7 DRESSES 4 HEALTH: Day 315 - Day 321 ~ November 11th - November 17th ~
Guest Blogger Bio: Rodney is writer, artist and growing academic. He uses creative leadership methods to inform youth projects and entrepreneurial ventures that are designed as innovative solutions to challenges in society. He is the program officer for first of its kind creative leadership program called Students with Dreams, which he designed with a diverse international and multicultural team for the Malawi context. The program works with teams in colleges where Rodney hopes to begin prototyping the future of Malawian leadership by emphasizing creativity and collaboration to address challenges.
Since my last blog post for Arts Connect International (Day 30—Heart Disease) and my current work with Art and Global Health Center Africa (AGHCA) I have enjoyed many an hour looking at art in Malawi as a tool for health: Short walks, small galleries, curio shops and stands, and—quite frankly, folk’s homes and work spaces — looking at visual art, artifacts, photographs, maps, and what-have-you, ‘reading’ how we represent disease in our nation, how we view it, and how we understand and even misunderstand it.
In 2014, Marian Brown (the artist performing 7 Dresses 4 Health) and I sat to discuss health, systems, politics of disease and just the theories that inform them. Marian told me about the “7 Dresses 4 Health” performance piece over coffee in her home in Zomba, Malawi and I thought—this will change the discomfort we have around illness. At that point, it was just a theoretical idea -- to be put into practice in 2015.
I was drawn to the piece for its potential to deconstruct health care systems and allow for a new perspective towards the visibility of sickness, disease, and discomfort. I believe that the problem of the 21st Century is the need to construct: new ideologies, vocabulary and myths that compound on medical discourse. The idea of ‘adding new knowledge’ and fathering new concepts is highly impressed on as a type of cure.
This diagnoses, treats and eradicates the symptoms of physical disease, but leaves the dis-ease around disease intact in our national and cultural imaginations.
Those who hope to address the current public health problems, influence policy and address the health care system; are people who are prepared to deconstruct the violent structures that permit for the visibility of disease to be given to the privileged few.
The truth is that we have become nations, communities and societies of hypochondriacs who tiptoe around disease. This is a cultural sickness and anxiety that needs to be treated.
The seven dresses performance pieces doctored health differently, made it more accessible. And allowed for sickness to be the object for interrogation without objectifying the sick.
Imagine that: remove the debris, labeling and myths surrounding illness so that we treat the disease and not the diseased.
How do we even begin to speak of curing a national illness?
Through representation of course.
We must realize that signification of the sign is more lethal than the sign itself—that is to say, in this case, that discomfort of the illness is a more crippling ‘sickness’ than the illness itself. So Brown, a true artist, re-characterized disease simply using colors:
HIV/AIDS - Red
Mental Health - Yellow
Nutrition - Green
Heart Disease - Blue
Maternal Child Health - Purple
Cancer - Pink
Disability - Grey
7 Dresses 4 Health created a method for diagnosing, seeing, reading disease through colors.
This is method only art can achieve: a cure both symptomatic and asymptomatic of the sign— that is to bring visibility to illness of the body and to allow people to understand that illness without dis-ease.
The result is potent, replicable and fecund model in whose ideology and theory many artists can benefit in addressing issues of health. One such artist whose “Dweeb Culture” has been informed by the concept is a Dreamer in Residence at AGHCA, Akulu Lipenga.
Akulu came to us with a desire to create an art portfolio for Grad School. As an artist, designer, creator he had a fever to draw, illustrate and conceptualize Malawi. He said, I have an idea that has no words, it must be drawn; it is a feeling about a nation, maybe this nation— meaning must proliferate — It is more than poverty, but an infection; it is not an illness, but a pneumapathology.
Poverty—no—that has no cure. This does. I need to draw.
The result of that conversation is the Dweeb Culture Movement: illustrations, cartoons and characters that harness the platform created by Marian Brown and localizing it in post-colonial (psycho) pathologies, multi-identities creative and innovative expression to redefine how we see ourselves and better understand our cultures.
What have I learnt from my explorations in art and health?
We are all on a soul’s treasure hunt, looking for visual reverberations, artifacts, clues about the disease, dis-ease and discomfort that surround us. If we are going to beat cancer, AIDS, and even diseases such as poverty, we must be willing to learn to speak without words.
We must find ways for performing disease that remove dis-ease through art, 7 Dresses 4 Health and DWEEB Cultures of our own.
Art beckons, questions, remembers, dis-members and reveals the pain of living in nations that are diseased. When we look through the prism of colors, textures, hues and lines instead of painkillers, medical discourse and illness we create an equitable healthcare system.
We are coming close to the end of the year; and correspondingly the end of 7 Dresses 4 Health.
I have learnt that there is a way in which in art we learn the mind, our people. We put the problem in front of ourselves in a three-dimensional way, and work through it, peeling layers of constructed difference.
For me: I think wherever we are, whoever we are— we are all Dweeb Cultures learning to cure ourselves.
Call to action: Do you have important information around one of our seven causes: HIV/AIDS, Mental Health, Nutrition, Heart Disease, Maternal Child Health, Cancer, Disability, that you want to share with a wider audience? Do you or a loved one currently live and/or struggle with one of these causes? Do you work in research, advocacy, prevention, treatment or care? We want to hear from YOU! Write to us today: firstname.lastname@example.org to become a featured blog writer. Another way to get involved is to wear the color of the day in solidarity. Take a picture of yourself in the color of the day and Tweet it @ArtsConnectInt, tag us on Instagram @ArtsConnectInt, or send it to us on Facebook.
About 7 Dresses 4 Health (7D4H): 7D4H is a year-long arts and health education campaign lead by visual artist, Marian Brown, in conjunction with Arts Connect International. The objective of the campaign is to promote inclusive community practices through adDRESSing health artistically and collaboratively. To learn more about the genesis of the project, read Marian’s New Year Blog.
About this week's look & location: All of the dresses for 7 Dresses 4 Health were designed and sewn by Kim's Fashion Design. Love the look? Visit Kim at 100 Huntington Ave, Boston MA 02116, call her at (617) 267-9299 or email her: email@example.com. Mention 7 Dresses 4 Health for a special discount!
Campaign Update (2017): All 7 Dresses 4 Health blogs were migrated from a former site, so the sharing analytics are inconsistent from when they were first published. We apologize to our guest bloggers, and readers, for this inconvenience. That said, the campaign garnered an average of 5K hits per blog, over 500,000 readers throughout 2015! Additionally, the average number of shares per guest blog was over 150x on social media (through Facebook and Twitter). Thank you for making this incredible campaign possible - and for all that it was for so many. With gratitude, Marian & the ACI Team