Art helps survivors of domestic violence heal
Women recovering from the trauma of domestic violence have been finding hope and healing in the creation of paintings for an upcoming exhibition at MLC Gallery in Newtown.
West Connect Domestic Violence Services joined forces with art educator Miriam Cabello to offer the women from its refuges in the Nepean, the Blue Mountains, and the Blacktown and Hills districts 10 days of art therapy over 10 weeks.
The workshops were designed to assist the women to explore their creativity, express their thoughts and feelings, and find strength in their journey as survivors.
The women’s final works will be exhibited in the #141hours + #10days Domestic Violence Survivors Exhibition in November to coincide with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) and the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which follow it.
“The women taking part had little to no experience in painting,” said Ms Cabello, “yet after only a handful of workshops they’d developed powerful, symbolic messages of courage and survival.”
Some, like Maggie, aimed to break society’s taboo on extreme abuse and the silencing of voices. Others, like Rebecca, depicted light as a source of support and water as cleansing and uplifting – carrying away all the negativity they’ve experienced.
Merry* planned her ideas in detail before she put her crayons and acrylics to canvas hoping to “express the dark reality of abuse in the brightest colours [because] abuse must not be ignored”.
She said she wanted to depict a naked woman with multiple faces to show the dissociative affects of complex trauma.
“A smiling face would be up front as I am continually told how much I smile. I smile now because I have more freedom due to ongoing long-term counseling. I smiled before as a mechanical reaction to keep safe, so a smile is important to me. The other faces will represent terror, grief, desolation, shame, deadness.
“In the woman’s abdomen will be a black hole, I want to give it depth and a vortex feeling to show the visceral nothingness that trauma brings.”
Several workshops later, having completed her painting, Merry said, “I experienced freedom to explore and express the total mind, body and spirit invasion of complex trauma and I feel strengthened and lightened by this process. I am proud of my art work and I have moved forward in my healing journey.”
Ronnie said the workshops helped her take another step forward in healing mind, heart and soul. “The thought of producing a piece of artwork for others to see was originally daunting and out of my comfort zone but, with encouragement and patience, I found myself in a quiet therapeutic space expressing my thoughts on canvas.”
Natasha described the workshops as a gift: “The therapy taught me a lot about myself and the creative process and how I was able to create a healthy space for my life.”
Sharron has worked in the field of domestic violence for over 30 years and has her own personal experience with abuse. She said, “I watched traumatised women place their emotions on canvas and heal a bit more with each brush-stroke. Miriam’s gentle guidance and encouragement facilitated this recovery in each participant. What a beautiful way of moving forward this has been.”
Ms Cabello, whose art grows from a passion for the Civil Rights movement, describes #141Hours + #10days as a social innovation awareness and engagement workshop.
“Each workshop uses art as a healing force,” she said, “reviving the parts of the self that were silenced in order to survive the violence, and renewing a sense of possibility and agency.
“The exhibition honours the courage and creativity of the women involved.
“It also highlights the necessity for law reform and funding that is desperately needed for domestic violence refuges.”
In 2017, 45 women were killed through domestic violence and it is the leading cause of death, disability and illness among women aged 15 to 44 years of age.
The message from victims, employers and organisations that deal with domestic violence is that people who have experienced domestic violence need more support in the workplace.
The exhibition title highlights the #141Hours the exhibition will be open, and the #10 days of paid domestic violence leave that the ACTU, the Greens and the Labor Party want legislated as a workplace entitlement available to all employees.
*Pseudonym used to protect the survivor.
#141hours + #10days is at MLC Gallery, 5 Eliza Street, Newtown, from November 10 to December 10, 2018.