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Red Flowers


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Many artists have used art to express their own suffering.

Frida Kahlo, a Mexican surrealist, painted many self-portraits exploring and expressing her physical and mental struggles. As a child, she suffered from polio and a congenital spinal problem and later in life had a horrific car accident, which further contributed to the already severe pain and health problems that constantly troubled her.

Vincent Van Gogh was also tormented throughout his life by a mood disorder. He painted prolifically, creating 800 pieces, and even wrote in a letter in the last year of his life, “I am painting immense expanses of wheat, beneath troubled skies, and I have not hesitated to express extreme sadness and solitude”. 

During the creative process, people often forget their illness and become absorbed by the process of art-making, which may be one of the most potent therapeutic aspects of the process.

More recently, art therapy has been used to deal with trauma, loss and grief. The loss and grief caused by the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia were incalculable. The trauma suffered by the children is unimaginable as they lost parents, brothers and sisters. The most common effect of trauma among the children was their inability to speak. The Islamic Relief Agency set up art therapy classes to allow the children to express themselves as words were unavailable to describe the depth and breadth of their anxieties and loss. Their paintings were subsequently displayed in a museum. As a way to gain symbolic control of a catastrophic event, the process of art-making provided the children with a sense of self-empowerment.

Loss is a universal experience. Loss of health, of a loved one, a job or even our homes will unearth deep emotions at some time in our lives. This can leave a void, making us ask, “Why me?” It is often in the darkness of despair, at moments of great loss that the jewels of wisdom can be found, and a powerful form of healing and personal growth reached.

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