Thu | Jun 4, 2020

Laura's Paddlin' Spirit - Sculptress reveals past sexual trauma in documentary

Published:Friday | January 11, 2019 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small/Gleaner Writer
Laura Facey (right) engages with students from the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. From left: Joni Gordon, Yulanah Mullings and Sakaila Williams following a screening of the documentary ‘Paddlin' Spirit’ at Palace Cineplex.
Amanda Sans Pantling, producer of ‘Paddlin’ Spirit’ (second left) has the full attention of (from left): Dr Michael Abrahams, sculpture Laura Facey and Ishtar Grovia.

Described as transformative and a visionary, Laura Facey has created monumental artwork that will undoubtedly remain prominent in the hearts and minds of Jamaicans for decades to come.

Regardless of the controversial unveiling of 'Redemption Song' in Emancipation Park in 2003, which left her momentarily regretful and questioning her purpose, Facey was catapulted into the realm of lauded sculptors. But that controversy was not the only hill the artist had to traverse. To become the fully open and expressive creator she is today, Facey has had to address the trauma of past sexual abuses.

Paddlin' Spirit, a documentary written and directed by Amanda Sans Pantling, explores how Facey's artwork and her healing from past sexual abuse are intricately connected. Last Thursday, the documentary was screened at the Palace Cineplex in Sovereign Centre to a rapt and receptive audience. Produced by Nice Time Productions, the 2016 documentary has been screened in approximately 10 film festivals, including the trinidad+tobago film festival 2017, the Toronto Caribbean Tales International Film Festival 2017, and Directed By Women In Spain 2017. Paddlin' Spirit won the Best Documentary Award at Festival La Fila, Spain, in 2017.

With years of journalistic experience in war-torn Darfur, West Sudan, Sans Pantling's films often focus on social, cultural and artistic issues. She wrote and directed Songs of Redemption, a feature-length film about the rehabilitation of inmates in our Kingston prison. She also recently wrapped a documentary focused on the violence-stricken Denham Town.

"There's plenty of films that talk about sexual violence. There are several ways of approaching it. I approached it once from the point of view from the trauma. In this case, I decided to do it through the healing - even when she shares for the first time to the society that she's been raped," Sans Pantling said.

The documentary examines Facey's ability to compose the pains and tragedy of slavery as reflected in her works, drawing a parallel with the inner turmoil caused by her abuse.

"All the weeks I spent with her, she really opened up, so I had way more information than was showed in the film. I wanted the audience to discover an artist. I wanted to be very subtle. At the very end, you see it's a portrait of the artist Laura Facey. Her art has been an important process for her healing. So, instead of giving the details of her sexual abuse, we chose to explain how her art speaks about that part of her life," Sans Pantling explained.

Facey said that though the film does not go into the finer details of the incident she hopes that acknowledging it will encourage others to do the same.

"I felt it can be used as a tool. It can be an opener for a conversation. That was the purpose of this film," Facey said.