I only adopted a brother just before turning 19 years of age. So, the world of boys growing up, becoming men was, is, quite foreign to me. (Aside, from the rather awkward forays into romance at much too young and confusing an age). The Universe, in its wisdom (or humour) thought it witty to gift me with a boy child to raise. And O! I find myself consciously and unconsciously having to unweave perceptions, misinterpretations as a Mother, Feminist, Career Woman – FeministMotherCareerWoman every single day. Our children are our teachers. Simple.
And so, it was with great awe that I observed the majority adolescent male participants at our latest HTMO workshop plunge, yes, plunge into their interior worlds without fear or suspicion.
They chose to speak of loss on three levels. Loss of a loved one to HIV/AIDS, loss of self as they masked themselves from a hostile society and environment and loss of someone through traveling away from them or vice versa (relocation/dislocation).
It is the second kind of loss which I wish to ponder upon here – the loss of self. The boys spoke of “wearing masks” and how they felt that they were continuously living masked lives, playing the “tough boy” on the outside, pretending all is well when struggling with adherence to their ARV treatment, talking BIG about love, sex and relationships when they fear rejection should they disclose their status. They spoke of hiding their meds, not taking the life-giving tablets with them for nights out jaunts with pals who are, to their knowledge, HIV negative.
And how not to wear the masks would mean a shattering of dreams with ridicule and laughter, the blunt stones inflected at them or worse – a further brutalisation of their bodies with physical violence.
In the installation phase of the HTMO process, the group of boys chose to re-create the masks behind which they would place the objects which signified their “loss”…
And the masks signified the “Voices” in their heads and those of people around them…
The second kind of “plunging” which I witnessed was that of adolescent boys speaking of feelings. Using the sensory power of object, one of the participants spoke of his great sadness at the loss of his mother. Whilst holding the scarf he had brought along from home, he spoke of the memory of smell and touch it evoked in him.
These are but two of the very evocative engagements I was allowed to witness just recently and in my contemplation of the process and the shifts I began to see in the articulation of grief and loss and of Becoming, just how powerful the insertion of an object is as a vehicle for storying loss. And have begun to contemplate whether this vehicle in part is the naming of something which by virtue of its unspeakability or un-languaged nature (grief/loss/sorrow/death/dying) allows for the careful rendering of emotions through description, symbol and in some ways the symbol which language is, in its untidy, imperfect and clumsy ways pins down or calls out so much more than the actual words.
This act of naming, in its untidiness, imperfection and clumsiness had me thinking of the ways in which ancestral names or lineage is called into presence through song, profound praise poetry. It also makes me think of how in all my witnessing of these (none of which has been vaguely untidy or imperfect or clumsy but powerful in speaking un-languaged spaces), be it a griot in West Africa, an imbongi in South Africa or the tales of the seafarers of the East coast of Africa have evoked images, sensual understanding beyond the word. The tracing of the object through description a careful re-construction and rendering, (as we say in the visual arts) of the past into presence.
And I return to the masks (they continue to haunt), to contemplate the fear which is so apparent in the text chosen beneath the masks. The multiple masks born out of and nourished by a fear that its temporary nature will become real or permanent and that, that which is required in the hardening of one’s Soul becomes a permanent fixture to one’s condition. Especially at a time when there are so many messages written in the landscape of poverty which echoes it. And I wonder, wander how it is we can begin to assert into these safe spaces which allows for a ‘naming’, the ancient art of naming and singing and drumming into being one’s place within society that speaks to belonging, continuity of place and identity.
 This. Is a loss that needs much much further careful decades worth of exploration
By Diedre Prins-Solani