As I have been given authorization and consent to share this artwork, I would like to share an art therapy project that was led from July 13th to the 20th 2018. During this time, I spent 6 days at a medium security prison leading an art therapy week with 26 male indigenous inmates.
Initially, the project was intended to be a mural painted by myself for the inmates to enjoy but with organizational support, it was allowed to transform into something powerful. From the start, my intention was to support the men themselves to create a mural by indigenous men for indigenous men with input throughout the entire process. We explored the impact of multigenerational trauma, the ways we may have learned to survive, resiliency building and creating a community within the penitentiary.
Together, from prepping the mural concept, to holding space for personal narratives and to completing this final 18 by 10 foot wall, we were able to integrate ceremony and traditional medicine with the exploration of identity and healing from the perspectives of different nations. They shared stories of residential school, the impact of colonization and their experiences in restoring culture for themselves and found within them the strength to try a piece of the painting process and grow from it. Many shared the experience of relaxation, meditation and being present within the project, emphasizing that making art helped them to release and let go of built up emotions and discover themselves in ways they never thought they could.
Playing a dual role of artist and art therapist was challenging, but I facilitated the project so that all the men had either verbal or written input for the design and the creative process as well as support to go through the art-making and narratives that emerged. I may, at the end of the day, have given the wall the “touche magique” and a safe space for the men to explore themselves, but the men gave each other many teachings as well. From mastering the ‘franglais’ language to having the courage to be vulnerable and uncover hope, self and indigenaiety.
Painting opened a window for these men and I am honored to have been a part of the experience.