A meditation on objects, solitude and silence PART I

by Deirdre Prins-Solani, Program Lead Healing Through Memory and Objects (HTMO) program of the MAA, cultural heritage expert 

Objects clutter, gather dust motes behind glass cases, are carefully tied up in plastic bags and deposited in a Kist, under mattresses or, they are neatly confined in boxes catalogued in universal archive categories and on occasion, as so poignantly lyrically worded in a play by Sylvia Vollenhoven, ‘cold case’2 – shaken loose and disturbed, stirred by questions unanswered. And, I have seen how holding an object of significance (a photograph, a bottle of cough medicine, an empty can of antiretrovirals, a box of Lion matches) – caressing its form and materiality in absolute silence releases stories beyond their words. And I realise, again, just how much Silence is absent from our worlds3 . The noise in our heads; worrying about putting food on the table, fear of illness, the anaesthising din of the television, deep rhythms on perpetual repeat, cars squealing, sirens wailing, electricity poles hissing, incessant handclapping and invocations. And yet, without hesitation, I have observed participants immerse themselves into yogic breathing exercises, bringing stillness from a depth they have run away from, masked or let rest fallow.

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And as the HTMO process progresses, silences lengthen between the sharing of stories as the need for platitudes and immediate inoculation become unnecessary. Silences are so complex and nuanced – perhaps more so than words found in any language.The Silence of a mother as she gathers a cloak of broken glass memories around herself. The Silence of a father, shoulders heaving as he raggedly breaths out his fury and shackled desire to protect, at the man who raped his teenage daughter. The Silence of the teenager as he stumbles over the loss of a mother and the absence of a father and all the gaping holes of his story in between. And with the rhythmic breathing, rustling air through their bodies the release of air releases story. The object held, fingered transports the storyteller into another time and place, settling themselves into the kind of silence which permits the rush, the surge, the gentle meander of contradictory feelings surfaced in ways not allowable before. Objects. Kindle to a flame. Rustling of Unanswered questions.

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1 Referred to as HTMO in the blog

2 Cold Case speaks the story of Dulcie September, South African activist and ANC emissary in France killed in 1988 in Paris by unknown assassins

3 Reminded by a friend that there are silences which are powerfully crushing Photographs: Deirdre Prins-Solani