Art with Heart

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.

Conscious living is the only thing that will eradicate the
well-established aggression and inequity in our communities,
Goddess says: ‘The universe keeps bringing these issues to us until
we get it. The real question is, Will humanity get it?’

You can find out more about Rha Goddess and ‘We Got Issues’ at
www.wegotissues.org.

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