Art of Connection

Part I

“Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience mental and/or physical illness, trauma or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.” AATA

(In tha flow . Unedited) I pressed my way. Didn’t dress up. Looked like I’d been in the art studio all day engaging art materials, but I hadn’t—I’d taken my grams to a doctor’s appt, wrote another letter of recommendation for one of my graduating seniors and finished up some progress notes from this week’s individual and group sessions with my students.

I arrived at the gallery and saw the words, Art of Connection (A of C) on the wall. I was reminded of my own A of C installation. Wasn’t that long ago, though it feels like many many moons have cycled.

The Art of Connection exhibition showcases artwork by graduate art therapy students and the individuals they work with at their internship sites. Artwork in the show reflects the varied settings, populations, and practices of art therapy, and represents a culmination of the Master of Arts in Art Therapy program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

January 31–February 14
Sullivan Galleries, 33 S. State St., 7th floor; Free and open to the public Tuesday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.

There is so much irony, and nostalgia, in this full circle moment. My current art therapy intern, who is also a Black womon, is utilizing the same installation room that I’d used for my A of C installation. My installation primarily focused on my response to working with Black boys.

The gallery was packed, and though I didn’t expect anything less than an amazing turnout, I was not interested in being around people. I was very much so in introvert mode and I couldn’t falsify being an extrovert.

The Box Refined Yemonja S. Painted black on the outside, I saw the installation room out the corner of my eye.  I didn’t approach because some guests were congregating outside, while others were exploring the inside of the exhibit. I walked around the gallery a lil, keeping my eyes on the room so that I could have it to myself for a minute. Finally, no one was in there.

I had tunnel vision. I darted (but cool and casual like) straight for the room.  As I approached I slowed down.  I knew I was going to feel some kinda way seeing our students’ names, and the art that they’d co-created with my intern (Y.S.) on digital projection. I also knew that I’d feel some kinda way because I am very protective of our students. I do not post their faces on social media.  Moreover, I am mindful of both the male and white gaze that Black girls are often subjected to.

Once inside, I stood in the corner, away from the entry of the installation space.  Seeing with my heart, not my clinical eyes, each frame of the digital projection sent a wave of emotions through me. Our students’ collages were clearly and coherently projected onto the white wooden wall with hints of animation to make the eye linger just a tad bit longer. In the mind’s eye of the collages, I saw each of our students’ essence.

My intern had handled their art with care and professionalism. Their art, indicative of their stories. Their art, the outward manifestation of how they view themselves. Their art, defined, but not being limited to the lexicography of “Black” and “female.” Their art, their blooming.

Their collages included: Bare tree, no leaves…pronounced roots. Crowned beauty reflecting noir. Flower bombs… concrete survival. Emo with light. Shock value of genius. Ligaments exposed. Gender fluid, yet both. “Fearlessly” tagged “Pretty Amazing.”  Hoop dreams on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Nerdy girls. Bedazzled yin & yang. Humbled water carrier, care-filled fluidity. Mom’s baby…mama’s young lady. One-starred millennial. Fuchsia sneaker and speckled rain boot. Black girl proud trophy. Walking on water, risen from below. “Be book smart.” “I can. I will.” “Achieve.”

There was a richness, brightness, timelessness, self-made wholeness, foreshadowing and prophetic insight about the collages. There was Black girl visibility and a visual narration that I appreciated and wanted to hold onto. There was magic—a black gyrl thing captured by presence, not words—not perfection or flawlessness, but realness and acceptance.

I know I was also drawn to the pieces because it was in my language. The language of collage mixed-media.

I had five minutes before someone else came in. It was my intern and she laughed because I was in “the cut.” Which, it’s a small installation room, so it’s not like there’s any hiding spaces. As others came in, no one knew who I was. They didn’t know I was my intern’s supervisor or that this was some of our students’ artwork. They didn’t know that I knew the stories behind each projected frame. Didn’t know that I’d seen what was behind each of these girls’ eyes.

This is art therapy.  Materials, the process and product are the points of entry to discovery; they are the diagnostic tools, the treatment plan and the intervention. They are the healing.

Part II soon to come.

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