Sunday, November 25, 2007

Healing Rituals

After I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 my artwork - which has always been autobiographical - began to change. No longer did I work with toxic chemicals and processes to create large-scale metal sculpture and jewelry. Instead, I started using my metal scraps, natural materials and found objects to create assemblages that refer to the processes and rituals of holistic self-healing. These are a few images from that series.

This installation refers to my passion for flamenco and how my life changed as a result of the cancer. I continued dancing and tried to handle the added load of daily juicing, among other rituals. When I learned of the cancer recurrence in 2006 I stopped dancing so I could focus on my healing. I intend to resume flamenco dance and guitar when I'm able to devote more time to it.
These images were taken by Marilyn Zimmerman.

Day of the Dead Skulls and Living Life

The images that follow this text are Day of the Dead skulls that I made in 2006. The tradition has been celebrated in Mexico and other Latin American countries for centuries and stems from the colorful rituals of the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico who believed that the souls of the dead returned each year to commune with the living. The occasion is festive and colorful and has evolved into a hybrid of ancient indigenous beliefs, folk culture and Catholic ritual.

I put this information here on the pages of my Healing Journey because I look at this tradition as an opportunity not only to celebrate and reflect upon my heritage and ancestors, but also to reflect upon the meaning and purpose of my own existence. Of course, a cancer diagnosis will cause the same introspection. After learning of the cancer recurrence and metastasis, and as a coping mechanism, I asked myself what was the worse possible outcome.

Worse than death for me would be to lose the quality of my life; to endure the mutilation of my breasts; the burning of remaining tissue; the poisoning of my entire body; potential damage to my heart and other organs; five years of toxic pharmaceuticals, and the possibility of a secondary cancer caused by the treatments. This is the protocol that was offered to me in the form of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and tamoxifen, with no guarantee that I would recover completely, or at all. It seemed a preposterous proposition. Orthodox treatments are a fine choice that have worked well for others, but I chose alternatives and never looked back.

I reasoned that the next worse case scenario would be death. But since death is a given for us all that option wasn't so hard to accept. With this acceptance I felt liberated and unafraid of the cancer. (For the most part). I also happen to believe that I'll be around for a good long time, not because I fear dying but because I want to live. There's a big difference.

We tend to put living our purpose and our passion on hold until some distant goal is met: the bills are paid off, the kids are grown, retirement, remission, or other countless milestones. We can begin to truly live whenever we decide. The daily rituals of life don't have to be mundane if we decide to approach every day with eagerness and expectation - as if it were our last day on earth. Folding laundry, food preparation - whatever the task - can become quality living if we imagine it as the last opportunity in this life to experience it.

These images were taken by Vito Valdez.

Me and my partner Vito Valdez

Vito and me in front of his infamous BIG FISH sculpture in Southwest Detroit. The work was still in progress at this time. Vito and I have collaborated on various projects (not the FISH, but others). Giving to the community through involvement in public art projects contributes to healing on a different level. The more you give, the more you receive.

This is the completed sculpture. The BIG FISH has recently dissapeared from this site, much to the outrage of our community. Construction in the area encroached on the FISH and an investigation is underway as to its demise, or its whereabouts.

The Detroit Gallery scene

This is Vito and me at the STREET SMARTZ exhibit in 2005. We've been active in the Detroit art community for many years. Until my cancer diagnosis I didn't realize the accuracy in the truism "art heals".

These images were taken by Lisa Luevanos.