Art with Heart

Rha Goddess makes the case for 'soul living'

| November / December 2005

In the hands of Rha Goddess, art is a tool for social change. A New York-based performance artist and all-around rabble-rouser for women, Goddess makes art that makes a difference. Her latest venture, 'We Got Issues,' involved interviewing about 1,000 women across the country about issues like voting, leadership, and power, and personal issues like how they spend their time and who makes up their support networks. The responses formed the basis not only for empowerment workshops, but also for a performance art happening.

As an artist and activist, Goddess, 38, is a leader in the generation of young feminists, and she brings an interesting perspective to the question of women's identities and roles in contemporary society. She acknowledges her debt to previous generations of feminists. But she also looks at issues like violence against women and the rising numbers of young women with HIV or in prison, and she knows there is much still to be done. 'We have a perception that we're all liberated, we're all done,' she says. But there are many women who are unable to thrive in their own lives and communities. And that's what she's working to change.

What sets Goddess apart from other issue-oriented activist/artists is her call for what she terms 'soul-based living' -- taking time to foster compassion, empathy, respect for others, and our creative inner lives. Our fast-paced life has little to do with this important work, she laments. 'When we're in touch with our creativity, anything's possible,' she says. 'How we experience ourselves is so much more expansive than if we're coming from 'I've got to get up and feed the kids, I've got get this project done, I've got to get to work.' If we're dancing, if we're painting, if we're loving, it's a whole different ball game.'

Because this spiritual dimension is crucial, Goddess urges women (and men) to find time every single day to slow down, contemplate, and create, to make a space for their inner lives to grow.

Women may be especially adept at soul-based living, according to Goddess, because in our culture, rightly or wrongly, women are expected to be more compassionate, considerate, and likely to make the peace: 'It's sort of like the twisted gift, but we can tap into these things more easily because our conditioning is to live from this spiritual space.' But she cautions that this more enlightened way of life doesn't happen just because someone is a woman. 'I take nothing for granted. We cannot take what it means to be a woman for granted,' Goddess says, 'particularly in this country with the way that we are inundated with messages of who we are and who we're not.'

Both women and men have the ability to develop consciousness of spirit, kindness, patience, and cooperation. The important next step, Goddess says, is to use consciousness to upset the unhealthy status quo or, as she's fond of saying, to 'rock the world back into balance.' She explains that this balance comes when all people are living healthy lives and society is not driven by aggression and greed, and she says it won't happen until enough people learn to balance their internal lives and use that strength to change the social landscape. That's why spending time every day to develop these traits is so important.