• Andy Cohen

Considering The Join


Kintsugi (translated as “Golden Join”) is a 16th Century Japanese tradition, where broken pottery was mended with lacquer and gold to enhance the site of the break. This fascinating practice is thought to have originated by Japanese Emperor Shogan Ashikaga Yoshimasa who sent a broken tea bowl to China for repair. When it returned however, the bowl was held together with ugly staples and so the Emperor decreed that a better, more aesthetic mending option be developed. And so Kintsugi was born. Here, instead of finding a way to restore the object to its previous form, the traumatic history of the object was (in a way) now celebrated. This embraces the idea that disruptions and breakages should be illuminated and highlights the cultural appreciation that the item is actually more beautiful for having been broken. This idea that the flaw is now part of the object’s history, considers the therapeutic idea that our pain and internal brokenness occupies the same space as growth potential.

With this in mind, as an Art Counsellor who uses art processes to explore emotional spaces with my clients, one of my favorite processes to facilitate in sessions is inspired by this process: Recently I worked with a group of nursing staff at a prominent JHB hospital. Each participant was given a 'patient' to work with in the form of a broken piece of pottery and was tasked with 'joining' the pieces of the object, with Kintsugi principals in mind. The participants were provided with glue, glitter and a range of mending materials and were encouraged to think about the mending process in relation to how they approach the brokenness in others. The process evoked intense debate around individual approaches to fixing what is broken, what is within our capacity to fix versus what is not and realistic expectations about what can be physically and emotionally done while others are in their care. What I found very moving was how a piece of broken ceramic had the profound ability

to stir up the individual’s primal needs to fix what felt broken in themselves and how the breaks were as important as the site of the join.

Inevitably, once an object is broken, it can never be the same again. For example a broken teapot, once repaired can never hold boiling water safely again. So now, it absolutely needs to become something new. Similarly, emotional damage permanently changes us from the inside. And while we are all driven by a deep need to repair that which feels broken in us, this change however, does not need to be fixed in a seamless, invisible way. With the help of the right kind of therapeutic intervention, emotional damage can be embraced as a golden scar to be understood and worn proudly. It speaks to the therapeutic principal that it is in our suffering that meaning can be made and urges us to consider that damage has a silver (or rather gold!) lining.

Post Written by Andy Cohen- Community Art Counsellor and practicing Artist To enquire about a session please contact Andy Cohen


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