TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Empowering the Source of our Strength
- Human Rights Now...
- Kashmir: And Disappearances Continue
- Nepal: Supreme Court Judgment...
- A Week to Remember
- A Memorial Service to the Filipino Nation...
- Healing is Liberating
- “ˇPresente!”- A Tribute Concert ...
- Memory, Suffering and Art Counseling
- A Morning or a Dark Night for Human Rights
- Bitter Truth...
- Sharpening our Healing Capacities ...
- The Anti-Disappearance Treaty
LETTER OF SYMPATHY
- For Mothers of the Vanished
Memory, Suffering and Art Counseling By: Olie Mahopo
It is a universally accepted fact that enforced disappearance is an ongoing crime. In the same breath, it is an undesirable truth that relatives and survivors are subjected to unending suffering as a result of not knowing the fate of their loved ones. To ask them to forget (let bygones be bygones) will place us in a situation where we are equally guilty as the perpetrators of this evil deed are. We cannot help but agree with the German philosopher, T.W Adorno in his poignant observation that “ the abundance of real suffering tolerates no forgetting.” Having understood and accepted this position of responsibility, we are tasked to establish the fate of the disappeared, to ensure that this does not happen again, and also to render whatever assistance at our disposal to help the families and relatives of the victims manage their anxieties and pain until a resolution of their problem is arrived at, thus helping them to live a normal life.
We should be under no illusion that this is an easy task. Experience has taught us that there is nothing short of knowing the truth. What happened to the disappeared? Where are their remains? Who is responsible? Why? Answering these questions will bring closure and healing to the relatives. But the fact of the matter is that we still owe it to them to be able to function as normal members of our respective societies especially in view of the fact that we cannot always give guarantees of the length of time it will take to know the truth - an effort made more difficult or perhaps, impossible by the silence of the perpetrators and the regimes they represent.
It is needless to say that a great deal of effort and sacrifice are invested into addressing this malady. There are, for example, support groups for relatives and survivors. Through these support groups, a number of activities are undertaken, e.g. individual and group counselling sessions, investigations, lobbying and advocacy both at the national and international levels, etc. It is in this context that I want to share with all concerned the aspect of Art Therapy as one of the many possibilities that can help alleviate the sufferings of relatives and survivors. Admittedly, I personally was not aware of this wonderful approach as a helpful tool in offering psycho –social assistance to victims’ families until recently.
The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, in conjunction with the Art Therapy Centre in Johannesburg, embraced an art therapy program for its support group members. The climax of this effort was a public exhibition which was held on the 30th August 2007 (International Day for the Disappeared) at the Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg. The exhibition will be extended to other parts of the country to raise awareness about the plight of the disappeared and their survivors.
Through their experience, we observed that the use of art in counseling offers many benefits.
w Art counseling is highly effective when people have been traumatized, since trauma physically inhibits the ability to express verbally. In these situations, image-making becomes a valuable tool for expressing and overcoming traumatic experience.
w In many ways, art counseling is less threatening than talking therapies. It is the image rather than the person that is directly reflected on. This makes it very suitable to people who are resistant to self-disclosure, who are vulnerable. It is also suitable to children.
w Art counseling is a method that re-engages the individuals’ creative abilities – a process that assists the ability to symbolise and therefore, grow emotionally and which, in itself, is enlivening and therapeutic.
The process of art in itself can be a bit intimidating for those who have never been associated with that form of expression - emotionally, intellectually or spiritually. On the contrary, one does not necessarily have to be an artist in the “professional or commercial sense” as often understood. It is about creating and drawing or painting images that are a reflection of what one thinks or remembers about his or her loved ones. A colleague, who was involved in coordinating this process observed that: survivors in their grief tend to focus on images of the disappeared, thus causing them a great deal of depression and anxiety. In art therapy, the suffering is alleviated in that the images and attended frustrations are transferred on to the object created. This process took several months to work on. Initially, it was difficult and confusing to the participants. They could not understand this exercise when their main concern should be about establishing the fate of their loved ones. Even if the disappeared persons were dead, at least if the families could have their remains and give them a decent burial according to their rituals and cultural practices, the families could have some form of closure necessary for their peace of mind. With some counseling and motivation, the process was embarked on and to their surprise, it started to make a lot of sense. Not only did it contribute to their ability to manage pain but it also served as a form of healing and a vibrant way of remembering their loved ones. More importantly, it was a form of reaching out to society.
Ollie Mahopo worked for five years for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation as an Investigator, Researcher and Counsellor on issues of Enforced Disappearances. He also worked with the National Prosecuting Authorities for Missing Persons’ Task Team doing investigations, exhumations and reburials of political activists and liberation fighters who were killed during the struggle for liberation in South Africa.
VOICE May 2008