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Feature: Therapy can take you back to the future

By Federica Stefani

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Art historian Andrew Stewart Mackay.
Art historian Andrew Stewart Mackay.

Our bonds to the past and to our ancestors can be a powerful driving force in our lives.

And not only can these links be fascinating, they can also provide sense and context to our present and future paths.

This sense of wonder for times gone by comes through particularly strongly when talking to art history expert and writer Andy Stewart MacKay.

A globetrotter for almost two decades, he studied art history at St Andrews – where one of his fellow students was Prince William – and went on to work, teach and write while living in cities such as London, Venice, Paris and Berlin (just to mention a few), as well as New York and Dallas, eventually qualifying and working as a cataloguer at the British Library in London and becoming a family constellations practitioner.

At 40 years old, he took a step towards his own ancestral roots and made Inverness his home.

“My family is from the Highlands, and I have always wanted to return and live here so, when my partner was offered a job at Eden Court, we jumped at the chance and moved in here last autumn,” he said.

“I love Inverness and it’s a great place where I can write.

“My studio is nice and quiet, but I also like the energy here, which is perfect for creative writing, and there is a great community of writers here, with many people doing interesting things. I am glad to be part of it.”

His latest work, The Story of Pop Art, was published in January and explores a variety of aspects of the first post-modern cultural movement and its impact on our culture today.

He said: “I feel like the purpose of this book was to be as inclusive as possible and include as many women artists as possible in a movement that is so often very male-dominated.”

Mr MacKay has already started to get involved in the local community through various activities, including giving a lecture on Pop Art as Queer Art to University of the Highlands and Islands students as part of the Winter Pride programme in FebruaryHe also interviewed local artist Jim Mooney in a talk surrounding his recent exhibition at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.

However, his most recent work digs into a more personal perspective of the past; Mr MacKay is in fact a qualified family constellation practitioner, the latter being a form of systemic therapy that focuses on healing ancestral trauma to treat issues affecting people in the present.

“As a historian and an archivist, and working all over Europe surrounded by ancient buildings, I have always been fascinated by the past and my own family history,” he said.

“Constellations therapy considers the individual not as an ‘island’ but as part of ‘system’; the foundational system being that of the family.

“Out of deep love and loyalty we, as individuals, can unconsciously repeat the traumatic experiences of our ancestors in surprisingly varied ways, and in ways that can adversely affect all aspects of our lives.

“In a constellation session my clients have the opportunity to see their ‘systemic blindspots’ and can acknowledge and honour their ancestors’ experiences, and very respectfully leave those experiences where they properly belong.

“In this way the client both lovingly dignifies their ancestors, peacefully freeing themselves, and those that come after them in the family ‘order’, to live their own lives well.

“I approach the past – and in a sense the future too – in two complementary ways: intellectually through the study of art history and emotionally or spiritually through the practise of constellations.

“Despite their often well-founded elitist or ‘niche’ reputations, for me art history and constellations are both about – and should be about – personal and collective empowerment, and making art history and constellations more accessible is something I want to do in Inverness.

“I am offering a free constellation session to anyone in the Highlands who identifies as queer because, as a queer man, I know that life can be difficult.

“I would also like to start working with charities who work with homeless people as I believe constellations could be beneficial to them.

“I do sessions online too, and I think this is really important to reach people who live in very remote areas, which is often the case in the Highlands.”

n To contact Mr MacKay or for more information on his work, visit www.andystewartmackay.com

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