"Elizaveta Iurievna Kuzmina-Karavaeva Skobtsova, later known as Mother Maria, was a Russian Orthodox religious thinker, poet and artist. Her multi-faceted legacy includes articles, poems, art, and drama. In the 1910s she was part of the literary milieu of St. Petersburg and was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. She fled Russia soon after the Bolsheviks' takeover and lived in Paris, where she became a nun. In 1935, she participated in organizing the so-called Orthodox Action, which was designed to help Russian immigrants in France. She and her fellow-workers from Orthodox Action opened a house for homeless and sick immigrants in Paris. During the Nazi occupation of the city, the house was transformed into a refuge for Jews and displaced persons. Mother Maria and her son were arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and died in the Ravensbruck camp in Germany. Mother Maria's selfless devotion to people and her death as a martyr will never be forgotten. In 2004, the Holy Synod confirmed the glorification of Mother Maria." - from Columbia University Libraries Special Collection link

Concrete, Steel + Paint - a review

"What would it mean to live in a city whose people were changing each other's despair into hope?—You yourself must change it." - Adrienne Rich

This movie takes up the work Rich sets out to disturb our lives with - to look at our own selves and our interactions and reactions with those around us and see that our presence impacts the outcomes of everything that is going on.  When we choose to do something or not to do something it is wrapped around every other thing in our world.  Our responses to life do impact our own meaning.

The movie's website describes the movie: "When men in prison join with victims of crime to create a mural about healing, their views on punishment, remorse, and forgiveness collide. Attempts to find consensus repeatedly stall. But as the participants move deeper into the creative process, the mistrust begins to give way to moments of common purpose and human contact. The film raises important questions about crime, justice and reconciliation and illustrates the role that art can play in facilitating dialogue about difficult issues. In a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, there are no easy answers, but Concrete, Steel and Paint points to the need for fresh ideas and new approaches to criminal justice and corrections."  from - http://www.newdaydigital.com/Concrete-Steel-Paint.html

This movie reveals a bold courage that lives inside a group of prisoners and victims in the city of Philadelphia.  In what is nothing less than a miracle, a group of prisoners decides they want to make create art with and for the people of the surrounding neighborhoods.  Their art is about letting people know that they are aware of their crimes and the horrible anguish those crimes have inflicted on the victims.  They are trying to make contact with the world outside.  The movie documents the struggle the victims have in coming to terms with the idea of even having to listen to the voice of the prisoners, let alone create some common work.  It is like watching two creatures move slowly, blindly toward each other; two creatures that are relying on echolocation to find their bearings and gain access to each other.

It shows people leaning into something that seems beyond comprehension; beyond mere belief.  These prisoners are wrestling with their desires for reaching out, through their bars with an offering of peace.  They are extending an olive branch. These victims and advocates for victims are wrestling with whether they are able to reach out and receive.  In the laying aside of their impulse (that we all share) to do absolutely nothing to bring about dialog, they have found engagement, expression, and emancipation. It was not easy.

Everything in us squirms at the idea of even bringing these two groups together.  Our daily lack of hope prods us into believing that these things will never happen. Prisoners should not be in contact with victims. It keeps us frozen in a land where they never will. But here, against all odds, against all belief these people - no different from you and I - take an immeasurable risk and find restitution, restoration, and redemption.

Pain is not removed, but suffering is somehow turned to a tolerable grief at what it means to live among divergent feelings, complex structures of belief, and untold human weakness and agony. It feels like the same sullen ambiguity that brings an odd homeostasis while reading Anne Frank or Victor Frankl. Suffering is somehow different when it is opened to another. It is not necessarily removed, but showing your wound somehow does diminish the sting.

True art is able to move you from living in your head to living in your heart; helping you return there again and again. Perhaps to a different locale, but always to the heart.This movie is not only about art that moves you, it is itself art that takes you beyond the simple constructs of artistic expressionism and demands you feel for the complex strands in life that are not only contradictory, but needed. The strands that are opposed, but strands that will be woven into one fabric. That fabric is our precious human community. It is art within art; reminiscent of a "trompe l'oil" border.

The artful foray into engagement, expression, and emancipation that Cindy Burstein and Tony Heriza have taken has all the feel of an archetypal shift.  Their trust that there is something deep, primal, and unsettling  hidden in this story has caused a shudder in the rift between the "us and them" axis.  They have proven again that we can trust the process; that art, dreams/desires, and the unconscious are equally apart of therapeutic catharsis and mending. What they have done here to capture something astounding is itself impressive.

You have got to see this movie.  You can stream it live, buy it or check out one of the showings at:


This movie should change the way we look at prison, reform, and reconciliation.  It is a remarkable tale that religious and civic institutions  should pay attention to.  Societal groups that have held themselves to be "change agents" in the past could learn volumes about the nature of simplicity and risk in the process of bringing healing to the human spirit.

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