Healing, sisterhood and therapy through art

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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.

Sisters Allied Against Violence seeks to draw attention to the serious issue of violence in the home, and that’s reflected in the art exhibited. (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

Sisters Allied Against Violence seeks to draw attention to the serious issue of violence in the home, and that’s reflected in the art exhibited. (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

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.

Exhibited work by the artist identified as Jane. (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

Exhibited work by the artist identified as Jane. (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

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.

Exhibited work by the artist identified as Melanie Mae. (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

Exhibited work by the artist identified as Melanie Mae. (Kim Anderson/The Omega)

“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.