Sunday, January 9, 2005

To Beslan with Love

Joanne Tawfilis
January 9, 2005

I am weary. Weary to the bone. This weekend we painted for two full days with some of the most incredible young women I have ever met. But I am also elated and exhilarated when I look at this incredible mural painted by residents of House 8 from the Traiskirchen Refugee Center here in Vienna. The magic of mural painting continues. It seems unimaginable that these women, waiting in a transient mode for someone to determine the next step in their lives would give so generously of their time to paint a mural. Even though the Tsunami murals are simultaneously being painted on the walls of the Avenida Culture of Peace Galleria, we have not forgotten that there are hundreds of children and families in Beslan in need of psychological healing, and to be shown that they have not been forgotten. These are the times when the murals perform their real healing powers—by those who paint them, thinking all the while of how those children will feel, and those children who will see the work and love, and perhaps the children and families themselves that will paint murals in Beslan as the next step in the Art Mile Healing Process! These women worked laboriously on our heated gallery floors and created colors and motion and joy that will be certain to make the children and families in Beslan feel true joy. I can already see the smiles. If even for one moment or two, they can think of happier times and forget their trauma, then the murals will have done their magic.

And we owe much to the young coordinator (Teresa Martin from Spain)or House 8, who stayed with these women the entire time, despite the long hours she already extends to her daily and weekly work at the center a true display of passion and belief in them and us!

Maria and her Mother from Azerbajian came today to paint together. They tell me they are from a musical family and hope to reunite with their father/husband and brother that they have not seen for three years, sometime in the near future and who now lives in the Czech Republic. Both of them are stunning beautiful women. Maria is only 19 but has the sense and sensibility of someone much older and loves sunsets and flowers and black and white cows…and Sweden. She is an excellent artist and she also plays guitar. Her mother, a green eyed beautiful woman with thick red hair is an opera singer, and painted quietly beside her daughter, and among the other young women who laughed and painted in pure harmony. Teresa told me that they had performed a concert at the camp the night before. I can hear them singing the “Ave Maria.”

Tatiana, Ira and Hadijah came from the Ukraine…all three, tall and lovely and eager to add to the mural with their intricate designs and patterns of messages for Beslan. Ira is tall and thin and has huge brown eyes, sad and longing like cow eyes. I could feel her comfort and being here, but could also sense her feeling of being displaced. Her warmth was evident by her motherly and big sister caring attitude for Hadijah.

Julie is from India and small, frail, quiet, exotic looking as you can imagine and quietly painted her way across the entire mural! Together, they were like a symphony orchestra as they continued to paint until the mural was finished. People on the street were peering through the window staring at both the beautiful women and the incredible mural.

When my friend Linda arrived to help, her face was full of surprise as she could see the Beslan mural radiate from the floor and the Tsunami mural on the wall reach out to her soul…both communicating the desire to soothe the pain and heal the wounded hearts affected by these disasters.

The best part of the experience though, was the camaraderie and friendships that were formed and strengthened through this time together, by the common knowledge that each of us, despite our hardships, can still reach out to others. We ate lunch together, drank hot cups of steaming coffee and tea and learned much about how Teresa and these women represent the spirit of strength, determination, tolerance, and humor.

I know that sometimes our home seems like a “treff or meeting point” in an airport or train station and living in our gallery lessens our private time. However, my heart is filled with warmth and happiness and that the galleria is a friendly welcome place for all.

And although they live behind a fenced compound for now, they do have shelter and sustenance and most of all each other. I don’t think they will ever forget each other or this magical 2 days in the gallery. I know I never will, and each time I look at the mural (before we send it to Beslan with the Russian Ambassador on St. Valentine’s Day), it will be my heart that will swell with pride and remembrance of their sounds and faces and love that went into this special “To Beslan With Love” mural.

In less than 12 hours, 10 children will come from a school in the neighborhood to paint one of the Tsunami murals. Their teacher…a multicultural person herself tells me they are from 5 countries. It’s time to wash the brushes and get ready for them…