Art as process
Two years ago, I shared that I was beginning my training in Art Psychotherapy. This is the practice of using art and creativity, both right brain activities, to explore and overcome early memory and experience also stored in the right side of the brain. In Art Psychotherapy art is used as a vehicle to look at, objectively, the unconscious processes displayed in the art made. This practice serves as a way to explore an individual’s unseen reality, or unthought known, by looking at how it may manifest outwardly.
The two years spent studying psychodynamic theory and practically engaging with clients in both community and forensic settings and has been an incredible experience that has led to much understanding of how the unconscious frames our every waking moment. The last few months, in particular, have been a time of intense learning for me and resulted in new outlooks on life. Not simply because I have now completed my master’s but because the learning has begun to inform my day to day life allowing for the containment of psychodynamic training within my spiritual practice. The following articles reflect this learning through the art I produced, public participation and my interaction in other projects. They touch on art’s ability to bring people together, offer therapeutic support and promote positive messages that in turn inform society.
Playing with feeling
The psychoanalyst and artist Adrian Stokes described art therapy as the cake that survives being eaten. Meaning although satisfaction is achieved the cake or work of art remains. In other words, even when an element of destruction occurs there is something of worth and even beauty that continues to exist beyond the initial act of consumption.
To explore this idea further, for my end of year degree show I created a durational installation that explored how art is perceived. I did this by offering visitors an opportunity to create the art on display rather than just observe it. To touch rather than just look.
Using clay as the basis of this experiment visitors were invited to interact with it in whatever way they chose. Hand tools were available in case the cold wet sensation of the clay was off putting and wet wipes if they chose to get their hands dirty. What resulted was a reflection of the ideas, feelings and expression of a number of people who visited the space. The clay served as a blank canvas on which each individual reflected some truth about themselves often unbeknown to them, a free association of sorts.
Clay is a neutral material which responds to touch leaving impressions that remain to testify for those that have passed by. As a metaphor this offers many points of reflection, for example, the dialogue that takes place between strangers who may never meet but respond to each other’s impressions and are changed by the experience.
Art therapy has taught me that we are governed by pure, unconscious processes in ways that elude us. This installation was an opportunity to witness how we are with ourselves and with others.
“‘The Green Deen Project’ aims to reconnect to the integral relationship between nature and the Islamic teachings of spirituality and tending to the Earth. Through deepening our connection with the Earth we deepen our love and relationship with God and the Prophet Muhammad(s). As Muslims, our relationship with the Earth is an integral part of our belief and Divine connection.” – Sakina Le Noir, Co-founder, Rabbani Project
In the Spring I attended a women’s retreat organised by the Rabbani Project called Pearls of Islam. Under the guidance of sisters Rabiah and Sakina, the three day event was a chance to spend time in nature with the intention of seeking nearness to God by retreating from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
It was a time of creative endeavour, using the imagination to consider the sacredness of mundane things in order to cherish and appreciate our Creator through prolonged reflection on what He has created. This in turn, created points of reflection where we were encouraged to consider how Divine Attributes exist in all things.
Singing qasida in reverence of the Prophet and group dhikr was experienced alongside frottage, collage and sketching. Stillness was the key. For in stillness we connected with our inner truth enabling us to see beauty in all things. It was a reminder of God’s love of beauty and how art offers a transactional relationship with beauty through the making and the beholding of it.
More than anything this retreat was a time to connect with like-hearted women and share spiritual endeavour and creative expression. From a therapeutic point of view, companionship encourages well-being as does the ability to express oneself without judgement.
“We are far more united and have more in common than that which divides us.” – Late Jo Cox, MP
Last year I was approached by members of a parish council in a small, predominantly white market town in the East of England to facilitate a tile making workshop as part of the Great Get Together, an initiative started to encourage community cohesion after the death of the MP Jo Cox. All members of the town and surrounding areas were encouraged to attend and make a tile that would appear on the installation.
The church in question had experienced an incident the previous December where local people had become frightened at the sight of a hijab-wearing woman in the church. While she had simply entered the church to admire the stained glass windows, her presence had caused feelings of fear and notions of terror in the local community.
The result led to the cancelling of the carol service and a boycott by parents who did not want their children attending the church for fear of what they thought was an impending terror attack. The councillors had organised the workshop to dispel negative perceptions and encourage a greater understanding of cultures by creating a piece of art that paid testimony to this. The finished work consists of two large pieces and three smaller octagons. The eight sided polygon is a symbol used in all Ibrahimic faiths. In architecture it is seen in the Dome on the Rock in Palestine and the Basilica in Rome.
“The number eight is important in many faiths; in the Jewish faith it is a symbol of salvation, rebirth and regeneration. The octagon has long been used as a symbol of Christian faith. Octagonal churches have been built since the Byzantine period to modern times across the world. John Wesley, a founder of Methodism, expressed the wish that “all churches should be built of this shape if the ground allows.” – Sue Bentley, Parish Counsel
The mural is the culmination of tiles made and decorated by the local community with illustrations hand-painted by local schoolchildren. The finished piece entitled ‘Many Yet One’ hopes to reflect our shared commonalities reflected by the coming together of many for one common goal.
“The two windows reflect both the beauty of sacred Islamic art and the shape and form of the stained glass windows at the church. The grouting reflects the lead of the windows in contrast to the warm and vibrant colours of the tiles.” – Sue Bentley, Parish Councill