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Meet Hector Aristizabal

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hector Aristizabal.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I was born in Medellin, Colombia in 1960 and was forced by the political violence to exile in the USA in 1989. While in Colombia I worked as a psychotherapist and as a theater director/actor and was involved in the struggle for human rights. Once in Los Angeles I continued working as a therapist and use theater for both healing and activism. In 2000 I founded the non-profit organization ImaginAction Theater Inc as a way to support my work with marginalized communities in Los Angeles and other US cities.

Over the last 10 years, ImaginAction has evolved into an international organization dedicated to using theater as a laboratory to explore alternatives to conflict as well as a way to design healing rituals while working with trauma in war-torn countries.

During the last 5 years, I have been participating in the Colombian peace process by developing theater for reconciliation (TFR). In TFR I combined many of the methodologies that have enriched my work including Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed; Teya Sepinuck, Theater of Witness; Joanna Maci’s: The Work that Reconnects and the work of Michael Meade and the School of Lost Borders working in modern rites of passage.

Please tell us about your art.
I have done theater throughout my life as an actor/therapist/activist. For the last 20 years I have created original plays with diverse communities in Los Angeles and now in many places around the world. Lately, I work mostly with non-actors including people who have never heard the word theater in their lives. I create spaces to conjure imagination through the power of play.

By playing together we remember who we are and re-connect with the fact that it has been through playing that we all learned to walk, to talk, to socialize. Using the symbolic language of theater I invite groups to look at the most dire questions in their lives and reflect on the problems that they don’t know how to resolve. We then create short plays that ask questions using characters that are trying to change the conditions of their lives but can’t succeed during the play. Finally, we invite the larger community, to watch the short plays and become spect-actors by coming into the stage and improvising alternatives to the behaviors they witness in the characters.

In this way, we use theater as a human laboratory to explore alternatives to the issues confronting communities of refugees, people affected by AIDS, Alzheimer; or people fighting for their rights like LGBTQ, homeless, IDP and others. Theater of reconciliation invites communities to engage in the process of creating peace to ask the difficult question of how to reconcile an heal the many wounds that are the consequence of war.

We use theater to listen to each other stories and discover why the “other” also has a life and has the right to exist in this world.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
In the United States, artists have witnessed a decrease in support for our work. Mass culture, mass media, mass consumption are not interested in individual expression except as commodities to be sold and exploited. In schools, the arts have almost disappeared from the curriculum, sending the message to children that beauty and their unique expression are not important.

However, our survival as a species depends on our capacity to connect to the unique gifts and talents inherent to each child born. We all came to the world with medicine that the world needs. When both the structures of nature and the social institutions of culture seem to be collapsing all around us, when human despair and anxiety seem to be rising along with the waters of the sea—this is when art becomes imperative to our survival as humans. Art is the modern term for ritual and ritual is the place where humanity heals. In this moment when our challenges as modern people bring us closer to total annihilation, art can be a powerful antidote, it’s power and beauty moving us back towards a life-giving culture.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
Although my work with ImaginAction has taken me to more than 50 countries in the last 10 years, I still do some work with communities in Los Angeles. Recently I collaborated with The Pasadena Playhouse creating two forum theater pieces with the Latino community. I have also created several theaters of witness plays with The Program for Torture Victims, telling the stories of resiliency and transformation of many of their clients. If people are interested in the work that we are doing they can check our on-going projects, internships and workshops on our web page.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Brian Biery, Luis Benitez

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