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coming home

BY GUEST WRITER Eileen Botsford

There comes a time in life when we realise how lucky we are and feel the need to give back, to give to those who are in more need than us. Thankfully I have met that point in my life a few times. I have now however, come to realising these actions through means that I find most beneficial both for the recipient and myself. The process entails helping people through being creative, and hopefully by doing that, they are given a small push to start moving toward positive directions in their lives.

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At the end of 2014 I was privileged to be approached by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST) to collaborate with them in their Educational Program, ‘EMST Without Borders’. This was a real honour for me, as I had been following the wonderful and inspirational work that ‘EMST Without Borders’ had been doing for a while. It was at about the same time that I was building a workshop template that I call ‘Project Home’, a template applicable to a variety of workshops held for unprivileged or deprived groups.

The The National Museum of Contemporary Art, in the framework of the program ‘EMST Without Borders’, then designed and organised (in collaboration with KETHEA in Action), the educational program “Making my own home”, for the women’s therapeutic group of KETHEA in Action in Koridallos Correctional Facility.

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The program, which began on the 15th of January 2015 and lasted until May, was realised in two phases. In the first, the group of women of KETHEA in Action had the opportunity to approach the theme of the house, through contemporary art. Lectures and discussions were held by Art Historians and founders of ‘EMST Without Borders’, Marina Tsekou and Anina Valkana. Works by artists such as Emily Jacir, Niki Kanagini, Los Carpinteros, Kimsooja, Sophia Kosmaoglou, Dara Birnbaum, Lia Nalbantidou, Lusy Orta, Donald Rodney, Martha Rosler, Do Ho Suh, Mona Hatoum, which reveal various facets of the theme, were presented and discussed. Themes such as: the house as an abode, everyday habits, coexistence and inter family relations, the various roles of women and the feminine identity, the house as refuge or place of isolation and contemplation but also as a space of confinement, the ideal house, the house as personal memory or as part of our self.

In the second phase of the program, I worked with the women of the group, showing them the opportunity to ‘speak’ through their creations, using the format of a cardboard house as their base and starting point of expression. Within this process I avoided engaging them in designing a ‘master plan’ prior to cutting their boards and creating their homes. I wanted the participants to work on the cardboard as if it was a sculpture. I wanted their creativity to develop more organically, with less inhibition and intimidation. Before they knew it, a ‘home’ stood in front of them and they were invited to manipulate it, add to it, bring it to life, love it or even hate it. They used various media such as paints, fabric, found objects, small lights as well as the written word to each one separately create her own home, and all of them together a community.

The workshops came to a close with a presentation of the ‘homes’ that the participants had created. This emotionally charged session was yet another eye-opener, as words, silence, tears and smiles took the place of explaining what we saw before us. At that time it was like a small cycle had closed. The process of the cycle being – thoughts becoming visuals, and then visuals assisting or even pushing out thoughts in the form of words.

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I consider the program as a success; it met our aims, those being for the confined therapeutic group to accept, in the deprived environment of their everyday life, different stimuli that can be utilized in their therapeutic program, to express and share their agony and emotions, to develop their in-between communication, while expressing themselves artistically.

photo 3My experience as an artist and educator through this workshop has been priceless. My starting point was to offer, to help. I found through the process, as you do, that I have become a student and I am learning every second of my time I spent preparing and realising the workshops.

The participants in the workshops where more than eager to ‘speak’ in visuals about their pasts, their current life, their dreams, who they are, who they want to be and where they want to be.

In the sessions, materials become words and creativity was buzzing around the room in no time. The therapists and the education department of KETHEA in Action , which had the therapeutic responsibility of the whole project and of course collaborated for the realization of the program, have created an amazingly warm and calming environment in Koridallos Correctional Facility. Their input and the environment they have created was vital for helping us and the participants to relax, engage and create.

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I am a true believer that working with your hands and creating something out of nothing can be a strong meditative process as well as a healing experience. In the workshops there where moments of quiet which indicated dedication and involvement, and from time to time there where bursts of laughter and excitement.

The participants asked questions and were eager to learn how visions or emotions they have can turn into visuals, how they can practically apply bars to a window or how a window can become a window to their soul.

There where times when I heard ‘I can’t do this’ and slowly by working with them this turned into ‘how can I do this?’.

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PUBLIC artist Eileen Botsford has been working on a vast spectrum of on-site and on-line Public Art projects and commissions in Greece and internationally, giving inspirational talks, and exhibiting in group and solo exhibitions worldwide. Currently she is the Public Art Tutor, Mixed Media Labs Tutor and the Historical and Contextual Studies Lecturer at the Doukas BTEC Foundation in Art & Design.

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