Transforming Barriers

Critical thought and creativity are the most valuable skills one can have in our society today. No matter what you hope to do with your life, there will be barriers and walls (literally and metaphorically) that stand in your way or that you find to be unfair, unjust or simply wrong. The ability to take something formidable or daunting, critique it and make it in to something new is not only important, but it takes talent and ensures creativity as a lasting part of your life.

I’m not a violent person. I don’t seek to destroy and I don’t enjoy acts that take out aggression. And beyond the physical, I find many problems with structural violence and systems of oppression that seek to harm the ‘others’ in our society.

What I cannot fathom is why we, as a culture, assume that any obstacle in our way must be defeated, conquered, destroyed. From our consumerist habits of waste to the structure of our political system, I often feel as if getting rid of the ‘bad’ is the only solution provided by the culture that I live in.

As if to say we cannot cope with something out of our understanding of what it means to go through life. When something gets in our way, what is it that we do? How is it that we overcome a shift of direction, a change of pace, a road block?

Beyond the relatively agreeable ‘bad’ in the world,  I, like many others, often times do see things in the world that morally, socially, or politically I disagree with and think are wrong. What motivates me as a journalist, an artist and a person is to do something about those grievances.

However, that is obviously easier said that done. And hence the whole point of even discussing this in great depth, it’s not always clear how to do that without simply getting rid of or eliminating those wrongs. Often times those wrongs have strong, systematic backings and often resemble huge walls rather than something we can simply erase.

We try to break the wall down, but we fail. And we don’t know why, but we keep trying anyways. Yet the wall is usually much too big to break down and there are always more barriers further down the road.

Why do we assume that in order to be successful, we must take a certain path? In order to overcome an obstacle, it must be eliminated?

I get frustrated with the idea that there is only one way to live. Whether it is a monogamous, heterosexual relationship or an academic path of university schooling, there is no doubt a dominant discourse in our society regarding how we’re supposed to live our lives.

My goal is to work on changing that. While a lot has been done to change that by incredible individuals throughout history, much more is still needed.

So what if we looked at things differently? What it we transformed our obstacles rather than destroyed them? What if we painted, sung and wrote down our stories instead of smothering those that are different?

If you can’t break it down, you may as well paint on it.

Perhaps graffiti is the greatest literal and figurative example of this; taking a wall, a building, a public space and recreating it as one’s own to share a message or expose a truth.

Graffiti in Sevilla, Spain Photo by Esta Pratt-Kielley

Graffiti in Sevilla, Spain
Photo by Esta Pratt-Kielley

As an artist, this idea is particularly fitting, but I believe it extends to anyone. A world’s worth of knowledge can be learned from an artistic way of thinking. Going back to that critical thinking and creativity, artists seek to transform what is there; to show it in a different light and expose a truth that perhaps was in the dark, yet was there all along.

As V says in V for Vendetta, “Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”

Now, some may ask how I seek to balance journalism, which at least in theory uses truth to tell the truth, then claim I’m an artist who uses lies to tell that very same truth. Artists create in many different ways, and often times that means creating illusions, distortions, or critiques on reality. But as any artist will tell you, the process is just as significant as the result. And in that process, one can discover more truth than any result will ever show. Yet within that result, the viewers can see something that makes them think and even question that which they always believed to be true.

So in essence, as both a journalist and an artist, I seek to expose what is hidden, uncover what has been concealed, and lighten what was in the dark. As a society, we can always value from an alternative way of looking at the world. A continuous stream of alternative messages is something I believe we need in dominant culture today.

Dominant ideologies only exist if we continue to hold them up, support them and let them be as they are. Rattle the foundation, draw on the walls and our barriers will start to change in front of our eyes.

There are always barriers in our way, but it up to us to transform them.

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