This Fall I was invited to conduct an 8-week pilot project, Life Through Art, at Community Matters Toronto, which would combine an art therapeutic approach with CMT’s own democratic ‘circle’ technique. In this respect, I was not so much an art therapist as I was one community member among many, contributing a unique skill towards the benefit of the group. I also found myself following CMT’s motto, “Neighbours Helping Neighbours” quite literally, in that the meetings took place on the first floor of the building I live in!
Although cultural specificity was not a factor in our intake procedures, our group in the end consisted strictly of South Asian women – an inquisitive and creative bunch at that! It was therefore exceptionally helpful to have had Surabhi Khare as my co-facilitator. In addition to being a proud Indian woman herself, Surabhi heads up the Healthy Living program at CMT and is one of the friendly faces that will likely act as your guide should you stumble into the CMT office at 260 Wellesley. And as not many know, she also holds a PhD in Psychology from BHU; this background helped to inspire her interest in working collaboratively with me on the art therapy project. Her assistance in running the group proved invaluable: first of all it allowed participants to express themselves freely in their mother tongue, Hindi. (Haven taken a year of Hindi at U of T, I learned a lot by listening to the often vivid exchanges that took place!) To boot, she was an indispensable translator of cultural references, in both directions. In fact, working together was such an enjoyable experience that I have come to believe strongly in this coupling as a general model (one art therapist, one member from group’s parent culture) for running art therapy sessions with specific cultural groups.
The concept behind the group itself was to improve one’s sense of well-being in everyday life. We opened many of the sessions with a mindfulness-based meditation, and tried to fold the gentle energy this inspired into the attention we brought to the following work. One week members of the group worked on personal mandala designs, with a view to illustrate their interior world. The cultural resonance of the activity produced some fantastic and beautiful results, with shared cultural symbols working as vehicles for self-expression and healing. Even playing with plasticine, which we did on our very first session, seemed to pick up something of a deeply spiritual quality which I could not quite put my finger on.
But however profound, there is no doubt that the most therapeutic element to this class was LAUGHTER! No class went by without giggles galore, and while much of this happened in Hindi, it was amazing to watch these women find so much to be joyous about in the space provided. Of course, the art was responsible for a lot of that – and observing the group allowed me to tailor activities towards the connective social processes that clearly motivated so much sharing. One week I resolved to try portraiture – potentially a very awkward exercise, as it involves such intimate interaction with your partner! Sure enough, hilarity ensued! Although wonderfully, the end of this class consisted of a serious reflection on how much more the women came to notice about each other by looking in this non-habitual way. The birth of beauty!
A big shout out and thanks to all those who participated!