According to my family, I was one of those brats that took advantage of my privilege to cry when I was a baby. You know the type of baby that cries so much that you find yourself exploring the dark realms of your mind,plotting torturous methods that will silence him or her? I was that baby.
I wish I could remember what it was like to be that brat, unapologetically crying and screaming without a care in the world. Perhaps I wailed that much because I secretly knew that the world would require a great deal of composure from me when I was older, and I was merely soaking up the moment while it lasted. Somebody must have told me about the dehumanisation that awaited me.
You see, the world doesn’t have room for people who want to exercise their need to be human. The world is not interested in your feelings, “Smile even though your heart is aching,” that’s how the song goes right? The world doesn’t welcome your heart’s truth. Your humanity, however, can only be suppressed for so long, and at some point your feelings will no longer fit under the carpet you constantly sweep them under.
Art, for the most part, is the catalyst in breaking this suppression, the saving grace that delivers us from our state of numbness. In fact, art is probably the only access we have to reality; the reality of situations taking place in the world, and the reality of our feelings towards those situations.
We get lost in songs and poems because over and above the entertainment, we find parts of ourselves in them. We are drawn to characters on screens and stages because they are either like us, or what we long to be. Paintings and sculptures transport us to abstract places we have probably seen in our dreams, or depict details of familiar situations.
Whatever the form and whatever the relation, art taps into our conscious and leaves us feeling. In a world where you can be “too emotional” and expected to “just get over it” because “life goes on”, art is kind enough to reject your robot mode. Your feelings don’t offend it. You are wholly and fully accepted in its embrace.
I have found that most of the poems and poets I come across relay somber tales; I’m guilty of leaning towards the dark side when I write too. In fact, some of the world’s best art was inspired by gloom. Is it because of our unexplainable attraction to pain? The media has a motto that implies this to be so; “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Another side of the coin is that we spend most of our lives composed. We are not “allowed” to offend the world with our pain, so of course our art is most likely to be dark; it’s the only discipline in which our truth can roam freely whether people like it or not. It is the only place where we can be the cry babies that we really are.
In a recent poetry session that I attended, one of the performers recited a moving piece about the ANC. Her words pierced me; awakening the disappointment and hurt I was passively carrying as a black South African citizen towards the party, the emotions came as quite a shock to me.
A similar emotional experience happened to me last year at the Turbine Art Fair when I came across a painting depicting the massacre that took place in Marikana. The emotions I had obediently moved on from, as per the world’s natural order, re-surfaced; it was almost as if the painting was reprimanding me for getting over the tragedy. These emotionally charged moments often happen to me when I consume art; from watching shows that give me chills, to hearing songs that expose my heart’s secrets.
When artists break away from their shackles, the rest of humanity is set free; it is in this way that our emancipation becomes one. In the midst of the world’s shallow rules, regulations and standards, art always bring us back to our truth, thus playing a critical role in sustaining society.