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The world should turn to art for COVID-19 respite, says scholar

The world should turn to art for COVID-19 respite, says scholar
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A university don, Prof. Sola Owonibi, is a strong proponent of “poetry therapy”. He believes the arts, particularly poetry, holds respite from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. His research linking poetry and healing has earned him several international recognitions. He is currently the Vice President, Programme Council of Arts and Hearts Association and the chairman of the International Arts for Teaching and Healing Institute, both based in the United States. Owonibi, a past chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Ondo State Branch, is also a member of the National Association of Poetry Therapy based in the United States. In this chat with EVELYN OSAGIE, he calls for a synergy between science and the arts and the establishment of a centre for medical humanities in universities.

 

Connection between poetry and healing

There is a very strong link between poetry and healing. I’d take you back to the classical era. First to a biblical allusion where poetry was used as therapy, remember King Saul and David who was a young poet in the palace of Saul. Whenever the king was afflicted by demonic oppression and depression rather than calling for his physician or psychiatrist, he would call for this young poet – David who would sing and play his musical instrument to King Saul. And the king would get his healing.

Secondly, Apollo is regarded as the god of poetry and healing. That means there’s a bridge between poetic expression and healing which we did not countenance for a very long time. Great scholars and philosophers have known right from the start that there’s a big connection between poetry and therapy. According to a great American poet, William Carlos William, “People die every day for lack of knowledge of what is in poetry”. In the cultural and African context, incantation is poetry in oral literature.

At age nine, I got stung by scorpion and the pain was so much. My father, a king, was a typical traditional African man who knew a lot about what we called African technology and art. He fetched an old man who put me on his lap and started recounting an incantatory poetry and I slept off on his lap. And when I woke up, not a slight pain was felt. The only thing that reminded me that something happened was that the spot often itched me. Although in the African context, there may be the invocation of other forces beyond mere poetry rendition. But there is that connection. And the Holy Bible places a very high premium on what it calls “the Word” that was in the beginning. And we understand that that Word was what transformed into a living being – Jesus Christ – that has come from heaven to heal the world. There is a very strong connection between word and healing.

The Western world has long gained access to this. In several universities in the US, literature is a core course in their medical schools, which is not the case yet in Africa. We have overlooked it so much. Our focus has been on the orthodox medicine.

 

My voyage into poetry and healing branch of literature

It started when I registered for my Ph.D at the University of Ibadan. I was fortunate to come in contact with a man who has today become a personal friend and mentor who was the one that supervised my Ph.D, Prof. Babatunde Omobowale. He had his Ph.D in this area of scholarship, Literature and Medicine. And when he introduced it to me, I bought into it with my whole being because it was something novel and refreshing. And Prof was a great guide and mentor and we are today linked on a number of works. Having bagged my Ph.D in that area and, in digging further, a number of doors of opportunity began to open, such as conferences ansd workshops, among others. It was at those conferences and workshops that I met with opportunities that led to my being in the positions I now occupy and different organisations I now belong to. One that is indeed noteworthy is my meeting with a fantastic scholar, Dr. Margot Gotmann,  a visual artist, who happened to be the founder and president of Arts and Hearts Association. She co-founded the Association with Prof. Lynne Mackey, a professor of Music and a world class pianist.  Our chanced meeting in 2010, during her visit to Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko. During our interaction, she had found a bright mind from Africa talking about medical humanities, which she thought was an exclusive preserve of the western world as at the time, led to the strong and permanent bound/collaboration. We then agreed that what is crucial in every stage of human development is a properly defined and well designed education. Arising from the above is thatntoday I am the Vice President of the Program Council of Arts and Hearts Association,  as well as the Chairman of the newly created International  Arts for Teaching and Healing Institute, Winchester VA, USA. The Institute has designed the AAA model (All Arts Approach) in promoting artistic dialogue with patients,  ( i.e. healing through literature,  dance, music, and visual arts). The institute  in collaboration with the Management Board of AHA is inviting scholars who are interested in Arts as healing from different perspectives, from across the globe, to come on board and form a strong base that can guarantee a holistic post-pandemic healing. Artists, musicians, dancers and literati that have been able to link their artistic expressions to healing are also invited. Particularly at a time like this, I think our world need us now more than ever.

 

Respite art holds for a pandemic-stricken world

It has a lot of respite to offer. Now that the whole world is passing through a pandemic, there is a lot that art can do in a situation like this because the aftermath of this pandemic would be psychological and psycho-traumatic crisis which largely can be handled through art therapy. It is unfortunate that not much adequate attention is being given to the arts with regards to the healing properties it holds for the world, especially at this time.

I think medicine and art and healing should play a complementary role.

Science has played a prominent role over time in leading the world out of pandemic as this. Nevertheless, there should be a synergy between the artists/writers that can use their work to create therapeutic expressions and the medical practitioners. The reason is that people are losing their loved ones, jobs, businesses and more; cost of living is rising at an alarming rate. There’s no medical attention that can bring back to circuit someone who is passing through depression because he lost everything to a pandemic. Whether we like it or not there would be other health challenges that would stem from this pandemic. The impacts of it may get science overwhelmed. We would need art to engage the patients and survivors. And my prayer is the world would listen to the voice and calling of the arts because not much attention has been given to it.

On our part, the Program Council of Arts and Hearts Association is already starting a programme which it calls AAA (All Arts Approach). That is an approach whereby you can have all forms of arts that can serve as a body of therapy to engage the world and the aftermath of this pandemic- whether its poetry, visual art or dance. This may not just be the end; after survival, what next? That is where AAA comes in.

 

Ways of collaboration between science and the arts

Not many people believe that art can be used to engage healing. Science need to descend from its arrogant position and embrace other branches of knowledge to handle crisis and to save our world. And same goes to the government. They never believe there is much in the arts which we can use to engage healing. All they use art for is cultural reorientation or for tourism. It has never been seen as a tool for healing. And we need to rise up to this occasion in such a way that governments pay attention to literati and scholars and the arts in general; fund their projects in a way that the very best can come out of them. Up till date, I don’t think there’s a university where we have centre for medical humanities. I believe it is long overdue that our universities should begin to engage with medical humanities where very serious researches are funded on how we can use art to generate healing.

Secondly, writing and other forms of art should not be seen as mere jamboree. We should all move beyond the point of art as entertainment to its utilitarian function. And that reminds me of a poem, “The Lost Dog”, I wrote in 1994. No one, not even the poet himself paid attention to the wordings of the poem. In 2007, I republished it again in my collection of poetry; still, nobody paid it any attention. Until, COVID-19 happened upon us. What struck me when it happened was the title of the poem, “The Lost Dog”. It’s as if the poet knew there is nothing we can do to avert it because is lost and gone forever. And our world as we knew it which was like a very huge market before now is gone. And like the palm trees bowing down in the poem, the world powers are completely embarrassed by the outbreak of the pandemic. Such a very short poem to indicate that few words should be enough for the wise, but unfortunately, the whole world lost it. And by and large, everything as predicted in the poem came to pass and is still happening.  In those days, in the biblical or classical ages, whenever there was crisis, the kings or emperors would send for the philosophers, the poets and the prophets and so on. And whenever they heeded those warnings, they got out of it completely. But our world has missed it because to us art is nothing but funfair and entertainment. And that is why literature is not a compulsory course anywhere in the world; while mathematics is compulsory. We believe science is the only branch of knowledge that knows the road and we must dogmatically follow science at the expense of every other branches of knowledge. By and large, as I’ve said before, what the world needs is collaboration, especially between science and art.

here is a very strong link between poetry and healing. I’d take you back to the classical era. First to a biblical allusion where poetry was used as therapy, remember King Saul and David who was a young poet in the palace of Saul. Whenever the king was afflicted by demonic oppression and depression rather than calling for his physician or psychiatrist, he would call for this young poet – David who would sing and play his musical instrument to King Saul. And the king would get his healing.

Secondly, Apollo is regarded as the god of poetry and healing. That means there’s a bridge between poetic expression and healing which we did not countenance for a very long time. Great scholars and philosophers have known right from the start that there’s a big connection between poetry and therapy. According to a great American poet, William Carlos William, “People die every day for lack of knowledge of what is in poetry”. In the cultural and African context, incantation is poetry in oral literature.

At age nine, I got stung by scorpion and the pain was so much. My father, a king, was a typical traditional African man who knew a lot about what we called African technology and art. He fetched an old man who put me on his lap and started recounting an incantatory poetry and I slept off on his lap. And when I woke up, not a slight pain was felt. The only thing that reminded me that something happened was that the spot often itched me. Although in the African context, there may be the invocation of other forces beyond mere poetry rendition. But there is that connection. And the Holy Bible places a very high premium on what it calls “the Word” that was in the beginning. And we understand that that Word was what transformed into a living being – Jesus Christ – that has come from heaven to heal the world. There is a very strong connection between word and healing.

The Western world has long gained access to this. In several universities in the US, literature is a core course in their medical schools, which is not the case yet in Africa. We have overlooked it so much. Our focus has been on the orthodox medicine.

 

My voyage into poetry and healing branch of literature

It started when I registered for my Ph.D at the University of Ibadan. I was fortunate to come in contact with a man who has today become a personal friend and mentor who was the one that supervised my Ph.D, Prof. Babatunde Omobowale. He had his Ph.D in this area of scholarship, Literature and Medicine. And when he introduced it to me, I bought into it with my whole being because it was something novel and refreshing. And Prof was a great guide and mentor and we are today linked on a number of works. Having bagged my Ph.D in that area and, in digging further, a number of doors of opportunity began to open, such as conferences ansd workshops, among others. It was at those conferences and workshops that I met with opportunities that led to my being in the positions I now occupy and different organisations I now belong to. One that is indeed noteworthy is my meeting with a fantastic scholar, Dr. Margot Gotmann,  a visual artist, who happened to be the founder and president of Arts and Hearts Association. She co-founded the Association with Prof. Lynne Mackey, a professor of Music and a world class pianist.  Our chanced meeting in 2010, during her visit to Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko. During our interaction, she had found a bright mind from Africa talking about medical humanities, which she thought was an exclusive preserve of the western world as at the time, led to the strong and permanent bound/collaboration. We then agreed that what is crucial in every stage of human development is a properly defined and well designed education. Arising from the above is thatntoday I am the Vice President of the Program Council of Arts and Hearts Association,  as well as the Chairman of the newly created International  Arts for Teaching and Healing Institute, Winchester VA, USA. The Institute has designed the AAA model (All Arts Approach) in promoting artistic dialogue with patients,  ( i.e. healing through literature,  dance, music, and visual arts). The institute  in collaboration with the Management Board of AHA is inviting scholars who are interested in Arts as healing from different perspectives, from across the globe, to come on board and form a strong base that can guarantee a holistic post-pandemic healing. Artists, musicians, dancers and literati that have been able to link their artistic expressions to healing are also invited. Particularly at a time like this, I think our world need us now more than ever.

 

Respite art holds for a pandemic-stricken world

It has a lot of respite to offer. Now that the whole world is passing through a pandemic, there is a lot that art can do in a situation like this because the aftermath of this pandemic would be psychological and psycho-traumatic crisis which largely can be handled through art therapy. It is unfortunate that not much adequate attention is being given to the arts with regards to the healing properties it holds for the world, especially at this time.

I think medicine and art and healing should play a complementary role.

Science has played a prominent role over time in leading the world out of pandemic as this. Nevertheless, there should be a synergy between the artists/writers that can use their work to create therapeutic expressions and the medical practitioners. The reason is that people are losing their loved ones, jobs, businesses and more; cost of living is rising at an alarming rate. There’s no medical attention that can bring back to circuit someone who is passing through depression because he lost everything to a pandemic. Whether we like it or not there would be other health challenges that would stem from this pandemic. The impacts of it may get science overwhelmed. We would need art to engage the patients and survivors. And my prayer is the world would listen to the voice and calling of the arts because not much attention has been given to it.

On our part, the Program Council of Arts and Hearts Association is already starting a programme which it calls AAA (All Arts Approach). That is an approach whereby you can have all forms of arts that can serve as a body of therapy to engage the world and the aftermath of this pandemic- whether its poetry, visual art or dance. This may not just be the end; after survival, what next? That is where AAA comes in.

 

Ways of collaboration between science and the arts

Not many people believe that art can be used to engage healing. Science need to descend from its arrogant position and embrace other branches of knowledge to handle crisis and to save our world. And same goes to the government. They never believe there is much in the arts which we can use to engage healing. All they use art for is cultural reorientation or for tourism. It has never been seen as a tool for healing. And we need to rise up to this occasion in such a way that governments pay attention to literati and scholars and the arts in general; fund their projects in a way that the very best can come out of them. Up till date, I don’t think there’s a university where we have centre for medical humanities. I believe it is long overdue that our universities should begin to engage with medical humanities where very serious researches are funded on how we can use art to generate healing.

Secondly, writing and other forms of art should not be seen as mere jamboree. We should all move beyond the point of art as entertainment to its utilitarian function. And that reminds me of a poem, “The Lost Dog”, I wrote in 1994. No one, not even the poet himself paid attention to the wordings of the poem. In 2007, I republished it again in my collection of poetry; still, nobody paid it any attention. Until, COVID-19 happened upon us. What struck me when it happened was the title of the poem, “The Lost Dog”. It’s as if the poet knew there is nothing we can do to avert it because is lost and gone forever. And our world as we knew it which was like a very huge market before now is gone. And like the palm trees bowing down in the poem, the world powers are completely embarrassed by the outbreak of the pandemic. Such a very short poem to indicate that few words should be enough for the wise, but unfortunately, the whole world lost it. And by and large, everything as predicted in the poem came to pass and is still happening.  In those days, in the biblical or classical ages, whenever there was crisis, the kings or emperors would send for the philosophers, the poets and the prophets and so on. And whenever they heeded those warnings, they got out of it completely. But our world has missed it because to us art is nothing but funfair and entertainment. And that is why literature is not a compulsory course anywhere in the world; while mathematics is compulsory. We believe science is the only branch of knowledge that knows the road and we must dogmatically follow science at the expense of every other branches of knowledge. By and large, as I’ve said before, what the world needs is collaboration, especially between science and art.

 

#world #turn #art #COVID19 #respite #scholar

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