Thursday, March 19, 2015

Creative Arts Therapy as a means to Rebuild

“When there is peace, you can see it on the faces and in the eyes of children." A.K., a middle-aged man from Iraq, shared this quote about his drawing of children playing around trees.  A.K. noted during his sharing time that the music playing in the background, eased his nerves as he drew.  Read about A.K. here.

Oliver, a man in his young thirties, drew stick figures at an airport about to board a plane to a new land. In describing his image, he discussed his journey of leaving behind his home country and going to new country where he is currently unfamiliar with the language, people and the culture. Overwhelmed by these challenges, he shared with the group that he often thought “maybe I should go back home".  With encouragement from the group and much reflection through his artwork, he felt by the end that the group would be a good place to network and share his story as a survivor of torture.  

As part of BuildaBridge's efforts with the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, creative arts therapists and teaching artists provide art therapy and therapeutic art making groups in the community context for survivors of torture.  The stories of A.K. and Oliver signify the positive outcomes art can have in facilitating hope, healing and resiliency.  BuildaBridge uses creative arts therapy and the therapeutic arts because they are some of the most effective strategies for alleviating symptoms of trauma, abuse and stress through its effects on physiological, brain and hormonal activity. 

In honor of Creative Arts Therapy Week (#CATW2015), we share these stories of the transformative power of the arts through our work with survivors of torture, just one of many different vulnerable populations the organization serves through the arts.

Additionally, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) affirms strategies like the ones BuildaBridge uses.  They note the use of Creative Arts Therapy with survivors of torture by describing Lembe's story.  "Lembe, a torture survivor, wrote her name on a colourful cloth. As part of her rehabilitation therapy, Lembe worked passionately on it, designing a fish, a bird and adding the names of other survivors. “Designing on the cloth helped my creativity,” she said “it allowed me to mentally relax, to learn how to express myself and to forget my daily hardships.”  Read Lembe's story and the UNHCR's article here on art therapy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Does your art send a message?

"This piece reminds me of my village back in the Congo." 
"This painting of nature makes me feel calm."
"That's a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.!  I know who he is!"

Sunday February 22nd BuildaBridge artists and five clients of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR), a collaborative with Nationalities Services Center and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA).  These trips, termed purposeful interventions, assist clients in learning about and engaging in American culture through arts and culture experiences outside of the classroom. In celebration of Black History Month, the group first viewed the exhibit “Represent:  200 Years of African American Art.”  "From compelling stories to innovative methods, Represent explores the evolving ways in which African American artists have expressed personal, political, and racial identity" (PMA).  Artists engaged clients in one-on-one conversations regarding the artwork, how it made them feel, what they thought the art meant, how it was related to events in their own lives and its significance during Black History Month.  Moving to the next exhibit, “Ink and Gold:  Art of the Kano”, large group discussions took place regarding the influence of China on Japanese art.  The fans in particular, each only 10 inches by 5 inches in size, illustrated a different story.  The intricate detail astounded and impressed us all.  One small group discussed the significance of community based on two pieces of artwork that illustrated Japanese villages.  This group reflected on components of communities in their countries of origin and compared it to their current communities in Philadelphia.  Another small group discussed the different elements of nature as depicted in three different paintings and how each painting made them feel.  In this exhibit, the museum provided drawing pads for attendees to attempt a sketch of the paintings.  One client spent a considerable amount of time sketching one nature scene and shared it with the larger group.  By the third exhibit, “American Art from the 18th Century”, clients were engaging other clients in conversations about the artwork, an accomplished outcome of these trips to create community and trusting relationships between clients.

In each of the exhibits, the artwork communicated messages of the artists, the culture of the artists and historical events.  Though conversations occurred between artists and clients and between clients, the real conversations occurred between the artwork and our group.  Our group listened to the messages of the artwork.  We reflected on them individually and collectively. We applied the messages to our own journeys, current situations and future hopes and dreams.

Similarly, Syrian refugees living in Jordan are trying to do the same thing - communicate with their communities and the world about their experiences.  Just as we listened to the artwork on display in a museum, so should we be listening to the crises in our world today through the messages from current artists and how we can make a difference.