“FIND your centre and just let go. Let the ink eraser and your heart guide you,” advises Agnes See, one of the project volunteers from Simply Blue! But I’m still hesitant. “What if I do it wrong?” I mutter. See quickly replies, her words encouraging: “There’s no right or wrong in this artwork. No judgements. It’s only you.”
A 15 by 15 cm square sits in front of me. It has been painted blue. Tentatively, I dot the middle with the magic ink eraser pen. That would be my centre, I assure myself silently.
Slowly, I began tracing lines and swirls, building my freehand mandala outwards from the dot. Seeing the ink magically disappear as I continue to trace patterns on the paper surprisingly quietened the usual ruckus in my head. Soon, I find myself completely immersed in the activity.
This simple, therapeutic exercise forms the core of the Simply Blue! Exhibition, an art showcase of sorts featuring a collection of more than 2,000 pieces drawn by hundreds of participants from around the world.
The works are currently on display at The Red Studio in Jaya One until July 15.
After 15 minutes, I look up feeling proud of myself and of my handiwork. And interestingly, I realised that my shoulders weren’t as stiff as usual.
“Don’t you feel much calmer?” queries See, before adding: “If you make this a habit every day and when it’s done at a designated time each day, there’s a lot of stress that you can release.”
FROM GERMANY TO THE WORLD
Simply Blue! was first initiated by German art therapist Rita Eckart as an international non-profit social art project.
Each piece of hand drawn mandala is said to signify a message of peace to the world.
Furthermore, they are also etched with each artist’s depiction of his/her brief moments of peace and serenity.
The project was inspired by a Nepalese monk whom Eckart met during her aid work in Nepal back in 2015.
“Eckart was intrigued with how the monk was able to stay calm drawing the mandala even with the destruction from the earthquake surrounding him,” shares Apple Wong, project leader of Simply Blue! Asia.
She adds that Eckart later discovered that the artwork actually helped the monk to focus on his inner self which resulted in a sense of peace.
Eckart went on to devise a similar activity to help refugees in Germany feel grounded despite having lost everything.
Eckart is renowned internationally, especially for her work on various art therapy programmes with traumatised victims from wartorn areas, refugee centres and countries hit by disasters.
She’s also part of the stART organisation that provides emergency aid to children and young people in crisis areas.
In addition, she’s a lecturer of Art Therapy under the Artistic Therapy and Further Education Art Therapy faculty at Alanus University in Germany.
Four friends — Wong, See, Cynn Chong and Goh Bee Fong — are Foundation in Art Therapy Programme students under the Art Therapy Education Society of Malaysia that’s based in KL.
It was Wong that Eckart contacted to lead the project in Asia. The former in turn roped in her friends to help drive the “cause” and make a Simply Blue! exhibition in this country a reality.
Together with See, Chong and Goh, Wong has managed to unveil meaningful moments from the hundreds of artists (all common people from 56 nations) who have donated their works over the last eight months, since it started in September 2016.
“There are actually a large number of people who are practising this therapy all around the world. And they aren’t limited to just those who’ve flight and fleeing issues. Ir’s a social art project for everyone,” reveals Chong, who adds that their Facebook page has seen more than 1,000 artwork postings from the day it started.
Chips in Goh: “Each artwork is so impressive and beautiful. But what’s amazing is that you’ll never know who the artist is if no one informs.”
Each little blue piece is synonymous with the blue tiles that are recognisable in many cultures around the world.
“You find it in Turkish cultures, Chinese, Dutch and even our Peranakan cultures. It’s a symbolism that everyone shares,” says Wong. This helps the artists to conceal their identity, allowing them to freely draw without prejudice.
Due to the anonymity of the project, it has also allowed the audience to see each piece for what it truly is: a piece of art that’s imprinted with the emotions and experiences of the respective artist and nothing more.
“There are no boundaries to this project. No gender, no race, no age. It’s just pure heart,” says Goh.
Although each of the team member had their own respective reasons for jumping on the programme, they’re united in their belief that Simply Blue! has made their lives better.
“I don’t know much about art. However, when I got to know about how art can heal people, I wanted to find out more so I can help my students and their parents,” confides Chong.
Ever since incorporating the exercise in her classes, she has found that the students are able to focus better in their studies, while the parents are less agitated with them (the children).
The blue colour chosen as the background for each square evokes a sense of comfort and security.
Meanwhile, the actual act of drawing mandalas is said to give the artist some kind of focus to help ground himself or herself.
“There’s definitely no religious connotation,” adds Wong.
Chipping in, See elaborates: “We all start in the centre and then draw out from it. The centre enforces the idea that ‘I’m here’. It helps you to focus on the moment and not worry about what’s going on around you as you figure out a way to slowly begin erasing whatever stresses that’s binding you.”
She confides that the exercise has even helped her and her son, who suffers from emotional distress and ADHD, to remain level headed and composed throughout the day. All that’s needed is just 15 minutes a day every morning to practise it.
Nodding, Wong adds: “You can also regard the daily exercise as a challenge. If you’re someone who hates drawing lines, then try. You’ll see that it’s not that hard. Once you’ve realised that, you’ll understand that life isn’t hard either. All you need is a little hard work, faith, and practice.”
LETTING IT GO
Every day there will be at least one volunteer at the exhibition centre to help educate anyone who’s interested in practising Simply Blue! on their own.
“Come admire the artwork and at the same time learn how to let things go using this approach. And if you wish to replicate the work at home, we also have the ink eraser pens for sale,” says Wong.
That said, the exhibition is free for all. If you like the work, you can purchase a set of four postcards that features a photograph of the collection for RM20 to take home and share with friends and families. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to the stART organisation and the Art Therapy Education Society of Malaysia. It’ll also help fund the exhibition and catalogue that’ll be released soon.
“Some people have found it hard to part with their work,” shares See, adding: “They forget that the ultimate aim of this exercise is to let things go. Why harbour unnecessary baggage when you can just leave it and move on?” Certainly it’s a quandary for many of us.
As we end our delightful chat, the bubbly quartet left me with a few more blue pieces and the magic ink eraser pen.
Concluding, Chong says softly: “The outside world can be a noisy and disruptive place. We’re always so busy with our lives that we sometimes forget to breathe. It’s easy to lose yourself. I hope these pieces can help you find your inner peace and centre you in the long run.”
Simply Blue! Exhibition
When: Until July 15
Where: L’Atelier Rouge — The Red Studio, Level P1, The School, Jaya One Section 13, Petaling Jaya, Selangor