Art, activism, and advocacy with TASSC founding member Sufi Laghari

Author, advocate, and survivor Sufi Laghari, whose portrait is featured in Portraits of Resilience at Phillips@THEARC (on view through July 29), discusses his experience being a part of the exhibition.

Jonathan Banks, Munawar “Sufi,” Pakistan, 2019, Photograph, Courtesy of the artist.

It was March 1997 when I moved to Washington, DC from New York. For the past 25 years, I have been a political activist, advocate and arts enthusiast. Although I knew The Phillips Collection, I hadn’t heard about Phillips@THEARC in Southeast DC until Jonathan Banks asked me to attend an opening event for Portraits of Resilience. The photo series features images of survivors of torture from around the world.

I’m honored to be a part of the exhibition, particularly because I am one of the founding members of Torture Abolition Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) and could speak about my activism and advocacy at the opening. I shared my experience walking 350 miles from New York to DC for human rights and climate change and announced that I would walk 263 miles from Toronto to Ottawa as part of an advocacy campaign for the US Congress, Canadian Parliament, international community, think tanks, and universities.

It was a unique experience to be on a panel with other survivors and artists. I reflected at the event that art is a great source of inspiration for human dignity and liberty from slavery. Activism and advocacy are other forms of struggle against any dictatorship, racism, or oppression. The Phillips Collection gives voice to the voiceless people.

Sufi’s book is available for purchase in the Phillips’s gift shop.

TASSC founding member Sufi Laghari reflects on knowledge, wisdom, and talent

Author, advocate, and survivor Sufi Laghari, whose portrait is featured in Portraits of Resilience at Phillips@THEARC (on view through July 29), shares an excerpt from his book, Glimpses of the Beloved.

It is very important to understand which part of life knowledge, wisdom and talent comes from.

Whatever we read or learn increases our knowledge. As Aristotle says, “All human beings, by nature, desire to know.”

The cover of Sufi Laghari’s Glimpses of the Beloved.

Benjamin Disraeli was a British statesman, politician, and served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He wrote “To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge.” We should work tirelessly to get rid our ignorance. We shouldn’t be proud of our ignorance, for this lack of awareness would lead us to darkness and all our efforts would be in vain. This beautiful quote by Confucius further clarifies my point. “When you know a thing, to hold that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it—this is knowledge.”

What is wisdom? As Khalil Gibran writes, “Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself,” so wisdom will remain wisdom as long as it is consonant with nature and has love for humanity. Mahatma Buddha says, “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk through the maze of human life one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”

Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” As one wise man said, “When we get knowledge after learning very hard and bitter experience gives one wisdom; nature will bestow upon us talent.” If I try to summarize wisdom of all wise men I have quoted: knowledge comes from learning, wisdom from experiences, and talent by nature.

Knowledge, wisdom, and talent have equally contributed to the development of the world. Scientists, philosophers, lawyers, poets, teachers, thinkers, statesmen, scholars, and prophets have all contributed equally.

Sufi’s book is available for purchase in the Phillips’s gift shop.

Facing the Climate Crisis with Open Hearts and Resilient Spirits

The Rev. Rob Hardies co-facilitated Nature|Spirit|Art with Dr. Joshua Shannon, Professor of Contemporary Art History at the University of Maryland. Rob is a Unitarian Universalist preacher, teacher and activist. From 2001 to 2020 he was senior minister of All Souls Church in Washington.

My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.

I returned often to these words by the poet Adrienne Rich during the recent Phillips workshop, Nature|Spirit|Art: Personal Resilience in the time of Climate Change. In the workshop, we used meditation, small group discussion, and creating and looking at art to explore practices that can keep us resilient and engaged as we face the climate crisis.

Workshop participants reflect on their experiences during the last session of Nature|Spirit|Art

Rich’s words touch on two such practices: acknowledging and grieving our climate loss, and committing to collective climate action. As Rich suggests, these practices are not unrelated: When we acknowledge and tend to it, our grief can lead us into compassionate connection with the Earth and with others, creating bonds of solidarity and common cause for action. At the Phillips, we considered the link between grief and collective action by studying and contemplating Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series.

Grief, of course, is the flip-side of love. Our climate grief points us back to our love and gratitude for life on Earth. Finding ways to stay connected to our gratitude is another critical resilience practice. A highlight of the workshop for me was when we took a slow, meditative walk through the Phillips’ neighborhood. A storm had just passed through and everything glistened with fallen rain; the air was alive with that post-storm freshness. Some passers-by found my slow pace and curious gaze puzzling, but the walk helped me see with grateful new eyes a neighborhood I’ve called home for more than twenty years.

Workshop participant Joe’s self-portrait, taken during a rainy walk and inspired by Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Self-Portrait as a Tree, 2000

In the end, open-heartedness emerged for me as the overarching theme of our workshop. The enormity of the climate crisis threatens to isolate and paralyze us. But if we keep our hearts open to our grief, love, and gratitude, then we can remain resilient and engaged as we struggle on behalf of life on Earth.