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“Saying the unsayable” one brushstroke at a time

January 31, 2020   ·   0 Comments

When dealing with a struggle, sometimes its hard – if not impossible – to find the right words to express how you feel. It can leave you feeling isolated and even alone, but there are other outlets to convey your feelings, and sometimes that all-important first step is picking up a paintbrush.

This is the message being underscored by the Canadian Mental Health Association of York Region and South Simcoe as they launch their new art exhibition entitled “Say the Unsayable.”

On now through March 9 at the Aurora Public Library’s Colleen Abbott Gallery, Say the Unsayable is a collection of art produced and curated by participants in the CMHA’s Art Heals program and aims to not only dispel misconceptions surrounding art therapy but challenge the community on the benefits that come from encouraging the creative process.

“We have often found that art manages to say what is on other people’s minds when there are no words for [what they are thinking],” says Sharlene Wong, Occupational Therapist with the CMHA. “Many people identify with the image of being able to communicate some of the unsayable things further through their artwork.”

The resulting exhibition brings together pieces created by CMHA clients and staff alike. The work, says Ms. Wong, covers a variety of media. As she prepared to help hang the curated works on the gallery walls this past Monday, she said she was struck by very similar threads found in each of the works.

“What struck me was how people use the artwork to revert to memory,” she explains. “There are some works, for example, that talk about the past long ago and the different memories they have from growing up, and there is this visceral sense of what is going on and what that sense of memory was. There is a lot of feeling; a lot of the works evoke emotions and you can get a sense of what was felt in recalling the memory and thinking about the people who are there and what people are experiencing at any given moment in time.”

Ms. Wong says her passion is to “get everyone to see themselves as creators, as artists, able to communicate in a very creative way.” This passion, she says, stems from recognizing the benefits creativity has on herself. Art can shift a “terrible” day to one of creativity and exploration, sometimes allowing the artist to find a degree of control amidst turmoil and chaos.

“It has taken me through some really difficult times and I was able to see the benefits [of art therapy] myself, and I can really see the benefits for other people too through things we have been doing at the CMHA. It really is awesome to see people have the opportunity to take a different role, from being a client or a patient, or user of services, to being someone who can create, making something they see as beautiful and that others see as beautiful, too.”

Art often plays “second fiddle” to subjects taught to children, she adds, but it is important to drive home the fact that art is integral to development.

“Even in my profession as an occupational therapist, often times the arts and crafts and things like that tend to be looked down on as airy-fairy stuff, things that don’t matter,” says Ms. Wong. “It ends up being something really meaningful and something that people can explore that takes them outside of just their weaknesses and disability and can kind of help people see themselves differently, be different, have an opportunity to give what they have to it. I think it helps people realize that they really do have something they can contribute to the world, whether it is their perspective, their views, how they see the world, how they communicate something.

“I really hope from this exhibition everyone gets a sense that creativity is for everyone. Being creative really does lend meaning to life and is a way to connect with other people. It is a way to be in touch with ourselves and I really hope that everyone feels inspired to create.”

By Brock Weir



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