Series ‘be-longing’ by Daniela S. Herold at Cowichan Performing Arts Centre in Duncan
In 1970, American psychologist Abraham Maslow pointed out that belonging was an essential and prerequisite human need that had to be met before one could achieve a sense of self-worth.
I immigrated to Canada in 2004 after having lived in different countries for the last 20 years. The theme of migration and identity has concerned me for years – I know what it is like to leave ‘home’ and move to a new place, where unfamiliar people become neighbours, colleagues and friends. However, I have always moved by choice with a job, a loving partner or a place waiting for me. I was the fortunate one – unlike hundreds of thousands of refugees who know about displacement, having moved out of their native home and country due to civil wars, persecution or natural disasters.
Today, my friend Rosemary and I finished hanging 35 paintings from my latest series titled ‘be-longing’ at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre in Duncan. The show is close to my heart because it focuses on growing roots, being connected and belonging with others. The exhibition can be seen until the end of January 2016.
‘Humans have a natural need to belong with others.
To belong means to be connected.’
Why is the topic of belonging such a common theme in literature, music and the arts?
The need to belong is rooted in evolutionary history. Human beings are social animals who have always depended on having close connections in order to survive and reproduce. In our daily life, we seek out those who are most similar to us because we feel that we can relate to them and they can understand us.
As an immigrant, I wanted to belong and to grow roots here in Canada – I have been longing to be part of this culture while at the same time needing to stay close to my European roots.
Humans have a natural need to belong with others. To belong means to be connected. As for me, the word home is connected just as much to a place as it is connected to a person. In that sense I felt I could take the word ‘belonging’ apart (BE-LONGING) as in ‘I am longing’ for something that makes me whole.
Every time you are taken out of your ‘heart community’, there is a void that yearns to be filled. For me, the alienation was caused by my move to another country. For many, the feeling can be the result of the scattering of their families, the break-down of traditional groups or the disappearance of a village familiarity where everyone knows everyone. Millions of people are taken out of their heart communities as I am writing these lines – the stories of their suffering during the current refugee and migrant crisis in Europe are enormous.
‘I am longing’ for something that makes me whole.’
A friend asked me whether ‘the artist and nationality’ are a central theme in my art. About a year ago, when I started the series ‘be-longing’, I was wondering how important nationality would (have to) be? At one point it confronted me with quite a dilemma: how could I – as a German-Canadian artist – portray ‘Germanness’ in general if all symbols of Germany are tainted by the past? The artist Anselm Kiefer already asked that existential question in the 1960s.
When I was reflecting on my own sense of nationality and what it means for me as an artist, I came across a quote by Saltire Award winner Meaghan Delahunt that I really liked. She wrote in 2003: ‘It is not the responsibility of the artist to present a comfortable or ‘identifiable’ picture of the nation in which they were born or in which they live, and they should be free to write about whatever they see fit in whatever language they see fit.’
This project left me with the interesting question: how important is my nationality in the context of belonging when I compare it to other staples of my life, e.g. my family, my friends, networks, groups, environment etc? As it turned out, nationality has been only one aspect of many.
Belonging has a lot to do with getting recognition and developing self-esteem. According to Maslow, we only develop self-esteem when we are anchored in community. At the end of the day it is the community that gives us the recognition for our achievements, and it is the community that respects us for our mastery in a certain field.
How we portray and express this human need of belonging, so deeply ingrained in our nature, is very individual – as is the artistic presentation of the topic around it. I want my viewers to create their very own story of my art – that is why my paintings leave a lot of room for imagination and assumptions.
Of course there is ‘my’ story behind every painting, but what would art be if it doesn’t reach out and touch your life? What makes me tick is when my paintings manage to hold your attention for a while, when they can inspire you or make you wonder.
Why art? Because.
Daniela S. Herold
Further information : Cowichan Performing Arts Centre
Paintings/Photographs by D.S. Herold / Copyright 2015