Mami Wata: Heal the Children of War Through Art – Entry 7:

Mami Wata: The Children of War Paint the Redemption of Humanity – Entry 7:

Make no mistake, there are moments here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when it feels as if angels are falling from the sky with hearts of ash when bare witness to the atrocities of humanity. In moments of heavy thought there is little distinction between this reality and Apocalypse Now. The endless rippling of sound carries the helicopters across the sky nearly twenty-four hours a day, at times tanks line the streets with blue UN helmets popping out, and the waves of life are far from a peaceful dance between the compassionate moon above and the water below. Do not be disillusioned and deny the existence of the murder, the animal mutilation, the rape and war that is closer to home than one may like to imagine. See it all for what it is, and at the crossroads make the conscious choice to turn towards the light. We have been blessed with choice, know your choices well and make a wise one. We could give our energy away by dwelling on the lost orphan who abandoned her second chance at life, trading a beautiful family for a dark calling to continue smuggling herself into trusting homes and robbing them blind, including her own brother. Or, we can choose to acknowledge it and let it go as we are not in control over the choices of others, and we can be inspired by a story with 9 orphaned siblings, a pair of pink and yellow flip-flops and the paintbrush. The waves of negativity will swallow you or you can recognize that everything is exactly as it should be, and surf the wave. Grab a board, tuck into the pocket, and ride the barrel all the way to the end, where the sky opens and the red sun transforms from violence to love.

The average life expectancy of shoes in Goma is one month. The volcanic stone, that paves nearly every road in this city, eats up rubber like a jaguar consumes flesh, (unless it’s a vegetarian Jaguar =) Therefore, when my boots lasted nearly two months before the hyde began to separate from the sole, I was graciously content. Here, on every other corner there are elders repairing shoes. Jean Paul took my boots to the shoe master yesterday and I took to the streets in a pair of pink and yellow flip-flops. Over the span of two months I have walked four times a day through the district that is declared by United Nations “a restricted area” due to threat of violence. This afternoon was not like any other. Prior to this moment, my toes had never witnessed the streets of Goma. I felt exposed to be honest; eyes stared at my feet for over 2 kilometers. But then, I spotted another pair of pink and yellow sandals, and another… and there across the street another and yet another. My sandals were multiplying all around me and for a moment I was walking in their shoes and they were walking in mine. Together all of the flip-flops and the feet wearing them were transported to Laguna Beach, California, walking along the sand in the sun. In my boots with a knife at my side I am ready for anything that may come from around the corner, but in sandals nothing could touch the freedom I felt. “What a breath of fresh air!” My toes said for no one but themselves to hear. I recalled the freedom of hiking naked in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon… and then crossing paths with a baby jaguar and its mother, but that’s another story.

Arriving to CAMME for our afternoon class was exciting because in these passed days we are completing our individual canvas paintings. Upon my return to the west they will be exhibited along with photos of the artist. My pink and yellow sandals carried me between 3 classrooms full of children spanning from two through eighteen years-old. There were paintings of a raven and a scull, soldiers fighting, houses of blood, and an innocent man behind bars, but then I witnessed the creation of peaceful landscapes, villages, the world atlas personified as personalities are painted into each continent, symbols representing the power of nature’s love, blue skies and lots of food. One composition is of a beautiful African woman who carries a ceramic jug of water from the river and two more in place of her breasts. The river of life flows through the breast milk she feeds the babies of Africa. The woman is the river. The list of astonishing paintings go on and on as we have over forty completed at this time. When we first began using color there was no question that blood red dominated nearly every single composition, but now the color spectrum spans evenly through the rainbow of new life. The children of war are painting the redemption of humanity!

Together with my pink and yellow sandals I found all 9 siblings from the Orphanage, all for which I am blessed to paint with and we took a family photo for them always to remember. Yes, nine orphaned brothers and sisters. The father was murdered and the mother died at child birth, leaving the now 15 year-old eldest sister the responsibility of the family. Jermaine is my hero. She cooks for them, washes their clothing, and watches over them all. “You are incredible with them.” I said. “Benjamin, I am their mother,” she replied in Swahili while blushing bright red as she often does. The youngest is two years-old and even he holds a paintbrush in one hand and a crayon in another sharing the power of his expression on canvas. All nine of them have painted their canvas and together as a family their vision will stand strong on the other side of the globe. It has truly touched my life forever to spend time with them all. In 2007 I painted a piece named, “The Potato Eaters”, paying homage to Vincent Van Gogh and the forgotten common worker in the field. On the top third of my painting I depicted an older orphan sister of African descent feeding her younger sibling a spoon full of light. They are clothed by blue skies. The painting foreshadowed this very moment. WOW! When we listen to the breath of creativity, we can paint evolution as it happens. When life gets tough remember Jermaine and take your pair of shoes to the elder on the corner for some words of wisdom and a stitch or two. With love!
Benjamin Swatez