Working with people

I love the way that participatory art can bring people together, and in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (1972) Paulo Freire writes, ‘The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself.’ I have chosen two projects Breaking Bread and The Welcome Banner. These were both done with families from Branching Out, which was a weekly open access group for parents that I facilitated at Speedwell Children’s Centre in East Bristol for over 10 years. I found parent and toddler groups pretty excruciating when my children were young, and I wanted this to be a group where women would be made welcome and feel able to be themselves, rather than just being identified via their role as mothers.

This project celebrated bread in its many forms. To break bread with an individual or a group of people is not only to share food with them, it also carries the implication of friendship, and finding trust, confidence and comfort in each other. We cooked bread from our countries of origin whilst sharing stories and recipes with each other, for example Irina from Estonia told us, ‘When I was a little girl my mum told me if I will eat the crusts of the bread, my boobs will grow bigger’. With a crèche running alongside, participants were able to take time for themselves: engaging in creative collaborations, developing friendships and celebrating diversity.
Hands with dough
Breaking Bread

The sculptor Doris Salcedo suggests that ‘art sustains the possibility of an encounter between people who come from quite distinct realities’ and this project supported an exchange in which women could share their diverse ethnic, cultural and religious views. Each woman embroidered the word welcome in her mother tongue and we assembled the individual pieces into a beautiful banner that hangs in foyer of the centre.
Welcome Banner
As words of welcome in 26 languages were sewn by different hands, the women told stories of home and family, distance and loss, ambitions and disappointments – discussions that tend not to happen in more direct encounters. Eszter, one of the participants commented, “We got to know each other’s country a little bit more as we naturally came up with questions about how you welcome people there, and that generated further conversations”.
Welcome banner 1

Participants’s comments
“Every time when I come to the nursery it give me smile to see something nice on the wall. I took some photos to keep. They remind me of what we have done.”

“I have never been in a group like Luci leads here. This is an incredible session.”

“I love this group. It’s a very good opportunity to learn new things and meet other parents. Very friendly atmosphere which makes you feel welcome.”

“It was lovely to concentrate on something so beautiful. Working with so many lovely women on this project was really uplifting and fun. It is also very satisfying to see all our hard work up in the nursery.”

“It makes me feel very happy by the end of the session. I love what Luci gives us to work with. I think that her thinking and ideas brings all of us together.

“When things are tough, it is amazing to know there is always Tuesday mornings to look forward to when I can sit and maybe have a cup of tea and I don’t have to explain myself. There is a shared knowledge of what it is to be a parent without the group being focused on that. The creativity (whilst not therapy in itself) is therapeutic! It’s calming and restoring and uplifting.”

“I look forward to this group every week. It has saved my sanity being able to mix with so many wonderful people, talk to each other, learn about our lives and cultures. Being creative has given me purpose.”

“I’m happy to come here because sometimes I feel myself isolated because of my autistic child and here I can improve my English.”