Art liberates socially conditioned limits

art liberates socially conditioned limits lilia tarawa

I spent years of my life in a prison of social constructs. My environment taught me to fear authority and avoid thinking for myself. There were two keys helped free me from repression: Art & Language. They were a one-way ticket out of Gloriavale.

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. – Pablo Picasso

I first learned I was an artist when I was four-years-old. There was a box containing variously coloured geometric foam shapes at my preschool. One day I tipped them out on the floor, sat down and for the next few hours the world disappeared.

Playtime closed out that day, but the teachers allowed me to stay seated on the floor moving the shapes about. After I’d finished the design they praised me for the masterpiece I’d created. They photographed the artwork and hung it on the pin board at preschool. I smiled and puffed out my chest. It was my first big achievement.

lilia tarawa young girl gloriavale

ABOVE: Lilia Tarawa as a young girl

Creative self-expression

After that creativity became very important to me. Our community put on bi-annual concerts for the public, and as a teen I poured my talent into producing choreography for the performing acts. When I discovered computers I spent hours designing programmes, menus, labels and flyers for the organisers to use.

In my late teens I figured it would be a good idea to attend polytech and get a design qualification. But when I went to polytech the only class I enjoyed was art history. I loved the slides showing artworks from the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and other art periods. The way art communicated ideas captivated me. I was fascinated with how thought leaders used art to initiate powerful social movements.

However, feeling unsatisfied with the college curriculum I dropped out and tried my hand in the business world. For a while art took a back seat. But it made a reappearance in my life years later, right after I’d published my first book, Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult. I’d written the book to tell the story of my life born and raised in the repressive religious cult founded by my grandfather.

Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult

ABOVE: Click image to read Lilia’s book at

Gender directed shaming and humiliation

A company saw my story on TV and invited me to give an office-based talk for their staff on the topic of diversity and inclusion. Their committee believed I could bring fresh eyes to workplace bias because I’d lived in a society where men subjugated women.

I told the riveted audience an important story from my youth. My grandfather had humiliated me in front of the 500 members of my community when I was six-years-old. A comment my teacher had jotted on my first school report triggered his outrage. She’d written, Lilia demonstrates leadership skills.

In Gloriavale the men had outlawed female leadership. My grandfather used the school report as an opportunity to teach me a lesson. His excuse for degrading me was that I was a bossy, independent girl whose brothers hated her and whose community rejected women like her.

Re-empowerment through language and art

During my office talk I discussed with the male dominated audience the process used by the leaders of Gloriavale to degrade and exclude people who fell outside their constructed social norm. For example, when my siblings left Gloriavale we stopped using their real names and started calling them ‘sinners’. The leaders ordered us to burn their photographs, then forbade us to pray for them.

I explained how the Nazis used similar techniques to dehumanise the Jewish people. They referred to the Jews as ‘sub-human‘ and depicted them as rats in a variety of media from children’s books to military journals. Art and language initiated a social change that permitted the extermination of an entire group of humans.

At the end of the talk the audience shared their own stories of gender bias at work, home and in social communities. We brainstormed ways to re-humanise gender groups using art and language.

Liberation from social conditioning

Following this discussion I became interested in how art could liberate me from conditioning. I wanted to demolish the walls my social environment had built to imprison my power. I created a Pinterest board dedicated to art and language that vibed affirmation to female capability.

Prints of Marilyn Monroe and Josephine Baker began to appear stuck on the walls of my house. I took out the photograph of my four-year-old artpiece, framed it and placed on my dresser. These artworks symbolised female influencers who empowered themselves.

marilyn monroe make up josephine baker folies bergerewe gonna start the revolution quote

Today I am a social influencer. I raise awareness about gender inequality, racial bias, religious discrimination and other human rights issues. I made a commitment to my four-year-old self, that I will continue to use art and language to liberate myself and others from social limitation. Will you help me keep that promise?

Send me art that liberates victims of inequality by using the hashtag #UNBOUNDED

The men in my community had outlawed female leadership. Click To Tweet

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2 Responses

  1. Kayla says:

    You inspired me to do better in school and in life I hope that one day we will meet in person I live in Louisiana New Orleans so just in case you want to come meet me , love me ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  2. Kayla says:

    And you really are something special

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