Coming full circle, today marks one year since I began this blog, and since the last World AIDS Day. In this year the thesis discussed in this blog was completed, and I graduated with a Masters of Professional Studies in Art Therapy. These images are from the final presentation of the thesis work.

A collage of images of the Ugandan Bead for Life women (http://www.beadforlife.org).

Closeup images of paper beads made from strips of recycled magazine paper, by women living with HIV/AIDS
in Uganda (left) and in New York (right). Drawn instructions for creating beads (center).

Image 2: Full image of giant paper bead (about 48” x 24”), an ongoing collaborative piece created in art therapy group sessions. Instead of rolling this bead like the smaller ones, the clients decided to leave it open to display their choice of words and images corresponding to the three sectioned themes of past (purple), present (green), and future (red). Closeup (bottom) of bottom of piece, where clients hung small paper beads from women in both locations.

Individual collages created by art therapy clients in New York to send to Ugandan women
as part of penpal exchange (photos blurred for confidentiality purposes).

Individual collages created by Ugandan women in response as part of a penpal exchange.

This research determined that women living with HIV/AIDS benefit from the group art therapy experience, within which a safe space can reduce isolation through interaction with peers. The use of materials which would otherwise be thrown away was especially significant with this population. For a group of people who have been effectively discarded by society because of their diagnosis, the use of recycled magazine paper allowed them to explore a sense of self-worth (processing shame, rejection, and alienation through the artmaking process). While the knowledge of the women in Uganda offered perspective, inspiration, and an understanding of universality, the connections formed between the women within the art therapy groups proved to be the most meaningful.

Several clients reported that the environment and activities within these groups allowed them to feel calm or at peace, which is how the group was named, PEACE BEADS.