context of the conversation.

In my experience I would say that my natural tendancy has been toward being a promoter/controller, and because of experience I am working harder to become more of a supporter/Analyser (emphasis on the supporter).

I've been told by workshop participants that I'm a patient listener when facilitating groups of people in tender emotional situations. In our intensive week I was paying attention to our 'roles' and was aware that I not become the promoter/controller, but know, when to listen and when to step in to push things forward and keep things on track.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Claudia Jones

Researching the race riots that have been happening in the UK since the 1958. Found the work of this great activist, who started the Notting Hill Carnival as a response to racial inequalities.

humming birds at Nottinghill carnival

"An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!"
Jones' best known piece of writing, "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!" appeared in 1949 in Political Affairs. It exhibits Jones' development of what later came to be termed"intersectional" analysis within a Marxist framework. In it, she wrote:[4]
The bourgeoisie is fearful of the militancy of the Negro woman, and for good reason. The capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women begin to take action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced....
As mother, as Negro, and as worker, the Negro woman fights against the wiping out of the Negro family, against the Jim Crow ghetto existence which destroys the health, morale, and very life of millions of her sisters, brothers, and children.
Viewed in this light, it is not accidental that the American bourgeoisie has intensified its oppression, not only of the Negro people in general, but of Negro women in particular. Nothing so exposes the drive to fascization in the nation as the callous attitude which the bourgeoisie displays and cultivates toward Negro women.

 Don't mess with Claudia Jones!! 

“A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom” – Claudia Jones
Lauren Ashi
A series of other Claudia Jones Youtube videos will appear once to play the first preview.

It reminds me of stories my mom would tell me about when she and my dad were looking for a place to live when they first met in Birmingham.
Almost all the houses would have a sign in the window saying

In my meeting with Marjorie Mayo at Goldsmiths recently I discovered that Marjorie also had a hand in the planning of the first carnival events, She also gave me some great organisations to contact regarding community arts and activism.

Marjorie Mayo (2000) Cultures Communities, Identities: Cultural Stategies for Participation and Empowerment. London: Palgrave MacMillan



These were the five 'values' I used in one of our first class discussions. We were then guided on a 'heroes journey' in which we were going to have to relinquish one of the values.

To get across the river, I gave up inclusion
To quench my thirst, I gave up clear communication
To appease my hunger I gave up diversity
To climb the mountain I gave up integrity
and, upon arriving at the gates of hell I held in my hand my final un relinqished value of JOY, the positivity and optimism to keep going?

Goodness knows in my work there are plenty of situations that have seemed like hell, and my tenacity and positive vision have really kept me on task.
I do value my integrity, but in some cases compromise and flexibility are more useful in getting the job done.

We revisited our values recently in our reflective practice class, its hard to choose five from a sea of great values, all of which I know are important. Now they were:

This time the last value that I could not relinquish was freedom.

As I said in my last post about freedom, more specifically (for now) emancipation, has become a strong motivation for my community work.

Perhaps its because the ancestors of both my parents were slaves. I feel a connection to their spirits and believe strongly they are guiding my path in this life, and protecting me.

Ritual and spirituality are the inspiration for my artistic practice. I grew up as a catholic. My Irish mother loved to build alters, the house was full of icons and it seemed almost everyday was some saints birthday.

It was these religious mysteries that lead me into the world of mythology, first in school with the gods and goddesses of north western Europe, then as my curious mind began to wonder, into ritual and magic from all over the world, and the fascinating work of Joseph Campbell. 

It is in this realm that creativity exists for me, Wish the ancestors. Perhaps my values are rooted in the mythological stories from the beginning of time that have guided us with teachings of how to be a human in the earthly realm.

I love this talk by Arlene Goldbard, she touches on a lot of what I'm grappling with in my process and offers intelligent concepts and solutions for a positive future.

Friday, May 10, 2013


On Paolo Freire

It was recommended that The Pedagogy of the Oppressed  would be an important book to read for my work. It was the first book that I bought in attempt to develop my practice in community art. So I just bought it, trusting the person who recommended the book. 

I couldn't read it though. In fact the first page is full of my notes and question marks. Pedagogy, axiological, ontological and anthropocentric are all highlighted with my dictionary reference notes next to them. 
So this nominal text written about the emancipation of the working classes in Brazil, and a foundational text on critical pedagogy I actually found the least accessible book I had read in a long time. 
I felt excluded from it, because as it turns out, it is really important. 

I put it down and started to read Isabell Allende's Daughter of Fortune (original Spanish title Hija de la fortuna) I find magical realism much more inspiring. Or should I say, I find creative writing much more inspiring. I guess its a type of translation into a language that I can relate to, that captures my attention, and helps me to learn. 

Thank goodness for Bell Hooks!

There is an art to reading, and I have come to realise if I cant understand the first page of any text that it probably won't be worth trying to slog through it. Also, I don't have to read everything.
Having someone else translate the complex theories of great thinkers has become my tactic to accessing the important knowledge needed to improve my practice, and myself.

Here is Hooks talking about popular culture and how it is a resource to help us to understand. As I suggest, it's a 'translated' version of the political and sociological structures in our everyday lives.

Bell Hooks met Friere and was inspired by his theories on education and freedom. bell hooks’ first major book on education, Teaching to TransgressEducation as the practice of Freedom, was published in 1994. It is a collection of essays exploring her ideas. (Burke,2004)
 I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions--a movement against and beyond boundaries.  It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom. 

  Hooks also draws upon the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, whose conception of engaged Buddhism promotes both 'action and reflection on the world in order to change it.' (Hooks, p.14) 

You cannot read Freire without then considering the work of Karl Marx and Gramsci. I learned more about Marx's theories on class struggle via my audits of the Contemporary Social Issues class at goldsmiths. He called capitalism the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie," believing it to be run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit; and he predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction (Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). 

Gramsci was Italian, inspired by Marxism, he is renowned for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how states use cultural institutions to maintain power in a capitalist society. He founded the Italian communist party and was imprisoned by Mussolini's Fascist regime. At his trial, Gramsci's prosecutor stated, 'For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning'. 
(Lawrence and Wishart, 1971)
Gramsci created the Prison Notebooks (Quaderni del carcerewhile incarcerated from 1929 and 1935. I see this as a poignant reminder of how the social power structures in which we live have control over our lives.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Reflective Journey

The academic stuff

Please note:
This post is really me practicing how to insert and format references, but there are some interesting points and I will come back to my initial reflective questions.

What makes writing and reading so difficult for me?
How does this affect my capacity as an arts facilitator?

Freud's desk

"When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters however . . . the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves."
— Sigmund Freud, cited in Dijksterhuis (2004)
Dijksterhuis, A. (2004). "Think Different: The Merits of Unconscious Thought in Preference Development and Decision Making". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87 (5): 586–598. CiteSeerX10.

The Legacy of Schon

Donald Schon was one of the most influential thinkers in relation to reflective practice. Preceded by Dewey writing in the first quarter of the twentieth century (Thompson et al, 2008, p13)

I really tried to read both Shon, D (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, New York, Basic Books. 
Dewy, J (1916) How We Think, Boston, MA, DC Health.
It was challenging, I couldn't relate to the writing style at all, too academic and theoretical for me and I couldn't find a way in.

Entrance of the Queen
Copyright All rights reserved by nkimadams
Personally I 'm grateful to Sue and Neil Thompson for writing a much more easy to read book, The Critically Reflective Practitioner (2008) London, Palgrave Macmillan.
It has lots of mind maps, images and strategies for incorporating reflective practice.

Floating on Her Wings
Copyright All rights reserved by nkimadams
What makes writing and reading so difficult for me?

Writing and reading present a challenge because they are not in my regular practice, so I'm not very good at it. I am really enjoying making more time for it, I must be ready for it now. I get excited by the ideas and the knowledge that are within my grasp.  It's actually extremely empowering.

As Thomson et al (2008) says:

Empowerment then is about supporting people in having as much control over their lives and circumstances as they can. This involves identifying barriers at different levels- for example:
   • Personal. This will include low self-esteem or confidence; fears and anxieties about failure (perhaps based on earlier negative experiences); and conflicting pressures (p49)

Yin&Yang/The Mirror
Copyright All rights reserved by nkimadams

How does this affect my capacity as an arts facilitator?

In a recent discussion about values, it occurred to me that my community arts practice is about freedom.  My ability to improve my writing and reading skills, are now revealed as an important tools in my capacity as a facilitator to share key ideologies about knowledge, imagination and creativity and their relationship to freedom.

Becoming a Reflective Practitioner

Buddah of the Sleeping Cat
Copyright All rights reserved by nkimadams
Reflective Journey 

Reflective practice is a kind of journal. Not like the usual blah blah blah of everyday, but an examination of thinking and doing, and the relationships between them. In a way it's a series of questions  to contemplate what, why and how I'm engaged and engaging others in the practice of community art. 

It might not make much sense at first, because I'm not in the practice of writing or reading much, I'm a doer, so that in itself is the first question to launch my reflective journey. 

What makes writing and reading so difficult for me?
How does this affect my capacity as an arts facilitator?

The Mask
Copyright All rights reserved by nkimadams
Before I launch into trying to answer these questions, I'd like to add more beautiful images the page. 

Images are rich metaphors that are much more interesting to me than words, I mean words in the trying to explain something or academic sense of 'WORD'. 

I have found that if I meander around the act of writing, and don't focus too much attention on it, that the idea will eventually emerge from my subconscious at some point. Looking at pictures helps, especially if i'm looking at pictures that express so much more effectively what I am blunderingly trying to say. 

I like to make up and play with words, imaginatively creating nonsence. 
Could I say then, that my intuitive process has become a mask for my lack of reading and writing skills? 
A coping mechanism? 
Using my strenght as a visual artist to disguise the fact that I find writing and reading difficult? 

All this is ironic, as I LOVE to talk, and I'm a confident speaker. 
So as I begin my journey into the questions, I'll end this post with some classical nonsence, throught the reflective Looking Glass of Lewis Carrol.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

IThe Annotated AliceMartin Gardner cautions the reader that there is not always intended symbolism in the Alice books, which were made for the imagination of children and not the analysis of "mad people".