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Cultural Arts Center
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Cutler Bay, FL 33189
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda by Sonja Linden
February 22 to March 18, 2007
Art as Therapy
by Mark Witteveen
Art and Therapy are words generally associated with two separate worlds. People of varying aspirations from all walks of life populate each world - from a young actress practicing lines in the empty wings of a stage to a surgeon cutting open a patient's chest to clear a clogged artery. Put these two worlds together, as in 'Art Therapy' or 'Art as Therapy' and a different sort of world emerges: cancer patients doing watercolors, heart attack victims painting in oils, stroke victims composing music, the choreographer Anna Halprin, herself a cancer survivor, leading a workshop in Dance as a Healing Art. And in the play I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda, the character Juliette, a witness and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, is encouraged to write out her personal story in order to try and bring about a therapeutic release.
For Juliette, the act of writing about the Rwandan genocide brings about reconciliation with herself. As the playwright Sonja Linden writes (about Lea Chantal, the real-life Juliette upon whom the play is based): "What started out as a testimonial act, the writing out of her family's experience, also became an act of healing. She (Lea) reported that she felt 'clean' and that her nightmares and headaches had ceased."
Belief in the healing effects of art (catharsis) dates as far back as ancient Greek Tragedy. Aristotle's notion is commonly defined as the emotional cleansing that happens in an audience member when he/she is confronted with overwhelming feelings of pity and sorrow upon watching a tragic play; like Oedipus, for instance. Aristotle's remark is confined to the observers of the tragic drama; he makes no mention of how the tragic drama may affect the playwright or the actors.
Since Aristotle's time, artists and non-artists alike have picked up where he left off. Art therapists, Music therapists, Dance/movement therapists, Drama Therapists, and a whole slew of famous artists - from musicians and actors to choreographers and playwrights - have spoken about what the creation of art brings to life. Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf, Isabel Allende, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller - these are just a few of the writers who have written on art's transformational power to heal.
Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 Nobel Laureate in literature, has written that in the act of expressing oneself there is "a healing power, a power to mend the heart. For in the music and literature we create, though we come to know despair - that dark night of the soul through which we have to pass - we find that by actually giving it expression we can be healed and know the joy of recovering; and as these linked experiences of pain and recovery are added one to another, layer upon layer, not only is the artist's work enriched but its benefits are shared by others..."
Mark Witteveen is an MFA candidate at Ohio University and recipient of a Trisolini Fellowship. He is author of several plays including The American Bar, Belly of the Whale and Appalachian Trails.