Spiritual Self Portraits: The Creative Process of Embodying Oneself

At some point in our lives, being Queer forces us to engage with negative messages from family, religion and the larger culture.  Many of us are not taught how to gain access to or trust our deepest emotions and intuitions that might shed much-needed light and healing. Without validation, those negative  messages can make us question our desires and identifications — and, sadly, sometimes we ingest that negativity. Although the ways in which we seek our truths are different for each of us, many of us spend a lifetime discovering who we are, what we have to offer the world and how to express that best as Queer creative, spiritual, human beings. Here I share a portion of my journey via the interaction of art with my own body and how that brings up new questions, pathways, and creative expression. 

30 years ago I clip out a photo of this powerful sculpture from a magazine.  But I neglect to include the artists’ name or its title*, so I don’t know anything about the image — except that it speaks to me. 

Four jesters, adorned with only striped body-art and tasseled hair are in various poses; I see each has a different body position, gaze and perspective. It seemed to me that while searching, each jester feels at ease and content in their physical body, with an inner secret, a wry sense of humor — and an open, curious nature.

I can’t stop looking at the image. These are qualities I want to embody.

I place the photo on my altar. For 20 years, I dance, chant and pray with these jesters.

In 2008 I feel a strong urge to engage further with this image —  to go deeper into the wisdom — but I don’t know how. I feel I have to draw something in response, but I’m not a visual artist, I don’t know how to draw. 

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One late night at my altar,  I’m playing my shakers, chanting, dancing into exhaustion and trance — then, suddenly still:  

I’m looking down at a beautiful creek, watching as the water cascades and ripples. 

I imagine myself as the water, smoothly traveling, flowing around rocks of all sizes, creating beautiful, interweaving patters in different shades.

I ask myself:  Does the water say to itself  ‘oh no … There’s a big rock!’… Does the water hit a stone and stop dead in its tracks?   

No, I see it clearly: the stones are part of the creek — inspiring the living water.

Suddenly I realize … it does not matter if I can’t draw — anyone can “color!” 

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So I make faint copies of the photo I love so much and I color on top of each of the jesters — making drawing after drawing, painting bright clothing and decorating their bodies with my own “tribal” symbols. I place these on my altar as well. 

The more I color, the more I begin to feel myself drawn spiritually and emotionally inside. I want to become each of these jesters, to know what they know, to inhabit their bodies and see out of their eyes.

But how do I do that? How do I get inside someone else’s artwork? Someone else’s tradition … when I don’t even know who the artist is? How do I feel what it is to be each of these jesters in my own body?

As an actor, I’ve gone to museums, imagining myself inside sculptures and paintings — and then creating characters. I wonder: might I be able to apply that technique to visual art?  

I have an idea …

I ask my (now Ex) lover to take photographs of me, naked, in the exact same position as the jesters figures in the sculpture; and I print these out, very faintly.

On top of faint prints of naked photos of myself in each pose, I’ll drawn and color just like I did before.  If I want to know what it’s like to be inside the sculpture — I’ll just color myself there.

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As I draw, these new images emerge. I don’t know what I’m going to do until I do it. Each comes as a surprise.

When I see what I’ve done, I ask myself: 

Now that I’ve opened this doorway, what visions will I see? 

Why am I compelled to draw self-portraits with rays of light coming out of my hands — what does this mean? Do I have healing hands?

Am I a hero/survivor of love with arrows piercing my body, but still strong, open, looking towards the future?

Is this how can heal myself, via my mirror image? 

Am I destined to be a healing artist?

Self doubt asks: “Is this all ego?” 

Or,  I wonder, is something else, something more authentic happening, is there some energy within me, showing me a powerful path to learn more of who I really am?

Spirit answers:  The body is physical and energetic; trust the body. 

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As the years have gone by since I created the images above, I realize that these drawings are part of a process; a series of synchronistic ecstatic and sometimes frightening experiences. These experiences spark my artistic expression, study of shamanism, lead me to do healing work, experiment with photography and collage, and embody my Queer body in new, exciting different ways — most recently by re-embodying my own life-history in a one-person show, Que Será, Será, about my life-long experience of sexual orientation and gender.   

Looking back at these images and my process in creating them reminds me of a major “Aha” moment, when I was in the process of coming out as a Lesbian in the 1970s. I came to the realization that if what society told me about being Lesbian was so way off the mark, it was incumbent upon me to question everything I was told by the larger culture about myself, my limitations and my place in this world — and it opened me up to question the concept what I was taught about history and other ways of life and cultures. 

As time has gone by, I realize that as an artist I must strive to follow my impulses — to let Spirit, intuition  and the truth of my body guide me, rather than allowing what might present as “deficiencies” or “blocks” get in the way.  Instead, my task is to get those limiting perceptions out of the way.  When I do, I’m completely surprised — and as a result, new paths appear before me.

 

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You can learn more about my healing work here at Zelda’s Body Breathing Healing System.

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*Note:  years after I created my drawings, I found this video interview of Roxanne Swentzell, the Native American artist who created the sculpture above entitled The Emergence of Clowns. I’m excited by her work and how it inspires and resonates with my own path.  And just WOW — the power of her images! If you’re curious too, check out this link.

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