There are times when scrolling idly through Facebook can pay off big. On Wednesday I noticed a post about an exhibition in Hobart titled Men With Heart. I clicked on it to find out more and knew immediately that I must go. The pull? Bill used to say "There is so much out there for women but there is nothing for men." This movement had been active in Tasmania for 21 years, commencing the year we departed Tasmania. Most people won't have heard about it because it's been 'underground' for all those years; only now have they decided to venture into the public arena. Obviously Bill wasn't the only man seeing and feeling a need to get together with other men. I was so excited to know this was happening, but so sad to think that it was a little late in coming for him. So I was curious to find out more; to find out what he might have discovered if he'd had the chance. To consider how it might have changed his-story.
I felt a little intimidated as I approached the doorway of the Mawson Pavilion, as there was a group of men standing inside and no women in sight. I asked gingerly if it was okay for me to come inside. Yes, of course! Everyone is welcome! I was greeted warmly with a handshake and a brief overview of the layout and the best place to begin. And so I dived into the world of the TMG (Tasmanian Men's Gatherings). It was a journey of the heart for me, an emotional one. There were tears. There was comfort offered by kind hearts willing to listen as I shared what was happening for me. I was overwhelmed by the privilege of being given these glimpses into the lives of men. I was heart-broken for the men in my life - my father, my son, my partners over time, and friends who I know have felt isolated and alone and have not known how to connect to their hearts or themselves and other men in a way that gave them peace. Where did it all go wrong? When did we lose place for men to gather and to nurture one another without getting pissed or high?
Men are not that different to women once you take off all the gendered conditioning our society loads on them. This idea was presented in one of the videos where men shared their experiences at the gatherings and how it had impacted on their thinking and their lives. Men are human beings with insecurities and fears and the need to be accepted just as they are. Just like women. Just like kids. All human. Musculature might be different but hearts? No.
The photographs, the work of Paul Hoelen, were striking in their rawness and simplicity. The men were real. Some faces smooth and youthful; some wrinkled, deeply carved by the wretchedness of life and the passage of time. All together. Eyes sparkling with the joy of companionship and a sense of belonging. Eyes shining from the souls of these men. Everyday men from all walks of life. Some fathers and sons. Many alone and longing for the companionship of other men before finding their way here. Many isolated in our society where a man is expected to be know what to do. To be strong. To be independent. To get on with things. But these men, the ones in the photographs, have found a way to pause and connect with their hearts through spending time with other men and sharing their stories and their struggles. They are slowly pulling down the facades they live behind in daily life and discovering who they really are, perhaps for the first time. Connecting to themselves. To others. Heart to heart. The photographs convey such tenderness it is almost shocking.
Most of all, this exhibition and the fact that it is happening at all, signals for me the changing times. The time has come for men and women to take a step back and look at where we are at. There has been so much focus on women and their rights. Things needed to change. There is still a way to go. But I wonder if some of the problems women have, especially those problems related to men, exist at least in part because men have become isolated from good male role models who can guide them into being great men who love and know themselves first. I wonder if it is time for men to make it their business to become part of this growing movement to become better fathers, husbands, uncles, sons, partners and friends. Get involved. I hope it signals a time when we might all start to take responsibility for connecting with and supporting one another. Women, support and encourage your men to start this journey to the heart if they are not already on the way. They need it. They do.
If you're in Tasmania and have the chance to get along and experience this exhibition I would strongly recommend that you do. There is the opportunity to make comment by writing on tags and hanging them on the wire fencing on which the photos are displayed.
Fences. We build them around our hearts. It's time for them to come down.
With much love and gratitude to the men who allowed their photographs to be taken and displayed, and to those who spoke their hearts on the videos. You are all champions in my eyes. Gratitude also to Paul Hoelen who gave permission for me to include some photos of his work here for you.
For more information: https://tasmen.org.au/