It starts with a labyrinth. Theseus the warrior must defeat the Minotaur who dwells in the labyrinth. No one has escaped before, and the Minotaur has devoured countless victims year after year. But Theseus escaped the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne, who gave him a ball of thread which enabled him to navigate a way out. An enduring quality of Greek mythology is that these stories transcend time and space and act as fables for our collective experience. Who hasn’t faced a challenge as tough as a monster? Who hasn’t felt lost, as if alone in the middle of a maze?
Arriving to a new country resembles in many ways the situation that Theseus faces: we are dropped in a new environment, sometimes with all references lost, where we have to fight many monsters at the same time. These might include learning a new language, understanding how we should behave, getting used to a new environment with its different climate, smells and tastes. We must also accept that these variations can mean that we may stick out from the crowd, appear different to those around us. Some of things we take for granted, such as our friends and family, may be gone. We may need to find a new job in a language we have yet to master. Even our hard won qualifications may not be recognized. . Being in a foreign city is very much like being in a labyrinth: not only do we not know where the post office is but sometimes even the way to greet other people alludes us. We don’t know what is thought polite and what is considered rude. We find ourselves in unfamiliar situations, which seem bizarre and contradict our very values, beliefs and understandings. Similarly, being a migrant can find us in need of Ariadne and her ball of thread to guide us through this labyrinth.
In the domain of cross-cultural adaptation research Ariadne’s thread is a metaphor for continuity and the quest for meaning; both powerful motifs in human experience. Continuity links our past to our present, it creates a sense of stability across time and space, much connected to meaning. Meaning is subjective: it doesn’t really matter what it is about – for some it may be about their family, for others their pastimes for others their career. What matters however, is that meaning is connected to the outside environment. We cannot maintain a new life project that does not take into account the external conditions in which we live. For adaptation to be successful the thread must link us to the outside world, just like Theseus we need the thread in order to thrive in our surroundings.
Art interventions enhance our skills of finding this thread in many ways. Art helps us to handle uncertainty and anxiety; it can prepare us for unfamiliar situations by simulating new responses to challenges and making us see connections in new ways. Art also helps to create order; it implies structuring shapes and colours, estimating proportions and creating an individual vision of balance. Finally, art can empower us by making us become actors and creators in the most concrete sense. Art interventions can also give us an opportunity to connect to the outside environment, either through the art form (e.g. photography, film or dance) or by membership of the art group.