How Sisters Allied Against Violence is helping young women deal with violent histories
“When you look at that painting, what do you see?” asked 16-year-old Melanie Mae, pointing to a colourful, abstract four painting arrangement hanging on the wall to my left.
I was caught off guard completely as I sat, fumbling around with my voice recorder. Aside from a quick glance when I walked into the old Kamloops courthouse, I hadn’t really had time to examine all the artwork around me.
I was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the exhibit with two of the five contributing artists, Jane, who asked to only be identified with her first name, and Melanie Mae. With us was art therapist and exhibit coordinator Wendy Gruneberg.
“Well, first off, I see a strong theme of nature,” I replied before quickly trailing off, hoping no one would notice.
There was clearly a dark undertone to the piece, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. In fact, the exhibit, running from Oct. 2 to Nov. 1, features an array of multimedia artwork containing sobering themes of pain, anger, isolation and most remarkably, hope.
The exhibit was created and organized by the Sisters Allied Against Violence (SAAVI), an art therapy group for girls aged 13 to 17 who have witnessed or experienced violence.
The goal is to draw attention to the serious issue of violence in the home and what the victims of that violence go through.
“The name says it all,” Gruneberg said. “It’s a sisterhood of support. We put things on the table that society that normally flinches at.”
Topics like violence and abuse are categorically ignored or overlooked by society. Jane and Melanie Mae even encountered resistance from a local business when trying to advertise the exhibit.
Jane had always been inspired by and interested in art and took art classes on her own time. She then found out about SAAVI, which is run by Children Who Witness Abuse and the YWCA through the women’s shelter.
She teamed up with art therapist Jessica Ganton-Stanley and applied for a grant with intentions of holding an art show. They tackled the application over a couple weeks and it was approved about a year ago. During the course of the year, art therapist Jessica Fukushima also joined the team.
The group of about six girls created their art during intense three-hour sessions held once per week. The relationships, trust and sisterhood that formed during this process is just as significant as the art produced.
“We are dealing with stuff we’ve internalized or things that have been hurting us. We’ve got a support group that we can trust,” Melanie Mae said. “We’ve formed a really good bond and dynamic on our own.”
SAAVI functions as a form of expression and therapy through art creation and relationship building. Group members have a unique insight and understanding of what one another are going through.
“It’s terrifying to think that these things happen daily to people, not only in our community, but they could be your neighbor,” Melanie Mae said. “They could be sitting next to you and you wouldn’t even know. This is forcing people to see and feel and think [about] what’s actually going on.”
Ultimately the self-learning, growth and sisterhood between the girls of SAAVI is the success story.
“On a personal level, it’s nice for us to see such success come out of where we’ve been. Just two years ago I was living in the women’s shelter and now we have this art show,” Jane said.
Using art as therapy has left a positive and lasting impact on the members and coordinators of SAAVI.
“I can see a difference in myself and the girls around me. I’m happier. I’m noticing the brighter goodness around me. That’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever had,” Melanie Mae said.