Anne Deane interviews visual artist, Emel Jurd about Emel’s passions for painting and caring for others.
Gratitude, Emel Jurd, 2016. Charcoal and acrylic on fabric.
This article was written by Anne Deane for the March 2017 issue of EREMOS
My first encounter with Emel Jurd’s paintings was at her exhibition: ‘Beneath the Surface’ in Glebe, Sydney, August 2015. I was drawn by the vibrant images of women’s heads entwined with trees and vines. I found something quite bold and interior in her work, yet somehow full of life, lightness and playfulness.
When I heard that Emel was holding an exhibition with a colleague (Lynore Avery) in Rozelle, Sydney, in November 2016 and that it was called ‘Immanence: Manifestations of the Divine in Everyday Life’, my curiosity was again sparked, so I went exploring. In this exhibition I was drawn again by deep, vibrant coloured female faces once again entwined in vines. After my initial encounter with each painting, I noticed small glimpses of lace-like fabric patterns hidden in the background and wondered about the meaning in this.
I was keen to hear how Emel might talk about what inspires her work, despite the images carrying their own meaning without words. As we talked I found a rich story emerging from Emel’s twin passions for creating while also doing her bit to care for others.
What inspired your exhibition ‘Beneath the Surface?’
’Beneath the Surface’ emerged as I was recovering from a broken foot. I spent a lot of time looking out on the ‘triffid’ vines in my neighbour’s veggie patch. As I reflected on life, I was struck by the isolation and sadness in human beings when we are disconnected from nature, each other and the broader universe. We rely on each other and the natural world for our existence, yet we often fail to connect. Life is not about the shiny surface that many project. It’s about what’s beneath. It’s about our stories. It’s about being privy to people’s stories. Nothing is what it seems. If there’s a message in the paintings, it’s: ‘Take a moment to pause and go beneath the surface and layers and meet the individuals.’
So, what inspired the title of your second exhibition?
“’Immanence’ came to me while I was working on ‘Beneath the Surface’. I sensed something brewing – something about the spiritual concept of connection of all of us and nature, and how nature and human beings blossom. I wanted to give a practical sense of the divine energy and wisdom that I believe runs in and through all of us. It exists in everything. It gives life to the intricate and infinite designs of the universe that connect us all – to nature and each other. It’s the fabric of our uniqueness; hence the pieces of fabric echoed in the paintings. I channel this appreciation directly into art.
I believe that all natural creations are expressions of a divine energy creating aspects of itself. That divine energy exists in each of our moments – in the small gifts with sorrow and loss, in moments of not knowing and in our moments of joy. Each painting draws the viewer in through colour, pattern, lines and impact. Each work, just as each day, has a layered depth to be discovered, explored and hopefully, delighted in. My hope is that it speaks to people and heals them. It’s about planting seeds in infinite combinations through art.”
Have you always painted?
“My earliest memories are of me drawing. It was always very alive for me. I completed a Degree in Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts, focusing on ceramic sculpture and jewellery design. I ran my own jewellery design business for 13 years but in 2000 I returned to my work with clay. I’ve had a life-long passion for the healing and educational opportunities creativity can provide. So I began using ceramic making and mural creation as a focus point for working with disadvantaged children, youth and adults. I guess it’s these experiences as well as my own life experience that have led me to reflect in my painting on our interconnectedness with each other and with the divine.
What creative projects you have undertaken with people experiencing disadvantage?
“I’ve designed and led programs with a wide range of clients: homeless women and children, young mums, women struggling with domestic violence or post natal depression, young women experiencing anxiety and depression, newly arrived migrants, young people trying to deal with bullying and elderly people reflecting on their lives. Many of my projects have been teaching clients how to make ceramic tiles with clay, fire them, glaze them and transport them to the site where they help construct a mural.
I see art as an active meditation, focusing on one point while thoughts come and go. I find that working together with clients on art projects gives us a shared focus. Making the ceramic pieces help them externalise what’s going on inside them and normalise their experience as they share their stories. It holds clients in a peaceful space that can be less confronting and scary than face-to-face talking. It helps reduce hyper-vigilance – a feature of much trauma. In the space of creating together, clients can share experiences and suggestions about how to deal with difficult issues. Some gain strength to leave unhealthy relationships. It’s a space where I can refer people to agencies and support services that they might otherwise not know about.”
Are the murals you’ve created with your clients available for the public to see?
“Yes. They’re all in Sydney. There’s one on the wall of the Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre, and others at the Belmore Youth Resource Centre and Lakemba Child and Family Support Services and Campsie Women’s Rest Centre.“
So, your art has had you very involved in contributing to healthy communities?
“Visual art can be seen by some as self-indulgent. I am fortunate to have chosen to pursue two of my greatest passions in life: creating - and doing my bit in caring for others.”
Emel was awarded second place in the 2015 Pyrmont Art Prize. Her work can be viewed at www.emeljurd.com and on her instagram account: @emeljurd. In addition to her art and as part of her community work as Team Leader of a Child Youth and Family Support Team, Emel started a radio program in four languages, providing information and resources to migrants and people experiencing disadvantage. She has also sung in bands.
Anne Deane was an Eremos Council member from 2013 to 2016 and loves to discover the uniqueness, creativity and life in others’ spiritual expression and exploration.
Become a Member of Eremos to recieve the magazine, EREMOS with full access to more great articles like this and member only offers.
The December edition of EREMOS magazine is devoted to papers arising from the Edge of the Sacred Conference Exiled from Country: Deep Listening to the Spirit of Place, held in Alice Springs, July 21-24, 2016
Image of white gums in Alice Springs Copyright Bill Pheasant, 2016
The December edition of EREMOS magazine is devoted to papers arising from the Edge of the Sacred Conference, Exiled from Country: Deep Listening to the Spirit of Place, held in Alice Springs, July 21-24, 2016.
Consequently all featured articles cross similar territory and, as editor Frances Mackay notes, all acknowledge the value of dadirri, or deep listening. MacKay says, “Dadirri is a gift, not a commodity we can appropriate. For these writers it has been an invitation to mutuality, respect and further reflection on their own tradition.”
David Tacey in “The Aboriginal Gift We Will Not Receive” writes how Aboriginal elders in remote communities of Australia sometimes say they have a gift they would like to give to settler, immigrant and all non-indigenous Australians.
“Aboriginal cultures speak to us from a life-world we can barely comprehend, due to secularisation and modernisation … The call of the elders to accept their gift is not only a call to reconciliation and peace, but also a call to return to the sacred bond with creation from which we have departed.”
Aboriginal elders, he says, believe that the non-indigenous are in denial of their need for a spiritual belonging to place. “They can see we don’t have it, and they want to show us how to develop it.”
Tacey quotes David Mowaljarlai: What we see is, all the white people that were born in this country and they are missing the things that came from us mob, and we want to try and share it.
Tacey says, “We can’t just generate cultural reconciliation because we think it’s a good idea. There is something that has to be let go of at a deep level, before we can be renewed. Our alienation from nature and the sacred has to be overcome before we can move on.”
Emily Hayes quotes Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr: We have learned to speak the white man's language. We have listened to what he had to say. This learning and listening should go both ways. We would like people in Australia to take time to listen to us. We are hoping people will come closer.
Hayes reflects, “I do not think we as a culture are very good at being present, at listening and waiting. We are always in a hurry to get to the next thing and we tend to fill every moment that we do have to wait with technology. Our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have much to teach us about these things.”
She says, “It is my deepest prayer that we will become present, that we will turn from fear and that we will wait. Wait and listen. Wait for, and with each other and wait on our God.”
In “Fenced in, Fenced Out” Glenn Loughrey explores Aboriginality, the experience of exile and exile as the means to transcendence.
Exile may be the place of separation and no belonging but it also offers possibilities, he says.
Nicholas Coleman, in “Dadirri: Deep Listening to the Spirit of Place”, writes about Whitefellas typically seeing the universe in terms of separation and exile, rather than connection and oneness.
“The Aboriginal gift of dadirri reminds us that everybody has the innate capacity to respond to the divine life that connects us to everyone, everything and to God.”
A similar idea is conveyed in Tacey’s piece: “[Aboriginal Elders] understand that we do not have roots in this country, and want to help us grow them. Aboriginal people do not think we have departed so radically from the human condition that we have no need of spiritual connections to place. What they want to share with us is that we, and all beings, are not isolated fragments in a cold, unfeeling world, but we are part of the universe and need to restore our bond to creation.”
For Sarah Bachelard the journey to maturity, the spiritual journey, is about the movement from separateness towards at-onement. “Without this reconciliation and reconnection, we remain trapped — both humanly and individually — at a dualistic level of consciousness.”
Her preliminary thoughts about what the practice of deep listening requires of us include poverty of spirit, the willingness and deepening capacity to pay attention to what is not me, and responsibility or answerability.
"I had more or less decided to quit my job and press the reset button on my life..." Tristan Guzman reflects on journeying with grief and his experiences walking the Camino de Santiago.
Entering the Meseta, the section between Burgos and Leon (photograph by the author)
I had never really fancied myself as a pilgrim. The thought of taking a ten-kilogram pack to tramp across Spain on a pilgrim’s path that has been walked for the better part of the last 2000 years was something which, up until 2012, had never crossed my mind.
It was certainly furthest from my mind a year-and-half before I did the walk. Back then, I was sitting in a lonely hospital hall running on empty. In a nearby room, my mother was lying in a coma. She did not have long to live.
She was the latest in a long string of deaths of close loved ones in my life, including my father and several grandparents. As a soon-to-be orphan of 26 years old, I tried not to see myself as a victim of circumstance. How someone can go from checking in to a hospital with constipation to succumbing to a perforated bowel and excessive brain damage was beyond me.
I just had to deal with the situation, one step at a time, one day at a time.
It was this collective grief, brought to a head by my mother’s passing, which was the catalyst that ultimately led me to St Jean Pied de Port in September 2012. It’s a quaint, medieval town in France nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s also the traditional start of the Camino Frances, one of the pilgrimage paths along the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) in Spain. I had first heard of the Camino through the Christian Meditation group I had joined in Easter 2012.
At this stage I had more or less decided to quit my job and press the reset button on my life. I spent the next six months in Europe with my mother’s side of the family, travelling and just being with nature. The Camino was the last in a series of walks I did from May through to September that year.
It was the jewel in the crown, and reflective of a much larger pilgrimage for me: my journey with bereavement.
The other walks included an organised expedition of the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia just prior to going to Europe. A few months later, I trekked through the Norwegian Alps with a 23kg pack on my back for five nights with my step-uncle, his wife and their dog.
While away I also bagged a few Scottish Munros and walked The West Highland Way, which is a rugged 155km walk through some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland including Loch Lomond and Rannoch Moor. I finished that walk in late August, and ten days later I set out on the Camino – six weeks and 900 kilometres if you count the additional walk from Santiago to the coast at Cape Finisterre.
When I calculated the distance of all the walking I did, it literally was a journey of a thousand miles that began with a single step. Like many others I met on pilgrimage, it was a first step that was taken well before my initial day on The Way. Which leads to one of the challenges of writing a story like this: what to include?
Pilgrimage is not just about the act itself. It’s the life experience tied to that act before, during and after the walk.
It is the journey in the evolution of consciousness, and that growing recognition of our deep interconnectedness amongst each other and with this world – the seen and the unseen.
There were so many markers that something greater, an unseen force, was guiding me along in a gentle, supportive way during this time of my life.
I remember just after I had decided to walk the Camino, I went to pick up my pilgrim’s passport from the Confraternity of Saint James in London. I did not check beforehand whether the place would be open or not, but as it turned out, it was only open on a Thursday – the day I knocked on the door.
The woman who answered, and registered me with the confraternity, had the same name as my mother – Ruth. It was a meaningful start to my pilgrimage. But the associations didn’t end there.
After I picked up my pilgrim’s passport I decided to visit the Tate Modern. I got caught up in a piece of performance art in the main hallway, an expansive concrete space with a huge ramp.
The piece was called ‘These Associations’. In essence it was a large group of people walking up the main ramp incredibly slowly, increasing in speed as time progressed. While observing this I thought to myself, ‘Why not? I’ve just picked up my pilgrim’s passport to go on an incredibly long walk, I might as well do some mindful walking while I’m here.’ Part of the performance art included artists in the crowd approaching different people and sharing a memory.
Two people approached me at separate times to talk. It was the second person who shared his story that left me with tingles running down my spine. He told me how his mother used to pop him on the train to go to school by himself when he was only five years old. She trusted that the community would look after him on his way. I turned to him and remarked that I had just come from picking up my pilgrim’s passport to walk the Camino. The decision to walk being that my mother had recently passed.
The man smiled at me and said that his mother had passed away back in his early 20s, but one of the lessons in life she had left him with was that we are never alone.
There will always be someone to come and help you when you need it.
With that we held each other’s gaze for a moment acknowledging the change this realisation could make. Feeling alone was something I had felt often. I then asked him for his name. He just smiled and said, ‘These Associations’ before melting back into the crowd.
‘These Associations’ continued all throughout the Camino. I remember on my first day of walking meeting James and Dee, a lovely American couple, perhaps in their late 40s or early 50s. We only ever saw each other this one time on the entire walk. But it’s one of the conversations I remember well.
They had owned a media production company back in the US. Life was becoming very materialistic for them, and then James lost his mother. He had also reached a crisis point, so he and his wife sold the company, sold their house and putwhat was left of their belongings in storage to go on pilgrimage and to start again.
James needed time to absorb his mother’s passing, and he and Dee wanted to use the time to think about how they could live a life that contributes more towards helping others, rather than themselves.
As I was leaving, I asked him whether he knew about the Cruce de Ferro (Iron Cross). It is a place much later in the walk at the highest point of the Camino where pilgrims traditionally leave a stone that is symbolic of the burden they have carried with them. It is an act to show one is releasing the burden on pilgrimage. I was surprised when James responded saying he didn’t know the place. I suggested he find a stone during the walk, write his mother’s name on it, and leave it at the Cruce deFerro. I will never forget the look he gave me upon saying this.
I did not expect to be a part of his healing process. But I welcomed it, for it helped my own.
I found it absolutely amazing how many people I had met on pilgrimage who were walking to deal with grief – they had lost a parent, a spouse or another loved one.
Many conversations ensued with people. I enjoyed listening to their stories, laughing and crying with them as we walked along dusty paths next to beautiful Spanish vineyards, or sweating it out as we ascended mountains, and rested alongside babbling brooks.
This whole experience of my mother dying, leading me to being on pilgrimage and connecting with so many inspiring people was well worth the silver lining in that dark cloud.
We are most alive when we feel a real connection between ourselves and others. It’s a connection that stems from God’s desire for his creation to be in loving relationships with each other and Himself. In fact, many pilgrims joked that one day on the Camino is equivalent to a year of learning in life.
I also found it fascinating how easy it was to bond with fellow pilgrims. Who we were or what we did outside of the walk didn’t really matter. We were all pilgrims with simple gear and a backpack containing all our possessions. While on the walk I made new brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and yes, even enjoyed a romance or two.
For me it felt like life condensed into a space of six weeks alongside this makeshift Camino family.
People from all over the world, many, strangers in a foreign land, were all walking for various reasons that resonated with them to the very depths of their being. It was a beautiful experience of the human spirit seeking a truth greater than the surface desires of its ego.
That idea of searching and being aware of something greater than what we can perceive is brought into sharp focus through death. We are forced to think through those bigger, more pressing concerns about the nature of existence, our fragile mortality, and what role spirituality plays in this. It stems from that age old lesson, which I was reminded of on a daily basis while on pilgrimage: Acceptance.
It’s a long walk. If you do decide to do it, some days you may walk 30-40 kilometres. Some days the terrain will be quite hilly and other days rather flat. Some days you will be walking in pristine wilderness, other days you’ll be walking alongside freeways and through city sprawls.
You may have many days by yourself, other days you will meet so many people you would wish you were walking by yourself!
I likened it to the journey of life with its tapestry of changing scenery and events. Like in life, sometimes the terrain we walk through isn’t very enjoyable, but if we walk with greater acceptance, it makes it a bit more bearable. And yet the actual routine of the Camino is very simple. You would wake up, pack your gear, walk, find breakfast, walk, lunch, walk, and then find a bed at the end of the day. The first thing you would do once having secured a bed would be to shower and then wash your clothes. Then it would be dinner and sleep.
On the surface it seems to be a very mundane routine, but there was a very real and beautiful simplicity to it, a grounding meditation if you will. It was the framework for each day that was made richer by the diversity of the people met and the sights seen.
Then, the end comes. The walk is over. There, at ‘the end of the world’, I was a solitary figure on the beach at Cape Finisterre. A storm was overhead. The ocean was very alive as the rain came down and the wind whipped the sand around my feet.
The waves roared. I held several stones in my hand each with the name of a loved one I had lost. I looked out across the ocean, said a prayer and threw the stones into the sea. I watched them arc one by one before they were lost in the foam. I entered the sea, submerged and arose again, ready to go back to the world. Ready to continue living. But I no longer felt alone, and my journey had just begun.
Become a Member of Eremos to recieve the EREMOS magazine, with full access to more great articles.