Ophelia (art) - digital painting of a doll by Barbara Agreste

Art needed: when we need it, and what it does to the image of ourselves.

art needed Barbara Agreste Nedusa Self Portrait


When Art is needed, and when it’s not.

Art needed me, I needed art.

Again on art; this time I have pondered about what made me, in my past, need art so much, and I have finally, after having stopped for a while producing forms, found the answer: I have never existed at peace and harmony with myself since when I was born, because of the influence of a narcissistic parent with a pathology so hard to identify, and so insidious, that my life as a child and as an adolescent was psychologically infernal. I realize now how I was never at peace, never accepted, never liked or loved by that parent, only one of the two luckily, that I have been a victim of abuse and despise ever since, never having had the means to understand what happened to me: the only way of escape from suffering was art. Yes it was when I looked at pictures, drawings, paintings, representations of human emotions, colours, shades, that my suffering halted for a while, and looking or creating it was a relief I had to return to again and again.

Art needed me, I needed art.

Unconsciously reflecting my struggle, art-making was there to help me from madness, helping me identify that compassion for who I really was, sending back to me that true, unheeded version of myself; the one not noticed by my other grown up, obsessed observer: envious, hateful, angry at other people’s vitality. The pathological narcissist, used to behave the way he thought right to himself, was hungry for my tenderness, and couldn’t wait to find an occasion to take it away from me: that blessed life, the thriving, the happiness, whatever was in me that was taken from him first, he had to take back. The deviant personality was wearing a mask of perfection, but silently, sideways letting a snake out, repeatedly switching to incarnate an evil other at unexpected times. A life of anxiety, fear, asthma, uneasiness; the weird feeling that somebody is behind the door conspiring against you. But as a child, you had to believe what others told you: parents always love their children, and so do yours. Sure, what we do as children growing up in a contradiction is we have to lie to ourselves, because the truth is too painful, how could a parent be an assassin? We have to tell ourselves that whatever is behind that hideous, dark, velvet curtain is not true, whatever we feel as strange, is only a deviation of our minds: we are the ones who are crazy. So that craziness took me far away into the territory of art as the ultimate, merciful place, as the only container of that rotten wickedness I could only vomit back at me, the only mirror able to take the horrendous, the disgust, the deforming/deformed self.

Art needed me, I needed art.

Years and years of art, years and years of denial. Long time spent living as a fugitive, not wanting to be me, trying to change my person, my language, my culture, my identity, and by this transformation I learned a lot from other cultures, languages, identities. Outlaws are sometimes smarter than those abiding the law: survivors, oppressed, hopeless souls populating the unjust planet have thought me to walk alone, to walk with them, until I realized that “me” – this entity – is after all, all right. Aren’t we all ugly, what does it matter? We all sing an ugly song. We don’t deserve to die because we are imperfect or human, we can live with our own imperfection.

If once upon a time the “mad” had to travel far into boats, crossing oceans, never stopping their tedious movements, it was probably because they had to distance themselves from some sort of oppression. People who are in a position of power blame their victims. As long as you are tortured by someone who knows to have power over you, you need art, and that rowing movement of the boat going far, far away into the cold mist. When you have distanced yourself from your oppressors, you still need art to find your true self, the one you never knew. Only when you have found it, art has completed its mission with you, done its purifying task. So when I finally found myself at peace I needed less of Art, thinking of it as a journey I undertook into a different kind of knowledge, to face the truth, to know the unspeakable, and kill it inside me.


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Dolls - Ophelia (art, paintings) series by Barbara Agreste