The first OPS Art Workshop took place in February 2013 and it has been running continuously on a drop-in basis every Saturday since then. Because of the complex and chronic nature of the trauma most of the women have experienced over the course of their lives, the way the workshop is organized has contributed to its success as both an entry point to services for some of the women as well as being a safe therapeutic space for ongoing healing and recovery. The associative nature of the overall experience is powerful for women who have suffered from isolation, marginalization, dissociation and fragmentation of the self as a result of their being in the life of prostitution. There is the very personal relational nature of the work itself; between the artist and her whole self along with the relational nature of the artmaking in community providing women with a safe way to connect and relate with other survivors often for the first time. Without having to tell her story, she explores a freedom to describe what I frequently hear was until now, “inexpressible”. She experiences what it is to be seen, heard and validated by her community and she also gets to bear witness to another survivor’s experience.
The overall structure of the day is pretty much the same from week to week so the women know what to expect, they learn to trust the process leading to their taking ownership of the group and of their own unique creative process. The first hour is social time and a home cooked meal followed by our circling up to ground through a brief mindfulness practice using breath and sometimes movement, to share a poem or other piece of writing and finally to introduce the art project which varies from week to week.
Themes that we have recently explored are protest art, sisterhood, liberation, the color red, bodily integrity, solidarity, fire and masks.
Guest artists are lined up to join us from time to time to offer a particular skill or new artistic medium. The rest of the afternoon is spent making art together. Over time I have watched the participants invest more and more deeply in the process. When new women arrive, those who have been around for a while welcome them in and model the values of our community. This is their space.
The afternoon ends with us circling again to look at the art. Artists are invited to share about their experience, then we re-ground and close. One afternoon during our closing circle, one of the women shared about her art making experience and she put it into these words: “I am not just looking to cope anymore, I’m looking to transform.”
Martha Linehan, Chemical Dependency Counselling, IMT Therapist & Arts Development