ABOUT THE ARTIST: Marta Singh
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I am a storyteller. I tell stories from the treasure trove of universal oral literature – from which I draw to create my own performance material – not through film, dance, painting or writing, but orally, in the moment, through the spoken word.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
What else? A story!
What are some recurring themes in your art practice?
Oh, desire, love, lust, greed, wrath, compassion, curiosity, illness, death, power, tyranny, justice, war, loss, jealousy, revenge, abandonment, good, evil, beauty, ugliness, longing, blessings, curses, deceit, truth, betrayal, loyalty, survival, poverty, hunger, resilience, redemption, envy, grief, hope, spells, darkness, light, rebirth, quests, joy, adventure, resourcefulness, creativity, persistence, independence, perseverance, stubbornness, courage, faith, wholeheartedness, generosity, transformation, gold! The hero’s journey. You know. Life as we know it.
What are your most important influences?
Carl Jung, Beauty and the Beast, Joseph Campbell, Snow White, Julio Cortázar, Little Red Riding Hood, My Grandmother, Hansel and Gretel, Jan Andrews, Baba Yaga, Jennifer Cayley, Cinderella, Katherine Grier. Every Friday and Thursday I spent with Juan Marcial Moreno.
What is your experience in art projects engaging social practice?
About three years ago, I heard about a pilot storytelling project in Berlin, Germany. It took place in a school with low literacy rates and a high-immigrant population. In a nutshell, listening to folktales and fairytales once a week for one year not only mediated the German proficiency of first grade and second grade students, but instilled in them the narrative power of the old tales. Furthermore, kids who had been unresponsive and unmotivated became thoughtful listeners and critical thinkers. They began to speak in metaphor. Something came very alive in them. In 2012, the government of Berlin institutionalized the project, assigned it a permanent budget and made it part of the national education program. Imagine that! I did. And so, I have embarked on a collective adventure. Every Wednesday, from 9:20 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., as from this November until the end of next June, I will be telling folktales and fairytales to Miss Celia’s class at Queen Elizabeth Public School, here in Ottawa. For the record, I look forward to mediating linguistic proficiency through the art of storytelling. Off the record, I fervently seek to awaken, nurture and support Miss Celia’s children’s ability to create their own images from the spoken word, to help them fill them with meaning and feeling that is relevant to their lives, to who they are and who they want to be in this world.
What did you gain from your experience?
You ask me to show you the gold that awaits at the end of the journey? Ask me in June!
How long have you been active in the Ottawa arts community?
Not long enough, not long enough!
What interested you about working with AOE Arts Council?
An unexpected conversation with fellow artist Christine Mockett, a participating first year ART PLACE artist during 2014-2015.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
What made you want to participate in Art Place?
The priceless opportunity to take my art to people, places and communities that may not have experienced it otherwise, so that they may be moved further and deeper into the fabric of life by it, transformed by it, engaged in social and personal action by it, and in so doing, to help them experience storytelling as an art that tells our very own story and that is our very own human heritage.
What inspired you to pursue this project with this community?
This year, the Toronto Storytelling Festival hosted a three-day storytelling camp. Every day at noon, the camp hosted a story-talk. The first talk featured Katherine Govier, founder and director of The Shoe Project, an ongoing writing workshop for women who are new to Canada. During the story-talk, an Afghani writer read her own shoe story. When her story started, I didn’t know I was going to apply for a grant with Art Place. I didn’t even know about the existence of Art Place. All I knew as I listened was that something was going to crack open. Like an egg. And be born. From within, I heard a little voice go, “Hey, you are an immigrant woman. Hey, your last solo show was born out of Argentinian shoes!” I went “Hey! What do you want from me? Shut up! Let me listen.” And the little voice let go. Not for long. That was March 2015. In early May 2015, Christine Mockett emailed me a link to this grant. That is when the little voice roared, “Hey! This! This is what we want!” The rest is listening.
How would you describe the project you will be working on?
Immigration is such a long journey: from the known to the unknown; from what we loved to what is yet to call love forth in us; from who we were to what calls forth in us to be; from no “Canadian experience” to discovering new means, skills and resources to support life in a new country; from isolation and unworthiness to community and respect; from loss, despair and helplessness, to discovering our inalienable power and capacity for joy. This project will story that journey. It will seek to avail participants of the precious means that this art form afforded me on all of these journeys. It will strive to help participants embrace their journeys wholeheartedly and provide them with life-affirming tools to image, story and restory self, past, present, community and belonging. It will endeavor to support them on their way home.
As an artist, what do you hope to get out of this process?
Ah! A crystal slipper, coal for my fire, a golden egg, three bristles from a silver pig, milk from a wild mare, a shaggy talking horse, a sword of power, the scales from my snake husband that my sisters burned in the fire. My mother’s blessing. A glass of water. A crust of bread. A glimpse of home. A feather from the firebird!
What do you hope participants will gain from this process?
I seek to awaken participants to the narrative structure of folktales and fairytales, that it may illuminate participants’ experience of life as story and reveal participants as heros and heroines of their own journeys. I hope this process will unveil and embody the moods, images, melody, poetry and diving rhythms of participants’ own narratives. I hope they will hear the call to find, shape and voice their own stories.
How will your project give voice or expression to the social issue(s) you will be exploring?
In this work – the work of physically and emotionally absorbing, inhabiting, exploring, owning, journeying into a story’s heart to be moved by it into creative action – lies a power capable of forever transforming both the ability and the capacity to narrate life, community and self. The uniquely singular way in which this creative power will manifest in each of the participants and in us, as a co-creating community, will dictate the shape of what will be voiced and expressed through it.
How will you know your project is a success?
In the way I least expect, as always!
More about Marta Singh