Excerpts from the Autumn 2022 Newsletter
In this issue, we explore the profound benefits of Art Therapy. This therapeutic technique encourages our women to express their thoughts and feelings through creativity, thereby improving their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
One of Divineya Society’s central goals has always been to provide employment and career opportunities for women in India who would not otherwise have access to stable and non-exploitative means of income. While there are a variety of options for different kinds of employment, for several reasons we have decided upon the avenue of textiles, traditional fabric crafting and jewellery-making.
This choice is not random or of convenience! Such work draws on many of the women’s existing skills and knowledge and fits well with their lifestyles and domestic responsibilities. And there are deeper reasons too!
Empowerment Through Art
Artistic expression is a powerful tool in empowerment work. It promotes individual agency by encouraging participants to apply their creative skills and give life to their ideas and preferences. And because it brings like-minded people together to complete shared projects, it is also a powerful tool for community building.
This helps to foster qualities like unity, group support, solidarity, love and companionship, which are often missing when community members suffer from discrimination and exclusion in other areas of their lives. Because of the way many underprivileged women in India are displaced from their original families through traditional marriage customs, they often lack support systems and trusting relationships in their personal lives. They interact mainly with their in-laws and family, are often unable to leave the house, and lack the agency to determine their own futures.
“Expressive art therapy integrates all of the arts in a safe, non-judgmental setting to facilitate personal growth and healing. To use the arts expressively means going into our inner realms to discover feelings and to express them through visual art, movement, sound, writing or drama. This process fosters release, self-understanding, insight and awakens creativity and transpersonal states of consciousness.”
– Natalie Rogers*
*Natalie Rogers (1928-2015) was an early contributor to the field of Humanistic Psychology and the founder of Person-Centered Expressive Arts. This combination of the arts with psychotherapy is sometimes referred to by Rogers as The Creative Connection.
A Powerful Therapeutic Tool
Artistic expression has long been an essential tool for individual and communal empowerment. But it also can be used as a tool for healing. The meditative and introspective elements of the creative process help to facilitate self-reflection and provide a means of escape for those experiencing suffering in their lives. It can be a powerful method for mental health healing, and a source of community connection when engaging in shared projects.
Art Therapy Encourages Creative Thinking
Arts and crafts hobbies have been proven to focus the brain, lower stress levels, and leave the brain with a calming sense of clarity.
When creating art, people sometimes enter a meditative state. It can be relaxing to let the world fade into the background and simply concentrate on one thing. Nonverbal therapy helps people work through trauma and build resilience.
Because of the prevalence of gendered oppression in India, women usually receive their identity from other authorities in society. Likewise, they are often viewed as second-class citizens and taught that they are inferior to men. They often lack a voice or an opportunity to articulate their own ideas, feelings and thoughts.
Through art, they can tap into their own sense of self and express and develop it through creative mediums. And when they lack the words to articulate themselves, art is a medium that allows them to express their truth nonverbally; they can create a picture of themselves without having to put their identity directly into words. This journey is not only art making but in fact a kind of therapy.
“Trauma affects the brain’s speech centers and can limit the effectiveness of traditional talk-based therapies.”
“Art therapy can influence a range of human functioning, we find, including self-perception and interpersonal interactions. Even a 45-minute creative activity can change a person’s mental state.”
One reason why we focus on supporting the women of Sakhi Kunj in developing skills related to textile art is because of its therapeutic value and relationship to autonomy and self-empowerment.
Personal accounts of the creative process suggest that textile art-making is a holistic experience—textile artwork functions in part as a means of coping with discomfort and other symptoms. But even more so, art therapists emphasize the role of textile art-making in rebuilding a satisfactory identity, and restoring autonomy and quality of life.
Textile artwork can also stimulate learning and personal development. As a creative occupation, it is unique in that it is readily accessible even to those who do not consider themselves artistic. It allows for the use of assistive technology, enabling people with various disabilities and impairments to produce ‘mainstream’ art.
Further, textile art draws upon rich social traditions, which in turn facilitates social contact and connection. Many forms of textile art-making are highly time-consuming, making it ideal as a potential occupation, and the creative process develops over time again and has positive consequences for self-expression and self-image.
Textile art production provides the women of Sakhi Kunj with a realistic and widely accessible means of livelihood while also functioning as an avenue for mental health support. It relieves symptoms of trauma and helps to develop both individual and communal strength and empowerment.
Historically art has played a powerful role in conveying social messages, expressing deep emotion and acting as a unique commentary on culture and society. As a medium, it acts as an avenue for messages of social justice and it has sparked and coloured the long histories of social revolution movements.
This is why Divineya uses artistic expression and creativity as a basis for our social justice projects. Please help to support the continuation of these valuable programs!
Richard Kamler (1935-2017) was an artist, educator, and curator. He created art intended as a tool for social change through installations, sound pieces, sculpture and drawings.