REMEMBER – the Faroese chain dance

One of the seven functions of art as therapy is to help us remember.

What is it that we might want to be reminded of that can help us in our lives? We might first think of significant, historical happenings that affect our society or even key events of your life that lead you onto new paths.

However, we also benefit from remembering the small things that make our everyday lives so much richer. We are rushing from one moment to the next, often focusing only on the frustrations that the everyday brings. A fleeting moment of appreciation, of happiness or excitement quickly drowns in the many impressions of a day, and disappears into the forgotten.

This is where art steps in by capturing the impression and the feeling of this fleeting moment, committing to canvas or any other medium what we would not commit to memory. Furthermore, it facilitates our need to communicate these moments to other people, moments too short and obscure for us to put them into words easily.

The Faroese painter Sámal Joensen-Mikines’ work Faroese dance (1944) captures such a fleeting moment for me.

I visited the Faroe Islands for a workshop and part of the program was an evening with dinner and dance. The venue was filled with participants and associates of the workshop, it was crowded and noisy and I did not know anyone there for any longer than the few previous days of the workshop. I felt myself a stranger in a strange place.

Until the locals started dancing their traditional chain dance.

The chain dance is a simple dance in which the dancers hold each other’s hands, taking two steps to the left and one step to the right and thus moving through the room in a long chain of people. All the while singing traditional ballads (kvæði).

Even though I was unfamiliar with the dance and did not understand the words of the song, I was quickly drawn into the dance by the welcoming folks of these tiny islands in the sea. Linked to all these people with my hands, dancing with them, I felt a community. Once I had sorted out my feet, I was a part of these people. The rythmn of the song pulsed through me and I felt accepted, even welcomed despite my foreignness (and clumsiness), just for the fleeting moment of this dance.

This is what Mikines’ painting reminds me of. While many of his paintings depict sorrow and the harshness of life on the Faroe Islands, this one shows exactly this fleeting moment of community and enjoyment. He does not deny the hard lives of these people – you can sense it in his rough brush strokes, the moody lighting and the hint of melancholy in some of the sketchy faces. Rather, he shows us this instant of delight as a natural part of life, not overriding other aspects of experience, but not playing it down as unimportant either. This moment of glad dancing is just as valuable and worth being committed to canvas as heavy times of grief and hardness. It is a part of life.

In our fast-paced lives, art allows us to remember and linger on such valuable moments, to be reminded of them and to take the emotions of it on to our daily life.

This is what I see in this painting.

Do you have a favourite painting that reminds you of such a moment of your life?

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