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Bon Journal

Express, not suppress

At a private viewing in London, I got introduced to a local artist whose work was not exhibited there. Instead, he invited me to an exhibition in his studio the next evening. He had converted a dilapidated church into an art studio, and in the process, created a new community.

I was late for the 6 pm exhibition, only managing to hear the last poem. It was in Arabic and from the tone of the poet's voice, I could tell that it was about war. The small church was located at the edge of a cemetery, next to a busy street. Inside, people were gathered with their backs against the prints of another artist.

As I walked from print to print, I could sense the artist's struggle to make sense of the war. There was death everywhere in the black and white colours. They were not prints I would buy. But they echoed of a familiarity, for they were made a decade ago, during the Iraq-Kuwait war. But it could be equally applicable today.

A man approached me and asked if I was an artist. Is a musician an artist? I consider myself very primitive when it comes to visual art. But I am very sensitive to noise and rhythm. No, I replied. I'm not an artist. I'm a pianist.

He described himself as a poet and an artist. His studio was a hut in the middle of a nature reserve. Later I learned that he was a retired landscape artist and was using art to help the mentally ill.

"You can strech a steel wire from both ends as hard as you can. But eventually it will break."

Indeed, I see it in the workplace, where it may be easier to suppress than express. A company director once advised me to treat the workplace as a stage. You should appear the same for each show. It's not a place to express yourself.

Luckily, artists, musicians, and writers are allowed to express themselves through their work.

22 March 2002 Friday