In case you were unable to join us for our third Drawing Together event, here is a recap of the exercises we did together. Our host was Dana Walrath, GMIC board member, artist, writer, and medical anthropologist. Our theme was “ancestors.”
Our warm up exercise borrowed from Lynda Barry’s workshop called “Writing the Unthinkable” that she offered at our Dundee Graphic Medicine conference in 2016. You can find the exercise online here.
Introduction from Dana:
We draw spirals to unleash the subconscious and let words and stories begin to flow. Unthinkable referred to stuff you didn’t really know was there. Why spirals?
They seem to have magic power. They are an ancient form of expression built into much of the earliest human art across the globe. Our ancestors knew about spirals. They are built into our DNA which spirals around itself in a double helix within every one of our cells. So we are going to start by drawing spirals because right now we are living the unthinkable.
Deep inside each of us is knowledge about how to get through this. Its unthinkable in our lifetimes but if we go back into the deep past humanity has survived many brutal atrocities.
We have lived through pandemics, through genocide, through enslavement, through colonization—in the Americans more than 95% of the first peoples who lived here lost their lives to disease when European colonizers arrived, through war, through famine. This knowledge of how to survive with compassion is deep within us and comes to us through our ancestors. Spirals let us talk to them.
As we drew tight spirals, Dana read us a body-scanning relaxing meditation and then a poem by the U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo. She is the first Native American United States Poet Laureate.
by Joy Harjo
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To the one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, ourselves and know
That we must take utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
Draw four panels on a piece of paper and think back to the early days of your life. Think next of a word. For us today the word is ancestors. This can be your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousin, chosen or biological, imagined or real. Someone you knew or someone that you that you knew you related to in the abstract as when my oldest son said to me one day when he was about six and when we were talking about human evolution and the australopithecine fossil Lucy and he said, oh she’s my great, great, great for seven weeks great grandmother. Let someone come to you.
Now use the four panels to show your connection to this person, what you this person showed you, or taught you, practical knowing all the while that for each of us, the ancestors are a source of strength inside of us that we can draw upon as we chart our days during pandemic.
After 12 minutes of drawing time with music, several participants shared their work and stories. Dana then summarized the themes. that came up in the comics participants created:
- People spoke of lineages of influence some directly biological such as parents and grandparents, known and unknown; some intellectual heroes; some deep ancient ancestors; even kindreds with other animals and the earth itself.
- How we know ancestors through story even if we have never met them.
- Ancestors’ life histories inspire us now through their actions, courage, generosity, and grit in what they lived through.
- How some taught us patience, some filled us with love and how we pay this back and pay it forward.
- How some were distant so we found this connection and love through the mythic deep ancestry
- Some taught us how to live simply and about a deep connection to the land
- Their lives brought us to diseases of the past, Polio and the Iron Lungs, lives lost during the Spanish Flu.
- The history of medicine and caring for those who are hurt and suffering was a focus, as were historical events like the crash of 1929 or the Spanish Civil War, the Rise of Fascism and how these events separated and changed families, how so many ancestors crossed borders migrating from country to country and the culture loss this created.
- How we come to resemble our ancestors as we age
- Visually many comics made particular uses of gutters to bridge and cross between panels.
- Time in the comics was often very fluid and simultaneous rather than linear and chronological
- The resounding hope that the pandemic will create a return to this ancestral knowledge that will create a more just and healthy world.
If you would like to share your work, or see work others created during the session, check out #DrawingTogetherGM on social media.
Dana also shared that the Graphic Medicine International Collective (GMIC) is aware that this is a challenging time for many. Resources are available for comfort and support.
1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24/7 crisis center, or text MHA to 741741 at the CrisisText Line.
1-833-456-4566 toll free (In QC: 1-866-277-3553), 24/7
https://cmha.ca/find-your-cmha/ (Finding your local branch of Canadian Mental Health Association)
SUPPORT FOR FRONT LINES WORKERS
USA text 741741
UK text 85258
Canada text 741741 and (https://cpa.ca/corona-virus/psychservices/)
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