Expat Magazine

Painted Sky

By Gail Aguiar @ImageLegacy

painted sky

I’ve taken a few dozen trips around the sun yet I do not recall witnessing a sky quite like this before. How can it be? Either my memory is playing tricks on me or the light in Portugal really is as different as people claim it to be — and the clouds, too. I was about to cook dinner when I looked out the window and saw the sky in brush strokes, emblazoned in hues of purple and pink and blue. I slid open the windows, craned my neck to see more, grabbed the camera to capture the moment and tried to take a photo without falling out. I was looking at an oil painting of the sky and it was about to disappear. This was the best I could do without putting myself in total danger. If it happens again I hope to be quicker on the draw.

I might have art on the brain. While I’ve never been a painter and haven’t drawn more than a Pictionary figure in the past 20 years, my life in Portugal has led me to painting and other arts in a way I didn’t expect. I volunteer six times a month in a migrant detention centre, and every week art has been what we turn to most times for group activity and a way to facilitate conversation. It’s a challenge in all sorts of ways, since the restricted conditions of the detention center limits what we can bring and do. There are also significant language barriers and cultural differences.

But it’s interesting how simple things such as origami, colouring, drawing, painting, and puzzles can get people working together, sharing, and laughing despite the grim circumstances and lack of a common language. Sometimes there is no other way to lift anyone’s sadness, despair, frustration, or hopelessness but to encourage a temporary return to childhood when there was nothing to do except make use of one’s imagination.

It’s not just for their benefit, but for ours, too. I have to admit, despite being terrible at working with watercolours I enjoy it much more than I remember. It’s easy to become engrossed in the puzzles. I never thought I’d be doing more colouring as an adult than as a child, but here we are. It nudges me to see colours and lines differently. We all lose track of time. Between volunteering stints I think of other art activities we can do (without scissors). People talk when they feel like it. It gets playfully competitive. It’s bonding.

Thank you, Art. I don’t know what we’d do without you.

The Volunteers of a Migrant Detention Centre

April 19, 2016
Album: Portugal [Spring 2016]

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