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EGS in Lima – A Tinquy of the Expressive Arts with the Peruvian Reality

Updated: May 16, 2021

by Stephen K. Levine

Tinquy is a Quechua word which signifies a transformative encounter between two beings. It is also the word that José Miguel Calderon uses as the key word of his EGS dissertation, “Tinquy: The Encounter Between the Peruvian Imaginary and the Expressive Arts.” José and his partner, Judith Allalu, were doctoral students at EGS who took the chance of returning to their country against parental advice to bring expressive arts therapy to Peru and to Latin America. Since their return some ten years ago, their institute, TAE Peru (Terapia de Artes Expresivas), has flourished and has trained a new generation of students and practitioners in the practice of expressive arts, not only in therapy but also in the many fields of practice to which the basic principles of EXA can be applied.

The dissertation defense took place on January 20, 2015, at the mid-point of the summer school in Peru. This was the fourth time that a session of the EGS masters program in Expressive Arts therapy had been held in Peru. As in each case, the teaching was shared between Paolo J. Knill, Margo Fuchs-Knill, Ellen Levine and myself. Ellen and I arrived in Lima on the morning of January 20, after a sleepless night, having missed our plane connection in Miami due to a five-hour traffic jam on I-95. After checking in briefly at our hotel, we met Paolo and Margo for lunch and were briefed about the progress of the summer school up to this point.

We then rushed to TAE, where the defense was held in front of an audience of some seventy-five members, including both José and Judith’s parents. The examining committee, including the four of us with the addition of Paul Antze, the second reader (I had been the primary supervisor), who participated by Skype, awarded the dissertation the qualification of summa cum laude, the highest distinction. Afterwards, we all went out to eat together (something that all Peruvians love to do, as their cuisine, itself a tinquy between indigenous foodstuff and European culinary practice, is reputed to be the best in Latin America).

The dissertation itself showed a sophisticated understanding of the need for adapting the theory and practice of expressive arts to the particular mentality of Peru, shaped as it has been by the social and historical conditions of an indigenous country that has undergone generations of colonial domination. The “Peruvian imaginary” is the totality of myths, images and practices that distinguishes Peruvian culture from others. Sometimes Expressive Arts, which originated in Europe and North America, has been imported into other cultures without modification, a good example of the legacy of colonialism. Often this takes place with an idealization of the indigenous culture and a rejection of the cultural specificity of the European heritage from which Expressive Arts, in its most recent form, has derived. In this case, however, José Miguel took seriously the need to have a genuine encounter between the tradition of Expressive Arts and the particular reality of Peru, a tinquy in which both cultural mentalities participate as equals.

The medium of this encounter is itself a journey into the imaginary, as the dissertation not only analyses the basic concept frameworks involved but also takes a creative form in which historical and mythical figures from the ancient and recent Peruvian past are allowed to speak in their own voices. Moreover, José himself underwent a transformative tinquy in his research practice, by an arts-based performance in which his personal history was transformed by embodying certain imaginary figures from the Peruvian imaginary, the puma, the condor and the snake, resulting in a new being: the trickster condor. We had witnessed the performance ourselves two years ago during our previous Peruvian summer school and now we saw in José himself a sense of presence strengthened through this personal tinquy with his own cultural heritage.

On the following evening, after Ellen and I had taught all day, we participated with Paolo, Margo and all the faculty of TAE Peru in a conference on “Expressive Arts and the Challenges of the World.” The title itself demonstrates the way in which Expressive Arts has extended its reach, as we have come to realize that the basic principles and practice of the field has a wider social significance than its original basis in psychotherapy. Since the conference, attended by some 150 people, was held in the Bnai Brith house, a Jewish community center, I chose to describe the ways in which my own practice had been shaped by an encounter between my Jewish heritage and the Expressive Arts. I was later to learn that only about five members of the audience, including Judith’s parents, were from the Jewish community. Nevertheless, I felt that perhaps my experience, so different from the Peruvian norm, was worth taking into consideration as an example of how Expressive Arts always stems from a particular history and exhibits a personal style, in the same way as artistic practice in general. We never encounter the universal directly, except in abstract thought, and perhaps not even then.

After the conference, Ellen and I taught for the rest of our eleven-day stint, following Paolo and Margo’s half of the summer school. They were a hard act to follow, having made a strong impact on the students, Paolo introducing of Kabuki theatre into his arts-based teaching and Margo showing how poetry could be a particularly effective way to reflect on and transform experience. Years of poetic practice at EGS, by Margo, Sally Atkins and myself, but especially by Elizabeth McKim, the EGS poet laureate, has shown us that language is not destined to take us away from our sensuous being but on the contrary can be a way to articulate and crystallize our existence into new and effective forms. Paolo’s teaching, as always, was an inspiration to the students, as it challenged them to meet a foreign tradition in a genuine encounter rooted in artistic practice. The Performance Night, traditionally held by students at the end of the summer school, showed how much the students had transformed both poetry and this hitherto alien tradition of physical theatre and had been able to incorporate them into their own performative practice.

The transition to the new style of teaching which Ellen and I exhibited was itself facilitated by a strenuous encounter with the student group, after an arts-based exercise designed to exhibit two basic principles of Expressive Arts, “holding” and “shaping.” The concept of “holding,” stems from D. W. Winnicott’s account of the ways in which psychotherapeutic practice is similar to the original experience of maternal care. A good-enough therapist must “hold” her clients in the way that a good-enough mother (or other care-taker) learns to hold her baby.

Expressive Arts adds to this framework by underlining the experience of “shaping” as an essential part of artistic practice as well as of human experience in general. We shape our world and, in doing so, shape ourselves as well. I think of holding as receiving, and shaping as responding. The concept of poiesis, which I conceive of as fundamental to Expressive Arts in all its forms, expresses both “holding” and “shaping,” since it signifies that we encounter a world already made which we must receive as given to us, but also that we can respond to this world and attempt to shape it in new ways.

In the arts-based exercise that I mention above, the students began by working silently in pairs with their eyes closed, as they manipulated the same piece of clay together. After some time, they worked together with their eyes open. The clay then became the “third” that held their relationship, and it also gave them an opportunity to shape it in new ways.

The encounter with the material and with each other seemed to us to be quite effective, as new sculptural forms emerged with care and sensitivity. At that point, we asked them to bring the clay pieces together and, after they had done so, to tell a story that inspired by the new image that had formed. All went well at first, but then some of the men in the group began to take over in their enthusiasm for what was emerging. I noticed most of the women becoming silent, and responded by giving a final instruction that for the last minute only the women could touch the clay and shape it into new forms. We then ended the class, as time had run out.

The next day we invited the students to reflect on their experience. We were met with anger on the part of some of the female students, who felt that we had not “held” them adequately. (There was another complaint as well, since we had changed the time of the course without anyone having told them or consulted them beforehand.) Of course, my initial reaction was to feel defensive, but I have learned that in such situations the most important thing is to listen and take in the truth of what is being said. I believe Ellen and I were both able to do so. Afterwards we helped the students reflect on what had happened and how we all might benefit from this mis-shaped encounter.

We had indeed not intervened in the structure in an effective way during the group shaping, but those students who were upset had also not voiced or acted upon their needs. Rather they had withdrawn into silence and inactivity. However, by bringing up their discontent the next day, they were able to transform their passive response into an active shaping of the group and of our own work as group leaders as well. We also reflected on how this whole experience was typical of the usual relationship between men and women, especially (but not exclusively) in the generally macho culture of Latin America.

After this encounter or tinquy between group members, and between the group and ourselves, the teaching and learning relationship became much stronger. The students had felt “dropped,” and consequently demanded that we hold them sensitively. When we responded to this demand as best we could, they were all able to engage whole-heartedly in the learning experiences which we then offered. We ourselves felt more “tuned in” to the group and were able to use our resources more effectively. Holding is necessary, I believe, for shaping to occur in a creative way. Moreover, a strong encounter can transform both participants, if they are able to let themselves be affected by it without holding too tightly to their own positions, whether this be in education, therapy or social change.

The rest of the summer school was heaven for us, and I think for the group as well, as the students showed by being able to creatively participate and to integrate their experiences into their learning through reflection as well. At the end of the session, we designed a ritual together that took all the experiences and learning they had gone through together and also held and shaped further the transformation that they had experienced in their education as Expressive Arts practitioners. The ritual process that resulted from our mutual shaping had moments of group ecstasy through drumming, singing and moving, as well as moments of silent meditation and the sensitive sharing of gifts that symbolized what they were taking away from their learning experiences. There was a great deal of literal “holding” and hugging afterwards, and also the taking of pictures to remember each other and what we had all done together The Performance Night that evening took the group a step further in a final shaping of the whole experience into a new encounter with the audience of TAE faculty, family and friends.

Ah, Peru! Ah, our tinquy with all of you! We have been affected by our encounter with you, as I believe you have been by your encounter with us. Let us take what we have been given and shape it creatively for all those who come after us. May the ensuing tinquy be as loving and as transformative as ours has been with you, and may we all continue to do this marvelous work in which everyone has a voice in holding and shaping both themselves and the world in which they live together.

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