14 February 2020

Let’s learn the art of embracing damage

The universe is made of breaks. Broken things and things breaking. That’s one way to think of it. It’s made of making too. Things put together. Things coming together. Grand or minute design or even just doing what needs to be done, the act alone suturing that which has been torn apart. 

It’s a half full and half empty glass kind of thing. We inscribe on things and processes the colors of our anxieties or our excitement. Sometimes despair overwhelms but then again human history is replete with countless examples of the human spirit rising above discontent to create magnificent edifices upon the rubble of destroyed cities. 

Such things came to mind perusing a recent Facebook post by Asela Abeywardene. Asela is a sculptor, painter, poet, activist, teacher and a student of everything she engages with. She’s very good at all these things.

“Today's 'Say it with Art' session: Broken but Beautiful - learning from Kintsugi: the art of embracing damage.” That’s the note she wrote for the photographs she had posted of the work of some students. 

Kintsugi. Apparently it is derived from ‘kin’ which means ‘golden’ and ‘tsugi’ which is Japanese for ‘repair’. So it’s a Japanese art tradition which uses precious metals such as gold or silver in liquid form or else lacquer dusted with powdered gold to bring together broken pieces of pottery. Embrace as opposed to discard. How lovely! 

Just the other day I read about roads made of recycled plastic. Of course if we didn’t use plastic in the first place it would have been much better. What has happened is that the true pollution generators such as soft drink manufacturers have neatly shelved guilt by passing it on to consumers who, for their part, have not really objected nor done what perhaps they ought to do, boycott. There's something irresponsible and unfair in a world which some  are determined to break while others are forced to heal. 

However, Kintsugi is certainly an idea that probably draws from all this and yields a message about all broken things, big and small, tangible and intangible. There are things we can pour into cracks which not only repair and hide but heal tired eyes, dispel despair and generate spark and delight. 

Seeds take up residence in the most imperceptible of fissures in the hardest of rocks. They take root. They break through. And landscapes hard and barren become green without envy. Some seeds are planted by birds. Some are carried by the elements. And then, there are teachers who give out secrets of healing that are never labeled as such. 

This world is made not just of fissures, but massive fractures separating human bring from human being, nation from nation, one mad and burning idea from waters that can quench. There’s gold and silver and even lacquer that can be dusted with precious metal. There are instruments such as a brush or a line of poetry that can make the broken beautiful. There are ways to embrace rather than curse damage. 

And it happens. At workshops and elsewhere. In a nation and a household. A community scarred by conflict and multiple communities distanced by distrust. There are histories buried by historiography. There’s unearthing that must happen and sometimes the raising is done not so much by the archaeologist but the artist. 

Asela’s students learn Kintsugi. The implications and applications are unlikely to be lost on them. Or on those who chance to gaze upon what they create. Maybe the world with all its many, deep and tragic wounds have survived because there have been enough people who realized the importance of embracing the hurt. With equanimity. Maybe we have as a species survived because there were gentle people who understood intimately that ‘broken’ does not forbid ‘beauty’.  

Years ago, when my father was very young he wrote a love poem about breaking. It was about how in innocence ‘they’ had squandered beauty. In a Kintsugi kind of moment he spoke about picking pieces and putting them together to produce something ‘closer to the heart’s desire.’ 

Of course none of this should be taken as a theory of sanctioning wrongdoing. It is often necessary to resist things that damage or can potentially hurt. On the other hand, we can choose to abandon desecrated lands or turn them into temples of art, meaning and life. Kintsugi. Maybe this is what will see us through in times of breaking and darkness. Embrace births incredibly beautiful poetry. Heals.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [February 14, 2020]

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':
[published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]