I AM was a two year, Pan-European participatory and community, learning and engagement project working with partners from Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Italy and Turkey. The project employed art and artists as facilitators of social change within recovery from substance use, making an important contribution to the emerging discipline of socially engaged arts practice.
The project provided a platform to look at how arts and culture could support people in recovery to develop new life-opportunities. International artists Selda Asal, founding director of Apartment Project (Turkey), Cristina Nunez of the Self Portrait Experience (Italy) and Ali Zaidi founding co-director of Moti Roti (UK) creatively worked with participants to open up new dialogue on recovery for revealing life beyond substance use.
We told new stories, shone a light, blew away myths and stood proud. We generated new possibilities for recovering people by challenging and changing attitudes. I AM employed contemporary art and artists as mechanisms for social activism within recovery by providing a cultural platform to articulate the lived experience. By bringing together, artists, arts-for-health, cultural and public organisations we created a cohesive grouping for bringing a disenfranchised people to high quality artistic experiences.
Portraiture in its extensive conceptual sense was used to facilitate participants’ self-representation and was delivered over a series of five-day, artist-led residency workshops in each of the partner countries. The artwork production was a collaborative journey undertaken by the artists with participants, and offered a powerful display of participants’ voices as presented through their stories, as well as their portraits beyond current clichéd representation.
Self-portraiture has traditionally been associated with artists depicting themselves. In this project, self-portraiture was used to facilitate the self-representation of the participants.
As Cristina Nuñez says “portraits allow us to be ‘author, subject and spectator’ simultaneously”.
Issues of control are central to addiction. The programme’s approach focused on creating situations with recovering people that allowed them to explore their own stories, and to consider individual, contextual and collective representations of addiction and recovery. With each person, the artists used different forms of self-documentation and other scenarios, exploring the broadest spectrum of portraiture. Interviews and soundbites informed the final project outcomes.
Artwork and Outcomes
Ali Zaidi utilised food as a starting point for self in his film Per te Mamma. He states "cooking and eating together transforms strangers into people who are known. It is an act of trust and often generosity”.
In Cristina Nuñez’s video work UNCOOL, silence subverts addiction through an amplification of the emotive voice that places emphasis on ‘self’ as both the cause and cure.
Selda Asal’s, video animation I Need to Change the Last Line presents us with a series of self-storying narratives recounting the reconstructed past, perceived present and the imagined future alongside reoccurring themes of family and love.
Building on ideas in the Bill of Recovery Rights, Dr Clive Parkinson led on the consultatively developed the Recoverist Manifesto. With an introduction by author Will Self, the text poetically gives voice for raising recovery awareness, whilst putting diverse experience at the heart of the conversation.
“We see ourselves as activists and not passive ‘receivers of services’. We want to shout from the rooftops, speak to the world and affect social change”.
An end-of-project symposium I AM - WE ARE was held at the Manchester School of Art at MMU, July 2014. The event shared some of the artistic outputs, learning and responses from people taking part in the project and featured the opening of the exhibition I AM: Memoirs of Addiction Recovery which profiled the projects’ final artworks.
The project was kindly funded under the European Union's Lifelong Learning Programme – Grundtvig, which supports individuals and organisations involved in non-vocational adult education to participate in European training activities and projects. I AM was initiated by Portraits of Recovery; an Manchester based, visual arts charity and developed in partnership with Arts for Health at MMU, Gruppo Incontro Cooperativa Sociale and F.E.D.E.R.S.E.R.D, Italy, and the Turkish Green Crescent Society, Kütahya branch.