Ibrahim Mohammed is an incredibly inspiring artist that came to speak with the class about his work. For me as a Creative Arts Therapist, I was incredibly moved and inspired with the work that Ibrahim has done/does. He gave me a reminder about how important the arts in therapy actually are and brought up a lot of personal feelings and struggles that I have with my chosen path. It is interesting because I seem to judge the work that I do and treat it as irrelevant because I have to explain and advocate for it so much. In our society, artists are not regarded highly unless they are famous, and then they are idolized and worshipped.
Living in New York City especially it seems as if every 3rd person is an actor, artist or musician and so there becomes this stigma associated with the STARVING ARTIST…”It’s so hard to make it, how will you survive pay your bills, what is your real job, etc etc etc.” Seems to be a way of shaming and degrading the artist—judging them for taking a less conventional path, although I can not tell you how many people I meet who tell me about their passion for arts and/or music—that they wish they were doing it and they totally get how music/art/dance is therapy for them, they miss it etc… It’s a real thing. This is my biggest personal obstacle at the moment; validating myself, my field, my work and going for it full force by committing to it and believing in it. I found Ibrahim’s lecture to be one of the most touching and relevant for me, and the visual aspect of his presentation made it especially compelling of course.
In West Africa there is a huge emphasis and respect for art, craft, dance and music. It is something so engrained in their culture and religion and it was everywhere. The history of music, dance and art dates back to slavery and the hundreds of African ethnic groups that made up African slaves in the Americas and Europe. Dance and music in the African tradition was a big part of both special occasions and everyday life. Dance and music were activities that sustained the people enslaved in the American South. They sang and danced to get through the day of work, to mourn and honor their ancestors, mock their oppressors, strengthen their family and community bonds, experience pleasure, love and joy for themselves.
The roots and the respect of music, dance and culture in the African society is what was so relevant for me in this lecture. There is history of art for a purpose that is so clear in West Africa and it is honored and respected. This is not to say that art is not honored and respected in the states, but I think it has become commercialized and corrupt in a lot of ways. -- There is a lack of authentic beauty that Ibrahim captured in the most honest way. For me it seemed that it is viewed differently then it is in the states, and perhaps that makes it easier to feel confident and pursue art…or maybe I am just making excuses for why I will ultimately fail and never help anyone and that rhetoric that happens in my head as I prepare to graduate from my NYU Master’s Program.
In addition to his artistic exhibitions, and of the most interest to me, Ibrahim worked with the Autism Center as a volunteer working and doing essentially Art Therapy with the kids. He talked about STRENGTH BASED WORK--- and it REALLY resonated as this is at the core of my work with my patients. The idea of meeting the child/patient/person where they are and working to build them up in the areas where they flourish works to improve the overall person and set them up for success and overall growth and strength building. It sounds so obvious and simple… but ever so often I forget that the whole point is to start from the inside of the patient and let them guide you in how to help them. We do not need to focus on changing and beating our needs into our patients and students but we needs to gently lift them where they are headed and nurture what is there and then the rest can follow. Acceptance is Key… as is unconditional love and support. We in the disability class are all in professions where we are helping others in various ways. This was the most exciting part of the course for me, to be with a group of people who, in their own individual pursuits were on a quest for the betterment of others and ultimately, the world as a whole.
I am grateful we got to meet and learn from Ibrahim Mohammed.
A little more about him…
Ibrahim views and presents his work with a purpose, not for art’s sake. He stands by his convictions and does not apologize for the choice to pursue art, which is of course not the most understood or financially lucrative career path (In the States and in Africa.) The art that he made was not for the people in the community, like in Jamestown a very impoverished fishermen’s village, but instead with them. Ibrahim spent much time and energy really getting to know the population in the spaces where he created. He got to know the community, interacted and understood them and it was in this understanding that he found the art, it was an authentic creation. He was a true artist in my opinion in that his work became what it was because of the people who interacted with it and made it real for themselves… he was not about money and fame but somehow believed in the art and then other people did too… it was beautiful and inspiring… something I hope to be able to develop in my own artistic endeavors and hold on to moving forward. Check out his work on the link below