The “healing power” of play

by Kitty Drake in March 2020

Foam’s ‘Play’ issue was shortlisted for Magazine of the Year at the Stack Awards 2019, and in the last week I’ve found myself wanting to return to it. A photography magazine from Amsterdam, it is thick and gloriously colourful — but it’s that theme, play, that makes the issue feel particularly relevant now. Play, the editors write in their opening letter, has “healing power”: there is a “relief that comes from unlocking energy, creativity, and unexpected ghosts”. As we are all now self-quarantining, trapped at home with little to occupy our time, we have more time to experiment with that healing power.

Play is presented here as a way to recover after trauma, or suppression. In one of Foam’s three focus essays, the writer Hinde Haest argues that the fantastical animal characters in Hannah Höch’s Bilderbuch [Picture Book] (1945) can be read as a celebration of regained freedom to create and imagine after Nazi censorship. Höch’s ‘children’s books’ critiqued fascism and normative gender roles under the guise of playfulness. One character lays an egg that ends up killing her dreams; another is born in the wrong colour dress and struggles to express his true nature. Play, Haest argues, is a way for Höch to “imagine alternative scenarios for a world she did not feel she belonged to”; “it is through play we can reinvent a reality outside of ordinary life”.

An unusually funny photography magazine, the highpoint of this issue is a portfolio by Sheida Soleimani, who translates geo-politics into staged sexual encounters. In one collage, Henry Kissinger holds up an oil-smeared diamond ring to the partially nude José María Botelho de Vasconcelos, Angola’s Minister of Petroleum. Another delight is a pull out by Kay Kasparhauser, featuring images of mating lions and a covert CCTV snap of two soldiers snogging.

Central to the issue is the book Homo Luden’s (1938), by Dutch historian Johan Huizinga. For Huizinga, play is the origin of all cultures. At a moment when our culture is changing unrecognisably, the idea that we could use playfulness to forge new ways of living — and to revolt if need be — is oddly comforting.

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