Survivors draw comfort after abuse
Maybe words aren't the best way.
At Seton Hill College's Harlan Gallery, past a clothesline of colored, glitter-penned T-shirts, a new show of survivor art screams and pleads and finger-points. There are photographs of broken dolls. Collages of crying women. Gunky paint slashes the color of dried blood. And a white dress pressed into cement, a letter I, for incest, nailed to the breast.
'I see a lot of rage,' said Marilyn Jech, an abuse survivor who contributed several pieces. 'But I also see a lot of beauty in the work. It covers the hope of recovery, feelings for the future, for getting better.'
'Instead of turning that on myself, or my children, or on other people, I can get it out in my art,' she said.
In the late 1940s, in schools, hospitals and psychiatric units, art teachers noticed that same benefit, and another: People who could not share their fears and frustrations verbally often could when they drew or painted.
Since then, art therapists have appeared in court, as expert witnesses, interpreting children's art. They helped with the healing process after the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake and the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.
'The art that comes from the heart is difficult,' said Nina Denninger, director of the art therapy program at Seton Hill in Greensburg. 'It's very painful.'
As she talked, she lingered at some of the show's pieces: 'The Demon,' 'Rage,' 'Jennifer's Triumph.'
'I look at this, and I'm so grateful that people have this alternate way to get things out,' she said.
Denninger paired the survivor art with T-shirts from the Clothesline Project, a decade-old program that began in Massachusetts. It started with 31 shirts, all marked with messages from abuse survivors. Other women added their own shirts, and the line grew.
The exhibit will close April 22, after a two-day conference for educators, art therapists, health service specialists and mental health workers. Workshop topics will include the symptoms of child sexual abuse and effective intervention and treatment methods.
Cathy Malchiodi, an art therapist, author and director of the Institute of Arts and Health in Salt Lake City, will give the keynote address.
Survivor Art, an exhibit of works by survivors of childhood sexual abuse, will continue at the Harlan Gallery at Seton Hill College through April 22. The gallery is open from 5:30-8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 1-3 p.m. Fridays and from 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free.