I consider myself lucky because my husband’s work (the main reason why I have been living abroad for almost thirty years) brings me close to a wide community of people from all walks of life. Wherever I have lived, I have easily made connections with a great variety of individuals and families. Fortunately, the mission behind my husband’s work has opened unexpected doors and led me to discover stories I would never have known otherwise.
Even though I have always had privileged channels to interact with people, I have always sought out opportunities to discover different ways of life and unique situations. I strongly believe that if we are to practice empathy, we need to actively get in touch with individuals and situations that we may not otherwise come into contact with in our daily routines, wherever these are.
This is the reason I am so happy and grateful for an event I participated in while recently spending a month in London. InPractice is organised every three months by the Royal Academy of Arts and the idea behind it is very simple (as stated on the RCA website):
“At this event we invite disabled artists and creative people at risk of exclusion from the art world to share their practice with others”
The actual atmosphere and energy this event generated goes beyond words.
One by one artists with different kinds of barriers took the stage. They had ten minutes to talk about themselves and present their work. Some had severe physical disabilities; others came from a history of mental illness or depression; and some had difficulties I couldn’t even pinpoint… but none of this actually matters. What matters is that they were all present to share the one thing they had in common: their love for the arts.
Some of them did this by sharing their stories and explaining how their challenges led them to art or how art allowed them to overcome their challenges. Others simply explained how they work, and the content of their pieces of art. No matter what and how they decided to present, all through the event I felt a wonderful sense of connection to their stories. I was profoundly moved by the chance to stop for a moment in my healthy and privileged routine to listen to these people.
Listening to these artists and exploring how their suffering has developed their art, or how despite their suffering they have managed to produce amazing things, has been deeply heart-warming. All through the event I felt grateful for this protected space where we were given the opportunity to open up to these artists’ stories and empathetically connect with them. They made us laugh, cry, inquire, and applaud – but mostly they opened up and allowed us to walk, even just for a little while, in their shoes while trying to imagine what it means not only to make art but also to live with physical or mental disabilities.