Improving life through art

She came to the valley and she felt the pain. Dena Lawrence, an art therapist from Australia, decided to use her knowledge of art therapy to aid people and their expression. Ibrahim Wani reports  

When she first came to Kashmir as a tourist a shock awaited her. There was no one on the roads, and everything had come to a standstill. “I could come out on only two non-curfew days,” she says. Most of the people she met, she observed, had deep psychological scars.

Dena Lawrence, an Australian art therapist realised that what she was doing in Australia had relevance here too. “Because I specialise in trauma, I understood that people here have an overwhelming sense of grief, loss and pain,” she says.

As an art therapist her work had revolved around using art to aid expression of people who had suffered from trauma and pain. Working in Perth, Western Australia, she would facilitate among her patients an understanding of themselves. This would put them on a process of self healing and recovery. “The success rate would be as high as 90 percent. Most of the patients who had psychological issues would recover, and become normal again in a short span of time,” she says. “The same could be applied to Kashmir,” she thought.

 When she was back in Australia after the tourist trip, her thoughts kept coming back to Kashmir. “A thought came to me that I could adapt my art therapy program to help people here,” she says. Soon she would pack her bags and head back to the place. Meeting Arshid Rasool and Rouf Hamid-two Kashmiris, made her task easier. She discussed her proposal with them, and saw them more than willing to help her with the program.

Under the banner of her group ‘A path with art’ she organised the first art therapy workshop in Kashmir in September 2010 wherein a core group of 12 people participated. The response of the participants was very encouraging. This led her to organise two more workshops with more people coming forward to attend.
This week she organised a five day workshop in Kashmir University in collaboration with the Department of Student Welfare of the university. Around 200 students from various university departments, affiliated colleges and schools participated. The response was overwhelming.  

For most of the participants it was their first attempt at drawing and painting. “The focus of the workshop is not on the skill of drawing, but on expression,” says Dena. “I saw that many participants would not talk much on the first day and were very reserved. But now after the workshop they are expressive and now they are full of confidence,” she adds.

One such case is Sabah Nisar Wani, a student of literature in Kashmir University. After attending the workshop she is more expressive and has developed a confidence which was initially missing. “Now I draw whenever I am frustrated or depressed, and it helps me,” she says.

Hina Aarif has the same story to narrate. “I spilled out all my feelings in the workshop,” says Hina. “It helped me present my Kashmir and express my feelings to the world,” she adds.

“We Kashmiris know what we are going through. So pain is the first thing which gets expressed,” says Zeeshan Nabi, a student of Delhi Public School Srinagar, who has been a regular participant in the workshops.

“I have observed that there is a lot of depression, frustration, entrapment and low self esteem among youngsters here. It is as if they have kept their inner self’s locked behind bars,” says Dena. “All this gets expressed in the first drawings and painting they make. After they start drawing, slowly they start discovering themselves and gain confidence,” she adds.

She observed that in the workshops the participants would first chose themes of anger, pain and confusion, and gradually move towards themes expressing optimism and hope. “This is what art therapy does. It gets people in touch with themselves and starts a process of healing of the inner psyche,” says Dena
“When you draw you have a freedom which no one can take away from you. No one can tell you what to draw. It comes from you,” says Dena who has borne all the expenses of the workshops out of her own pocket.

“There are some participants who have been with us in all the four workshops in Kashmir up till now. Now I hope that they are able to carry on art therapy and involve more people with it,” she says.

Dena plans on coming back to Kashmir soon, and extend art therapy to more and more people.

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