Out of the mud, the lotus blooms: Women who have experienced violence transform trauma through clay. Intrigued by this title, I attended the 2010 workshop offered by art therapist Suzanne Thomson and sculptor Susan Low-Beer. I first met Suzanne when we were both learning about narrative therapy, an approach to healing that helps people to name problems in their own terms and to respond in ways that are in keeping with their preferred life stories including the hopes, intentions and values they hold most precious. At Out of the mud, Suzanne and Susan explained their work leading an expressive arts group at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. In each eleven-week group, women who have experienced violence create sculptures representing some aspect of their experiences. Each group culminates with an exhibit of the sculptures at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.
To give a taste of the process, Suzanne and Susan guided us in making our own little clay sculptures at the workshop. I loved the sensitive, responsive clay in my hands. Can’t remember exactly what theme we were asked to consider, but it likely had to do with hopes or intentions as I imagined getting my enthusiasm out on the street, and my clay willingly became a series of small buildings along a street. Though I returned my clay at the end of the workshop, the little streetscape remained in me. I felt more whole and more myself. In a small way, I healed. In time, the intentions that inspired the streetscape led to creating this blog, Sane About Town.
Inspired by Out of the mud, I attended the December 2010 Gardiner Expressive Arts Group exhibit, Here we are: bare/witness, where the theme was “home.” The sculptures were colourful and alive. “Inside/Outside” showed a roofless ceramic house where red dripped down the walls and a small figure huddled in an inner room, while an adult and child played on the green lawn outside. “Rock-A-Bye Baby on the Tree Top” was four large colourful ceramic nests. “Home” showed a tiger rearing over a headless woman with a river flowing from between her legs that supported a lotus and an egg from which a serpent emerged; a serene Buddha sat in front. “Juana Sihuita – Memories of Freedom” showed lush mountains dotted with little buildings and animals and nestled among lakes. And so on. Words could never have said so much about the many possible meanings of “home” in the face of violence.
I know from my clinical work that individuals who have experienced violence often experience emotional pain in ways that can be described by one or several psychiatric diagnoses. This may be helpful when seeing a doctor, but, as I have said before, there are many possible ways to name and respond to emotional pain. The sculptures brilliantly demonstrate this.
I do not know any of the women who have been involved in these expressive arts groups, but I have no doubt that creating the sculptures contributed to their healing, just as creating my little streetscape contributed to my own healing. By exhibiting their sculpture publicly, these women also allow all who of us view their work to understand violence and emotional pain in fresh, immediate and complex ways. This public event thus furthers our collective healing from the wounds of violence.
Look at the Gardiner Expressive Arts Group blog post of May 2, 2012 for photos of sculptures created by women participating in the 2011 expressive arts group and featured at the Gardiner Museum exhibit, Consciousness Blooms.
Transformation by Fire is a retrospective exhibit of sculptures created over a ten-year period by women participating in the Gardiner expressive arts groups. The exhibit opens on February 7 at the Gardiner Museum. The program includes a hands-on workshop similar to the one I attended in 2010, lectures by Susan Low-Beer and Suzanne Thomson, and events related to violence and human rights. I’m eager to attend, and will feature the exhibit in my next post.