Movement/Visual Arts

Fall 2012 Movement/Visual Arts Group
The Bhutanese refugee art therapy group culminated in a large, collaborative tree mural as evidence of the lessons children learned this semester.  Lead Therapeutic Dance movement instructor, Julia Crawford, and Visual Art Therapist Celeste Wade, worked with children this semester on a few key life lessons. During the first few groups, therapists assisted children in accessing their innermost feelings through movement.  Initial words used by children included jumping, falling, or spinning and the movements imitated these words.  

The following week, the same activity was repeated.  This time, children stated real feelings such as tired, happy, sad and excited and their movements were more distinct to these feelings.  This progress led therapists to build on the activity by asking children to continue moving to the music they were hearing but with limited exploration led by prompts.  Through movement, the children explored the ideas of timing (quick--sustained), weight (light--strong), and flow (bound--free).  Children responded well to this activity and as such, the therapists continued this lesson by having children utilize these same ideas but in visual art form.  Children drew colored lines on a mural based on these same prompts - quick timing led children to draw intense lines with many curves, a strong line was drawn thick, and a free-flowing line was drawn loosely over the entire mural.  Continuing the lesson with movement, one at a time children danced over the lines they created, imitating quickness, strength or free-flow.  

The Bhutanese children have responded well to this combination of artistic disciplines since the beginning of the project in August 2011.  Therapists find children are responding and focusing even more when music of the region from which they hail is used. For the remainder of the term, therapists used the metaphor of the tree.  Using art as a metaphor for life lessons is a key component of the BuildaBridge Classroom Model.  

Therapists asked children what makes a tree to grow?  Responses included the sun, water, soil and air.  Using brown pieces of paper on a large mural, children worked together in groups to design the roots of a tree in soil.  When asked what makes them grow, the children described very concretely--food, rest, family, and love from their family.  Using oval pieces of paper, children created seeds for the tree, drawing items that they described makes them grow as a person and in their community.  The trunk of the tree consisted of the children's drawings that illustrated themselves, or who they thought they represented.  

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, children decorated paper cut-out hands with the things they give to others and/or the things they hope for the world.  Common themes were to stop cutting down trees, stop killing animals, trees to help all living things, and plant more trees.  All children were deeply engaged in this experience.  The following group was the culmination of their tree life lesson.  The hand cut-outs were placed on the tree's branches, seeds were 'planted' in the roots and soil at the bottom, and their personal illustrations filled the trunk.  

Movement was used again as children 'watered' each other with a watering can to grow.  Children started out on the floor as seeds, and used movement to slowly grow into a tree (photos of this activity in the album below).  The outcome - a tree mural illustrating the lessons children learned regarding personal growth, self-reflection and their hopes for the future. This last group of the semester ended with a time of celebrating the children's accomplishments and sharing of favorite activities.  The therapists affirmed each child's contributions to the group and for the child's individual progress.  Assistant therapist, Celeste Wade, made note of the children's progress from the first time they had the group to the present and all that they had achieved.  As Ms. Wade's last official group, she thanked the children for their participation and hard work, and explained that she would be back to visit in order for the children to have some closure on her departure.


Visual Art Examples

by Natalie Hoffman


Needle point project with the Iraqi women. The idea was to be culturally sensitive, use media that were more familiar and less threatening, and also the use of a circle as a universal symbol to transcend cultural differences.


Artwork made in one of the Iraqi groups. These women were so independent that often therapists found it best to make art along side the women as a way of bonding and communicating with them. In this way the therapists were more like peers as women as opposed to "therapist" and "client". Communicate was better non-verbally by sharing artwork together.


Still using the circle metaphor. An Iraqi woman chooses to paint a sort of 'family tree'. Each of the falling fruit represented a family member murdered in the war. She stated that she had never made artwork so personal as this and she thanked us for the opportunity.


This is drawing, and the following drawings, were made by three different Burmese boys showing themes of violence and war. All three show either planes dropping bombs, helicopters, and guns shooting.

Similar to the previous pictures. This drawing shows what a boy called "a baby with a rifle". The Burmese children as a whole are polite and quiet children. Children often internalize their trauma (children in Philadelphia seem to externalize it through their behaviors). The arts allow the Burmese children a safe way to express some of this unexpressed trauma.

1 comment:

  1. I live in Nashville, TN and would love to work with a group like Build A Bridge here. Is there a BAB program here? If not, do ya'll know of other programs similar? I'm hoping to use my love for art as a healing tool for immigrants and refugees. I worked with A Window Between Worlds when I previously lived in Los Angeles, CA. I would love any suggestions of how I can join you all in this work from Nashville.
    Lyndy Rutledge