Sunday, December 06, 2009

Culture, Assumptions, and Art

Collage by Lani

Another interesting event at the American Art Therapy Conference was a focus group "Understanding Cultural Identity and Difference" with Savneet Talwar, Shelly (E.M.) Goebl-Parker, and Megan Robb. Their goal for this focus group was "to examine how individuals negotiate hybrid cultural and social identities in everyday life and its impact on art therapy practice." Some discussion was raised about war zones and inner cities and the chronic nature of stress and trauma in those settings. This got me thinking about assumptions I might be making about trauma, culture, and recovery. I suspect that for me art therapy has been something that is brought in after a traumatic event, trauma recovery being something separate from the "event" and occurring after the event. But art therapists working in war zones and inner cities described situations where the therapist and the people they work with live in continual threat and chaos. How do you do trauma recovery work in the middle of trauma?

Collage by Lani

Assumptions are such tricky things. One woman wanted to talk about the assumptions of a particular group from which she was experiencing oppression in her normally oppression-free life, and a bit of exclusion from those she felt she should not be excluded from. I found this very interesting. It is so much easier to see the misguided assumptions of others and to try to address these with a list of "should's" and "ought-to's" than it is to examine our own assumptions. She was wanting to correct her oppressors and of course I was wanting to correct her! But what if correcting others is really not as helpful as we would like it to be? What if correcting our own biases is also somewhat counter productive? Could it be that we create resistance to being corrected?

One thing that I have found helpful for my own self inquiry, is to take an artist's approach, looking at the layers of history and cultural baggage as potentially interesting layers of texture and color. Then I'm able to accept what is, without resistance, and to alter, transform, or just make some interesting art with it. This may be related to having explored and been influenced by the realms of positive psychology and the associated search for resilience.

What if instead of looking for the cultural weaknesses in others, we begin to see the strengths and beauty within our histories? Wouldn't that help us see the strengths and beauty of others? Wouldn't that create a welcoming and inclusive environment? I believe I will try this approach from now on.

"Vinnie and Ganesha" collage by Lani

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