Eco-Human Theory and Practice
ISSN 2713 – 184x
Eco Art Therapy
Ecological Education
The "Green" Arts
Home \ Актуальное \ Martin Zavala, Odette Vélez, Monica Prado, Ximena Maurial. TO MOISTEN THE HEART: REFLECTIONS FROM COMMUNITY ART

Martin Zavala, Odette Vélez, Monica Prado, Ximena Maurial. TO MOISTEN THE HEART: REFLECTIONS FROM COMMUNITY ART

« Back


*reprinted with permission from “POIESIS: A Journal of the Arts and Communication”, 2024, Vol. 21, P. 20-34

Martin Zavala

Martín Zavala Gianella

Co-founder and teacher at TAE Peru institute. Studied in expressive arts and social change at the European Graduate School, in psychology at the University of Barcelona and at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. He has participated in various programs to promote community health, and has published several papers.


Odette Amaranta Vélez Valcárcel

Teacher at TAE Peru institute and the European Graduate School. PhD candidate in expressive arts therapy at EGS. Studied in education at the University of Barcelona and in psychology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Poet and writer, Odette accompanies learning, creation and healing processes through the expressive arts and Bach flowers. She has taught at several universities in Peru. Author of poetry books, co-author and editor of books on education. 

Mónica Prado

Mónica Prado Parró

Co-founder and teacher at TAE Peru institute. Studied in expressive arts therapy at the European Graduate School and clinical psychology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. She is a Movement Analyst from the Laban Bartenieff Institute of movement studies and works as a therapist, supervisor and teacher in expressive arts therapy with emphasis on movement.

Ximena Maurial

Ximena Maurial MacKee

Co-founder and teacher at TAE Peru institute. Studied in expressive arts therapy at the European Graduate School. Graduate in clinical psychology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and is training as a psychoanalyst at the Sociedad Peruana de Psicoanalisis. Works in private practice with children, adolescents and adults.


Authors of this essay recognize themselves as living in a particularly difficult time for peaceful coexistence between countries, cultures and with nature. Presenting themselves as part of this system and complex fabric, they ask themselves about a way to live healthily in a hostile environment. They describe the experiences of faculty, students, and alumni at Estudios en Artes Expresivas (TAE) in Lima, Peru, in hosting creative activities. They welcomed the events present in their reality by making art in community, to imagine different ways of responding to it. They know that the arts and their vitality allow them to respond to what they have experienced and bring them closer to beauty. Arts are part of human nature. In them human beings find the possibility of transforming pain and responding aesthetically, in community.

Keywords: expressive arts, expressive arts therapy, Quechua, aesthetic response, community art, Agwa sukur


I long for fresh air. The dawn, the sunset, the tides, the cycles of the moon, nature and its presence, the ancient stones, the green leaves, desert-forest-beach-mountain, foods, fruits and their aromas, taste; all of this reminds me that we inhabit this world shrouded in mystery, that there is something that transcends the horns, the blows, the everyday lies. I long to escape from this asphyxiation although I know that I too pollute the air that we breathe, because my exhalation—my response and actions as part of this society—cannot be simply a filter that helps purify the air we breathe.

[9, p.261]

In the last four years, many events have impacted our lives in a special way. The pandemic left millions of people grieving and revealed the precariousness and business of health systems. The war, first in Ukraine and later in Gaza, demands the imposition of force in favor of particular interests and values. Climate change reached emergency scenarios worldwide with the highest temperatures recorded to date. The earthquakes in Turkey and Syria left thousands of dead and revealed premeditated failures in the construction of houses. Various far-right movements came to power in Latin America and in Europe, among other impacts.

Within this panorama, in Peru we live in a particular situation of enormous instability, with recurring disrespect for laws and rights, and with poor defense of the lives of the citizens. There have been six presidents in the span of five years. Mafias and misgovernment. During this time, waves of protests broke out across the country to express disapproval of the attempts to break the democratic system. We have been experiencing social despair for months. Marches and countermarches. Fifty people killed for no reason. Directly shot. Deaths that receive no regret or sorrow from any state institution.

We coexist in a system that imposes violent forms of relationship between human beings and the world. It seems that human life–and all life in general–is no longer a right nor considered sacred. In our country, as well as in the world in general, a way of relationship has been established where justice or treating each other well does not predominate.

How does this violent context impact us? How does it become present in our bodies and psyches, minds and souls?

Sometimes our body shakes and speaks. Various symptoms and pains emerge: muscle tension and contractures, insomnia, dizziness, loss of focus, chronic fatigue, breathing difficulties, among others. The body resents it. Difficult emotional states arise: apathy, indifference, bad mood, pessimism, frustration, sadness, helplessness, fear, guilt, anger. Sometimes we pretend not to feel anything. We become as if we were deaf and dumb. We hide our feelings or deny them by acting as if everything is fine. We anesthetize ourselves to survive and continue walking. We bite our own hostility, that which we receive daily in the streets of our city, that which inhabits us and inhabits the world, that which sleeps with us every night.

Other times, we express what we feel: we breathe deeply, we talk, we write, we cry, we scream, we smash our emotions against someone or against ourselves. We react to what we experience. Excess appears, the possibility of abuse and damage: the transgression of the limits of coexistence. The aggressive tendency, an innate and autonomous instinctive drive in human beings, constitutes the greatest obstacle that culture stumbles on [3]. Violence takes up space, hits us and nests within us. We debate whether to hide what we feel or express it, sometimes violently. Sooner or later, all that darkness disturbs us and intoxicates or poisons our bonds. What to do with those emotions to get out of this violent circle and how to respond to this reality with a different language?

I breathe in the same air as does my country, and that inevitable transfusion causes me to become that from which I seek to distance myself. How should I respond to my everyday surroundings if I wish to live using a different language, a language devoid of that harshness? Breathing in violence affects my perception, and so I see only that which is violent. Where does one find eyes for beauty when living amidst gunshots? [9, pp. 259-260]

We recognize that our environment shapes us because we are part of the system in which we live, we are within the cultural fabric that we build daily. And, at the same time, we also know that we can respond imaginatively and creatively to this difficult context.

But isolating and oppressive walls do not extinguish the light of human reason, much less if it has had centuries of exercise; nor do they extinguish, therefore, the sources of love from which art springs. Within the isolating and oppressive walls, the Quechua people, quite archaized and defending themselves with dissimulation, continued to conceive ideas, creating songs and myths. And we well know that the isolating walls of nations are never completely isolating. They threw me over that wall, for a time, when I was a child; They threw me into that abode where tenderness is more intense than hate and where, for that very reason, hate is not disturbing but a fire that drives us [1].

As Arguedas mentions, the arts come from a vital source that allows us to respond to what we have experienced and brings us closer to beauty. They are part of human nature. In them we can find a great strength that opens the possibility of transforming pain and responding aesthetically in a community, as the Quechua people have done for millennia, like many other ancestral cultures.

Within our field we give place to images that come from artistic practice. These creative actions are expressed by longing to recognize the enchantment of the world. Our work as expressive arts facilitators makes sense when we go in search of those images. Our challenge is to persist on the path of inviting ourselves to move the imagination individually and collectively.

The vitality of the imagination is frequently experienced within groups and communities that are given the freedom and support to create. The community of creation is an energizing force that acts upon the people within it. As the Romantic poets observed, the life of imagination is furthered by an environment where flying sparks” pass amongst people and ignite new ideas. This interactive and participatory dynamic also occurs within the individual imagination. The community of creation that we discover in the company of other people exists within ourselves. [8, p. 23]

Faced with this complex landscape, in March 2023, about to start a new academic year in our school of expressive arts, we saw the need to embrace this challenging context and we put it at the center. We decided to respond aesthetically, to imagine multiple ways to go through that moment, to foster new expressions to continue with life. The educational space allowed us to meet as a community and, thus, recognize the hostility in which we live and also discover something different, perhaps hope and peace, guided by the arts.

Community art

One of the first activities at the beginning of the academic year at TAE Peru is the Community Art. Generally, we leave the city and the urban environment, meeting in spaces where nature predominates. We make art in community with current year students, alumni who wish to participate, and the team of teachers. Together, we put community artistic creation at the center of the learning experience offered. The community art allows us to respond artistically to the natural environment, accepting different ways of doing so. In this experience, we learn and feel together, in connection with the images that arise.

This kind of community art has the objective of strengthening the resilience of the community to establish and retain well-being… One could also say, metaphorically, that community art is designed to strengthen the immune system” of the community, so that members, or member clusters, can respond early to conflicts before they escalate. [5, p.213]

This time, as in some previous years, the social and political reality, with its overwhelming presence, was included. Not bringing these facts to the community of students was to ignore the reality in which we live, risking to leave it aside, disregarding it. Given the social circumstances mentioned above, we intended to remember the pain that what we experienced caused us. To name it. To look at it. To give it a place. To not avoid the sadness and frustration of living in the midst of so much violence. To recognize, in the midst of this, our privileged situation. To moisten our hardened heart tired of so much war. Giving flowers to sorrow. Responding creatively to sustain ourselves as a community. To evoke a song. Singing and dancing in choir. Having a space to purify what contaminates the soul, giving ourselves time to flow between sounds.

As Ellen Levine reminds us:

‘When human beings find themselves in dire straits” situations, the experience of the capacity for making or shaping, for taking action and feeling effective, is lost. It is precisely the task of expressive arts to bring individuals, groups and communities back into the experience of poiesis, the capacity to take effective action in the world… By engaging in the art-making process and by shaping works that have a life of their own –songs, dances, paintings, poems, plays, stories–human beings are also taking part in the fundamental work of being human’ [6, pp. 37-38].

Image 2 heart bowl

Upon arriving at the place, we created an altar. In the center of the space, on a hand-woven Andean blanket, we placed a white stone heart immersed in a small container of water. We moistened the heart of stone. We accompanied the center with three whistling vessels, that whistle and share their sound when the water inside of them slowly moves. Eight bowls of water allowed some rose petals to float. On the columns of the place, we hung several photographs of the recent protests and rallies in our country. Rose petals were offered at the foot of them. The work setting, surrounded by gardens and trees, was ready to receive us: ‘The communal artwork can touch or move the community members. All the senses are engaged, and therefore the art-work makes sense in its beauty’ [5, p. 217].

Then all the participants arrived and, after welcoming them and making a brief introduction, we began to invoke water by singing an indigenous song, an ancient and traditional song from the northern Andes of our country. A song in Quechua – Agwa sukur / Succor water –, a language that none of us understood. A song that is sung at the baptism of girls and boys from that region of the Andes, a moment of gathering to share and celebrate life. We chose a traditional and ritual song of the life cycles. To be born again –among the ashes–. To receive a baptism. Music, singing and dancing to continue being. Community melodies and rhythms. We invoked the soul of water, that mother who wets us and cleanses us, so that she can succor us from so much pain.

Image 4 heart bowl wide shot

Chart of lyrics PNG

At the beginning, we learned and sang a part of this song. This song talks about the importance of being present, of having come just like that” –as we are–, without forgetting the time we have been. We sang without trying to understand each of its verses but simply being held by its essence, its form, its tones, its rhythm, recognizing its intention for the community.

From different angles of the place, we could all read the lyrics of the song Agwa sukur written in Quechua on cardboard. Since it was a language that we did not know, we decided to write a phonetic guide under each verse, to know how to pronounce each word. Little by little, as we sang, we discovered its sound. We sang together, pronouncing unknown words that twinned us. The song began to emerge as a weave. We were guided by the sound and the certainty of being a choir: we were not singing alone; all the voices were together. A large circle of beings holding the melody. Time stopped. The photographs of what happened, just two months before, in the protests in our country, witnessed our singing. There, in the middle of nature, were these images, as responses of pain and vitality, showing the hostile environment we inhabit.

Image 1 altar

Then, in a next step, we took a moment to walk, to recognize the images and to respond with postures of our bodies to the movements and actions that they showed us. Little by little, our bodies responded with movements of their own to the actions that these images presented. Afterwards, we joined the different body postures explored to create movement phrases. Each of us let the body and its movements guide our walk and gradually invite us to dance, giving rise to a choreography.

Image 8 dance 3

Then we formed four groups that would cross the space from four opposite directions. Each group, from a different corner, began the final choreography. Thus, with our own dance, we moved from one corner to another, mingling, coming closer and apart from other, each time. We moved forward. We retreated. While the choir sang and the constant rhythm of drums sustained the dance, we moved, leaving one spot to reach another. Between sounds and bare feet, we sang in Quechua. Between movements and displacements, we were seen by the environment and its images. The movements chanted in their own language. The intensity of what we experienced left us touched, in silence. When we finished, we lay down on the floor to breathe and rest.

Inhaling and exhaling what we experienced together, supported by the floor, accompanied by the serene sounds of the whistling vessels, was important. Afterwards we slowly rejoined, and we had individual time of free writing in the garden to share what we experienced in small groups. Finally, we made a large circle for each group to poetically name the resonances of the community experience.

According to Knill [5], in the improvisations of a community art, new connections are made, we enter a practice ‘…until the whole ensemble becomes one connected company’ (p. 214). Thus, in our community art we were a choir and an ensemble of dancers who responded to images of pain, creating new images of connection and togetherness. We released our song of hope to the wind so that we could then find new words that allowed us to contain the experience of inhabiting our suffering country. Through art, we created a new way of intertwining and, at the same time, of being a community. In that sense, we didnt get lost, and we had a safe place to get to. We created together food for the soul” because every creative experience is concrete and at the same time close to the soul in its emotional resonance.

Image 10 Second dance 2


Image 11 rest

Beauty emerged from our chants, from our encounters and crossings in dance. New views, resonances and contacts appeared. We did not change reality but we did respond to it aesthetically. We learned a new language, which implied a cognitive commitment and, at the same time, we danced together, which implied a commitment of our bodies in movement, and we inevitably resonated emotionally. All our senses were engaged.

Image 12 writing

Songs of water: resonances in community

Wherever a work of art is given and received in an authentic manner,
a community springs into being.

[7, p.53]

In a context like the current one, coming together to make art as a community is betting on the vitality brought to us by the creation and the authentic presence of all the people gathered together. It is a sensitive encounter where the imagination manifests itself artistically, summoning beauty as hope, bringing us closer to the uncertainty and mystery that life entails. Expressive arts teach us to trust the process. The world appears like this with another face because it has looked back at us. As Atkins and Snyder say [2], the world responds, it stops being an object, and we experience it in communion:

‘…the idea of a skin-encapsulated individual self expands to become part of earth, air, fire, water and all of the other living beings of the world… The word communion” suggests that our interrelationship with the world is both intimate and sacred.’ (p.117)

To build community. To know we are accompanied. To learn together new languages that carry the voices of our ancient culture and our ancestors to create new containment weaves. To recognize pain and its various repercussions on our being. To not become numb and to not ignore our surroundings. To listen to our emotions, to name them and to share them so that they are expressed, and they can find a creative and transformative riverbed. To assume responsibility for responding aesthetically, cultivating the imagination and, above all, responding communally through creative action. To generate a collective resistance that invokes the arts and the forces of nature in community, as indigenous peoples did and do from their ancestral wisdom, to breathe better and to free our voices.

May our songs of wounded hearts and desire for beauty be heard, may we dance with creative force so that the rage that inhabits us does not poison us and instead preserves our vital energy. To moisten and to soften the hardness, the stone shell that forms in us as a way to protect ourselves, to isolate ourselves from such violence. To respond to the harshness of the world without the impetus of omnipotent action or the reluctance of impotent inaction.

The images of our singing and our dance remain inscribed in all the people who participated. The song of Agwa sukur is now impregnated within us and we are impregnated by it. Every time that song arises in our minds, the entire group experience returns to our hearts, moistening it.

where do you come from succor water?

to bless my tired feet

to breathe with us

to ring our memories

and give us joy


I open my arms

I stretch my legs

I move forward

we move forward

in sway

we surrender before you


madrecita agua

protect us from oblivion and indifference

moisten our hearts

with the petals of your heartbeat[1]



  1. Arguedas, J. M. (2024). No soy un aculturado. ( (reviewed: January 19th, 2024)
  2. Atkins, S, Snyder, M. (2018). Nature-based expressive arts. Cultivating an aesthetic response to the world. In S. Atkins, Sally & M. Snyder (Eds.). Nature-based expressive arts therapy. Integrating the expressive arts and ecotherapy. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 115-135
  3. Freud, S. (1986). El malestar en la cultura. Madrid: Alianza editorial.
  4. Inkawasi K. Música y cantos tradicionales de kañaris ( (reviewed: January 19th 2024)
  5. Knill, P.J. (2017). Community art. Communal art-making to build a sense of coherence. In E. Levine & S. Levine (Eds.). New developments in expressive arts therapy. The play of poiesis. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 211-233.
  6. Levine, E. (2011). From social change to art therapy and back again: A memoir. In E. Levine and S. Levine (Eds.). Art in action. Expressive arts therapy and social change. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 31-41.
  7. Levine, S. (2001). Bearing gifts to the feast. The presentation as a rite of passage in the education of expressive therapists. In E. Levine and S. Levine (Eds.): Poiesis. The language of psychology and the speech of the soul. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 43-61.
  8. McNiff, S. (2017). Cultivating imagination. In E. Levine and S. Levine (Eds.). New developments in expressive arts therapy. The play of poiesis. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 21–30.
  9. Zavala, M. (2019). Belleza y contaminación: reflexiones desde la imaginación. In O. Vélez, J.M. Calderón (Eds.). Dolor y belleza. Imágenes desde las artes expresivas en el Perú. TAE Perú, pp. 253-294.

Edited by Martín Zavala and Odette Vélez

Translation reviewed by Natalia Parodi

Reference for citations

Zavala, M.; Vélez, O.; Prado, M.; Maurial, X. (2024). To moisten the heart: Reflections from community artEcopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 5(2). [open access internet journal]. – URL: (d/m/y)

[1]    Aesthetic response of Odette Amaranta, teacher at TAE Perú and at EGS.

About the journal

In accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation on the Mass Media, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) on September 22, 2020, the web-based publication - The peer-reviewed scientific online journal "Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice" was registered (registration number El No. FS77-79134).

“Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice” is the international multidisciplinary Journal focused on building an eco-human paradigm, disseminating eco-human knowledge and technology based on the alliance of ecology, humanities and the arts. Our journal aims to be a vibrant forum of theories and practices aimed at harmonizing the relations of mankind and the natural world in the interests of sustainable development, the creation of Eco-Humanity as a new community of human beings and more-than-human world. The human being is an ecological being, not separate from the world. The Ecopoiesis journal is based on that premise and aims to develop a body of theory and practice within that framework.

The Journal promotes dialogue and cooperation between ecologists, philosophers, doctors, educators, psychologists, artists, musicians, designers, social activists, business representatives in the name of eco-human values, human health and well-being, in close connection with concern for the environment. The Journal supports the development and implementation of new environmentally-friendly concepts, technologies and practices in the various fields of health and public life, education and social work.

One of the priority tasks of the Journal is to demonstrate and support the significant role of the arts in their alliance with ecology and the humanities for the restoration and development of constructive relations with nature, raising environmental awareness and promoting nature-friendly lifestyles.

The Journal publishes articles describing new eco-human concepts and practices, technologies and applied research data at the intersection of humanities, ecology and the arts, as well as interviews and conference reports related to the emerging eco-human field. It encourages artwork, music and other creative products related to eco-human practices and the new global community of Eco-Humanity.