Photo Credit: Image courtesy of INIVA Creative Learning website; Emotional Learning Cards "Who are you? Where are you going?"
The Emotional Learning Cards have been developed by INIVA and Director of A Space for Support, Lyn French, and provide images of contemporary art that support people of all ages to gain deeper insights into their identity, backgrounds, values and attitudes.
The "Who are you? Where are you going?" set features artworks by culturally diverse and international artists, together with questions and prompts which stimulate activity and discussion around the themes of identity and transition. I have been using the cards with adult and young adult asylum seekers in the therapeutic case unit of a refugee service.
My main focus has been on using art therapy to support clients to: reclaim a sense of self; find a voice through the art-making and art image; bridge past and present experiences and cope with various, often complex, symptoms of post-traumatic distress. I leave the ‘Who are you? Where are you going?’ card series out alongside other resources, to be used by clients as and when they became curious about them. These cards seem particularly significant when working with asylum seekers and refugees as they all share the difficult experience of being forced to flee home and also face great uncertainty about the future. In our sessions, we explore the impact of this and the need to rebuild ‘home’ - “as not only the place but the cluster of feelings associated with it” (The Oxford English Dictionary in Papadopoulos (2002: 10)).
Using “Peregrinations” by Aya Haidar (2008) with a young trafficked woman
Photo Credit: Image courtesy of INIVA Creative Learning website; "Peregrinations" (2008) by Aya Haidar
Ana (a pseudonym I've used to protect her identity) was quick to point out the maps stitched inside Haidar’s slippers in “Peregrinations”. For her this highlighted the question: ‘Where am I going?’ I reflected back to a picture that she had started the week before which included the faint outline of an aeroplane in the sky. Ana hadn’t been sure whether the plane was arriving or leaving. After some reflection, she had suggested that it was leaving and we had thought about her longing for the same independence and freedom that the aeroplane seemed to represent. She was able to acknowledge how different this was to her current situation of feeling trapped and reliant on the people supporting her.... After several sessions Ana was able to bring her family and her past in to the sessions. She thought about her family disowning her and how this act became a very real abandonment of her, leading to their forcing her to leave the family home. The slippers may have also connected with Ana on an unconscious level in their representation of her physical act of departure and their symbolism of embarking on a journey. To quote from the back of the card:
‘If the shoes were worn, the maps would be hidden from sight. This suggests that we all take personal journeys that are known only to us.’
When we read this text, Ana and I thought about the difficult experiences that regularly resurfaced as traumatic memories which she had found hard to share or even allow to come to mind in our sessions. Ana was able to begin to permit me to bear witness to some aspects of her personal journey, interwoven with and gently encouraged by safely exploring collective experiences and themes brought up in the image and commentary on the emotional learning cards.
We were able to use “Peregrinations” by Aya Haidar (2008) to explore some important themes for Ana: identity; independence; freedom and basic human rights; personal and cultural history and heritage. The slippers may still be tied together and pegged on a line but there was hope that they might be able to come down and find their direction again, the in-built threads of personal history travelling with them as a fortifying layer of their unique identity.
"These cards effectively combine thought-provoking contemporary art images with stimulating questions that highlight themes relating to social identity, gender and the meanings we give to our experiences."
- Diane Waller OBE (Professor of Art Psychotherapy)