The following accompanied a scholarship application, to be granted $2,000 for this research in the form of supplies. It summarizes my work thus far, which is in progress so feedback is greatly appreciated!
As a second year MPS candidate in Art Therapy at SVA, I have been extremely fortunate to work with two unique populations during my graduate studies. My first year clinical internship was at a residential skilled nursing facility for children/adolescents living with HIV/AIDS, and my current internship is at a health center providing services to women with HIV/AIDS and their families.
Of the 33.2 million people living with HIV worldwide, 15.4 million are women (UNAIDS Epidemic Update 2007). Most turn a deaf ear to the stigmatized global issue of HIV/AIDS, overwhelmed by the epidemic which needs that much more attention. Though awareness is gradually increasing, many still associate the illness solely with homosexual men or third world countries. Furthermore, medical advancements extending lives have generated apathy, minimizing the tremendous number of ongoing physical and emotional challenges those infected face everyday.
Being around children, adolescents, and now women living with HIV/AIDS, I have realized that each of these individuals has an incredibly rich and layered story to tell, though they struggle to be accepted or genuinely heard. Often discarded by society because of their diagnosis, they in fact are among those who would benefit most from interaction with others. In facilitating these healing connections, my thesis research explores how art therapy can provide opportunities for containment and exchange of the stories of these women living with HIV/AIDS.
In initial group sessions, the clients were introduced to a project inspired by women in Uganda who are also living with HIV/AIDS. The women in Uganda create paper beads out of recycled strips of magazine paper, making and selling jewelry internationally in order to empower themselves and eradicate poverty. After hearing the stories of these Ugandan women, the clients were then provided instructions and materials to make paper beads themselves. While rolling each bead the women shared their personal stories verbally within the group. The clients also collaborated to create a giant paper bead, covered in collage of words and images representing three themes universally expressed in their stories: past, present, and future (see images in following post).
In ongoing groups, the women will continue to create paper beads and jewelry with the beads, work on the giant paper bead, and also create a variety of artwork, letters, and possibly videos to send to the women in Uganda (as I am in touch with the founder of the Bead for Life organization). I think that this exchange is crucial in facilitating their healing, in forming a reparative exchange after contracting a life threatening illness. Most importantly, this exchange can remind these women that they are not alone in the issues and themes that they deal with each day.
The accompanying budget includes ongoing expenses identifiable for this project, including bead making supplies, jewelry making supplies, storage, postage to/from Uganda, materials for the exchange of art/letters/etc., and costs for display and documentation of the artwork created.
This project is the culmination of a great deal of planning and research, and thus far the results demonstrate that international art therapy truly has potential to heal suffering and change lives. With presentations and publication of this work already being requested, I feel confident that this scholarship would assist in reaching the true potential of this exchange, ultimately benefiting women in both countries. Working on this scale before even graduating ensures that my deep passion for international art therapy will continue to inspire similar projects in my future career in the field.
This research is humanistic, as observational gathering of qualitative, phenomenological information occurring both verbally and in the artwork during sessions. Consent forms were signed and there are no known emotional risks to the participants. Process and progress notes, response artwork, and supervision consistently accompany and support this ongoing work with the clients.