Sharing the Experience of Chaos

How can you help someone understand something they have never personally experienced? Especially something that is traumatic or life altering. In the past year I encountered several very affecting depictions of what it is like to move from relative normalcy, to chaos, and onto a journey to find a new normalcy.

Like many people, I followed the story of the horrendous fires in California and particularly the fires around Napa Valley. I’ve been through Napa many times, have friends from there, have friends married there. It’s a very real place in my life experience. Still, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to wake up in the middle of the night and have scant time to choose what few items to take, and run out into an uncertain future. Then I read the very personal story of artist Brian Fies who created “A Fire Story” shortly after the fire burned his family’s home to the ground.

“A two-story house full of my life was a two-foot heap of dead smoking ash.”

The artist had taken his family’s horrific experience and using his graphic-novel style made it accessible. The line art panels combined with his writing made it resonate with emotional power.

A few weeks later I went to “Searching for Home” a solo exhibition of Seattle-based artist Humaira Abid. Working with incredibly realistic wood sculptures of everyday objects she makes real the experience of refugee women from Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan and other troubled places. How do you communicate what it means to leave not only your home but your homeland, and to express the impact on families, and specifically women? One of her works, “The Stains Are Forever” pays tribute to victims of a school massacre. A six-year old girl was among those killed, reading this Ms. Abid thought of her own daughter.

“What if it was my daughter? It could very easily have been my daughter.”

Wrestling with questions like these has been the work of Ms. Abid who was inspired to create by the social issues that exist in her native Pakistan. Through her powerful and beautiful works one is invited in to feel and imagine the experience of women refugees, and the painful choices and hardships they endure. Her sculptures, and paintings, have a strong narrative sense to them, and taken in collectively they create affecting scenes from a larger story. Looking at each work I can imagine the person who lost hold of that suitcase, the child who once wore that sandal.

Stories have the ability to help us see, feel, and begin to understand things that are far from our own experience. That the power of those stories can be conveyed through comic drawings and carved wood is testament to the talent and skill of these artists.

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