The pulsing, swaying crowd pauses, right in the middle of an long procession of eminent artisans, and stands still. Lesia Pona, dressed in the embroidery of her native Ukraine, takes the mic and with trembling words recounts the incomprehensible losses of her group in the past year, as well as their fierce hunger for creative work, for beauty to sustain them in the midst of war. I look around me at men and women dressed in the traditional garments of their home—firecracker hats from Malaysia, dancing skirts from Mexico, mirrored dresses from Afghanistan—a congregation of creatives facing their own unique challenges and deprivations. And yet, here in this stillness, perhaps because of their own intimacy with hardship, the gathered offer their respectful silence for this one among them, making beauty through the smoke of war.
Gohar waves to me. We had connected at last year's International Folk Art Market, as I admired the Swati embroidery of her group arriving at the Market for the first time. She knew no English, and I no Urdu; our attempts to collaborate fell apart through the year. Now, here we are again, our embrace still hopeful. As she sidles up, I introduce her to our Afghan ally, Stoorai, and in a serendipitous second, Stoorai and Gohar are chatting, laughing, leaning into the sounds of home deep in one another's voices. Stoorai offers to translate for us. Joy rushes in. Now we are strong, the three of us together. Now, we form a circle, a small wheel; we can begin to move.
L: Leisa Pona speaking to the crowd at IFAM. R: Stoorai Ayazi and Gohar Sajid.
Not us. Though we might be tempted to think that our patronage and support makes these wheels turn, what's clear to me is that we—the American buyers and supporters—are simply one more spoke on this global wheel moving toward a vision. The creatives themselves are wind and ballast to one another's dreams. They craft camaraderie, reverence, respect. They push forward with a shoulder to the collective task. We are one among many in this work, as in this world.
So, then, I have to ask, what is the center that holds us all as one?
At the center of the wheel, I believe, is a beautiful obsession—an obsession with creating a more generous world, a world safe for women and men and children, a world large enough to hold our many points of light, a world where beauty is the language we all share, and creativity is our currency, and peace is inevitable, because of this. That beautiful obsession is my still center, as I believe it may be yours as well, and from that center all things unfold into this pulsing, swaying procession of days. I, for one, am happy to be one spoke among countless others, together moving through the smoke of 100 wars; moving toward the glint of faces lit with joy.
All the best,