I’m beginning to realize the importance of context in our lives. I always ask my IB Visual Art students to think about the context of an artwork: how has the social, cultural and personal experiences of that person/time period affected the production of art? How does each of our own social and cultural contexts (experiences) affect the art we make? As an American, I did not fully see my culture until I left my country. That scares me because so many never choose to travel outside of the US and realize how many things are truly constructed ideas, like race for example. It is for this reason I have decided to include a new category of writing within this blog and I will heretofore (I love I could just use that word) refer to it as context. Context helps you understand the way I see the world and how those perceptions shape my ideas, values, and artwork. We should be applying this idea to everything in our lives!!
Just last post I spoke about unique experiences and how you can utilize them to foster creative endeavor. I feel compelled to share this recent “cultural excursion” for that very reason.
Upon accepting a job offer in Dubai I received a packet listing all of the documents I had to obtain or notarize through government offices. It felt overwhelming but since it was a necessary step in reaching Dubai I kept at it. Once I reached sand-land, my school had to use all of these documents to apply for my work visa. (Many people have this done immediately upon arrival if not before but I was hired late in the international teacher-hiring game). One of the very last stages before work visa approval is to go for blood work and a chest x-ray. They test your blood for AIDs, if you are pregnant (being unmarried and pregnant in Dubai can literally put you in prison), and possibly something else I can’t remember. The x-ray is to check for tuberculosis. Once you are cleared of all of these things, you are likely to receive your passport updated with a 3 year work/residency visa (I may have just read news that said it is now a visa valid for two years, but I could also be hallucinating).
The first time I went for the blood sample I sat in the sparsely populated “female waiting area,” which was divided from the men by a screen. I was also handed a form to fill out and give the phlebotomist before she drew my blood. The form asked me how I knew I was not pregnant. There were 3 boxes to check but two stand out in my memory. The first choice was: because I am unmarried. Of course, check. The other one that has remained so indelibly in my mind was: because I am trying to avoid my husband. (Let me remind you this is a government run endeavor). (I wonder what questionnaire the men filled out?!)
This year I am up for renewal so I went for blood work again. Just this week, in fact. This time I only had my blood drawn and there were no additional forms to fill out. Shucks. Going again reminded me of that first experience.
The first time began with a moment I wish I could put into words, I will try my best. I wish I could explain what it feels like to get out of your transport only to observe hundreds of Indian and Pakistani and maybe Sri Lankan men sitting on the grass outside the waiting room for men, all waiting for their blood to be drawn. And, as you exit the vehicle you develop the startling awareness of the gender (and ethnicity) divide, ALL 200 something male faces turn their heads and stare at you and the 3 other lady teachers applying for visas. It felt like a stage spotlight was immediately cast on us and angels were singing choral songs in the background as we exited our small white van.
Some people (expats) who live in Dubai complain about a lack of cultural experience. One, I would argue they don’t seek it out and two, I think many people fail to realize these smaller moments of CONTEXT can be so formative in our emotions and beliefs that drive our everyday lives. It is a social and cultural moment in time.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Reflect on a memory that has a direct relationship to your town or city. How does that memory reflect your impression of your home and the people in it? Has it led you to future decisions based on those assumptions or belief systems? Are your beliefs with justification?
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