Art and words, psychology and artistic paths. A workshop to build collective memories and suggest a new narration: “Together, we offer to the students different tools for self-narration”.
Self-narration paths; sharing experiences and listening to the others; modelling clay and clipping meaningful words or expressions. Moments dedicated to art and words – two different yet complementary tools, that encounter to shape thoughts and feelings, as part of the project ‘Stories to Leaf Through’, in the framework of the larger context of ‘DIMMI (Tell Me) about Migrant Stories’.
The laboratory activities will be followed by four meetings in schools, and will be carried out by two trainers – Evelyn Puerini, a psychotherapist and psychologist, and Valerio Giacone, a visual artist. Friends in life but never colleagues before, the two decided to undertake this path together, by creating workshops that involve asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international or humanitarian protection.
Evelyn Puerini holds a Master Degree in Developmental Psychology and specialized at the School of Humanistic Integrated Psychology and Psychology of Community in Rome. Over the years, she has also gained greater expertise in the field of Ethnopsychiatry. As the founding member of the Mandala association, an association focused on people with migratory background and hosted by the Caritas’ SIPROIMI project in Senigallia, she specialized in the Psychology of Migration, out of both professional and personal interest. She also works with the cultural association Pepelab, an awareness-raising project for schools. Her job has got her in contact with asylum seekers and refugees, men and women of different ages and nationalities.
Evelyn Puerini, laureata in Psicologia dello sviluppo e specializzata presso la Scuola di Psicoterapia umanistica integrata e Psicologia di comunità di Roma, nel corso degli anni ha acquisito maggiori competenze nel campo dell’etnopsichiatria. Socia fondatrice dell’associazione Mandala, rivolta a persone con una storia di migrazioni accolte nel progetto Sprar della Caritas di Senigallia, per lavoro e per interesse personale si è specializzata in psicologia delle migrazioni. Collabora con l’associazione culturale Pepelab, con cui ha realizzato un progetto di sensibilizzazione nelle scuole. Il suo lavoro l’ha portata più volte ad entrare in contatto con richiedenti asilo e rifugiati, uomini e donne di diverse età e nazionalità.
Why is it useful to talk with someone you do not know? What kind of relationship is established between a patient and their psychologist?
“The kind of relationship that is established between a patient and their psychologist is always based on a precondition: a request of help. It is neither a casual exchange, nor a relationship based on a full reciprocity. The relationship itself is asymmetrical, however, the asymmetry is not in terms of power, but rather of responsibility. Usually, we turn to a therapist at difficult times in our lives. We look for someone who we assume has the tools able to stimulate a process of change.
In the context of migrations, besides the private dimension of the story, a social and political discourse also emerges. In this case, psychotherapists are asked to become the witnesses to a certain experience. Talking about our feelings or evoking strongly traumatic events means giving shape to experiences so hurtful that may even dominate us. And this work on ourselves requires an alternative view.”
Speaking of migrations, in the case of asylum seekers or refugees, what is the importance of knowing the social and cultural background of the person in order to accompany them in a psychotherapy path?
“When you encounter a person with a migratory background, the reconstruction process involves their native environment, but also the social and political contexts of the countries of transit and arrival. In this sense, it is fundamental to rebuild a context for these identities, these kind of subjectivities, and these paths to take shape”. Without forgetting that very often, “suffering is mostly generated by what is found in the country of arrival, and not by what was left in the country of origin”.
“The main tool for psychologists is the relationship they have with themselves. Some stories are so full of violence, oppression and abuse that even mere listening is painful. With time, I realized that in order to bear the burden of certain kinds of stories, I have to be willing to receive it. Over time, you sharpen your listening ability and you can go deeper.
For sure, it is a path I could not take without receiving supervision, which is fundamental when dealing with a particularly difficult case. Actually, the supervision path is parallel to the therapy. With the association Mandala, every month we receive the support of a psychotherapist coming from the centre Frantz Fanon, which promotes an ethno-psychiatric approach. We discuss our cases, we talk about the difficulties of the relationship through an analysis of what is happening and the reconstruction of the context. Over the years, the collaboration with the Centre has combined both supervision and training”.
Valerio Giacone, a visual artist, ranges from sculpture to painting. He has exhibited his works in both collective and personal exhibitions, in Italy and abroad as well. Valerio graduated in Economics with a thesis on demography, then he worked in the cooperation field with several NGOs, as Chief of the Development Education Area, dealing with the proposal writing and project management. He is in love with drawing and painting, so, at the age of 32 decided to leave his job and devote himself completely to artistic research.
“In its purity, mathematics is maybe one of the most abstract and spiritual subjects that we know, and art too has a spiritual origin. If we retrace history of art to the Renaissance, we see that all the great artists were somehow linked to scientific research, for example Leonardo Da Vinci, and Raphael too. They studied the fundamentals of mathematics, and applied them to their works of art. Both mathematics and art show very deep knowledge of the human nature.”
If we are able to describe our emotions and explain what we think or feel through words, art is a more intimate dimension instead, that compel us to deal with silence, dissolving our rational side. If we are able to describe our emotions and explain what we think or feel through words, art is a more intimate dimension instead, that compel us to deal with silence, dissolving our rational side. What is the ideal dimension for creation and what is the material that you feel the most as yours?
“The ideal dimension for creation is nature, the countryside, a place where all you hear is the sound of the trees rustling in the wind. Working in the city is more difficult, unless you can find a very quiet place.
For a long time, I found working with beeswax interesting. In general, I’m interested in knowing the material, which means touch it, experiment with it, manipulate it, understanding which are its features. Currently, I am curious about working with concrete – the opposite of beeswax. Beeswax is a very soft, receiving, warm and bright material.”
These two materials combine in your last personal exhibition, entitled “Heart”, in which the two polarities dialogue between each other.
“As human beings, we are singular entities where two polarities collide. Similarly, in a work of art, beeswax – which is lightweight and malleable – combines with concrete, which is much heavier. After all, artistic research and art itself are essentially a search for unity, an inner unity at first, then an external unity, expressed by the union of elements.”
On one hand, the artist’s work requires silence and solitude; on the other, it provides the opportunity to meet people of different ages and nationalities, who come from diverse social contexts. Over the years, you have been working with homeless people, asylum seekers, children, organising several artistic workshops, such as “Creative Abodes”, “Let’s go”, “I Am”. How does this relationship with the Others enrich you? Has anyone ever rejected an artistic moment you proposed during a workshop? In che modo questo rapporto con l’altro ti arricchisce? Qualcuno ha mai rifiutato il momento artistico che proponevi durante un workshop?
“Working with other people is as valuable as a treasure and is a further development of our self-awareness. The encounter with the Other is often an acknowledgment of the complexity we harbour in ourselves. In fact, the relationship itself is art. To me, it is important not only to work by myself, but also to make an effort and involve myself in a dynamic of dialogue.
It often happens that people refuse the artistic moment. At first, they claim that they are nor interested nor capable, but basically they are scared, because making art means to expose ourselves. Art makes you completely transparent, there’s no rational mediation. After a few days, most of the times people eventually express their interest in our work and want to get closer it.”
Art and words join up during the laboratories of the project ‘Stories to Leaf Through’, in which Evelyn and Valerio expose in first person, and share their expertise, professionalism and sensitivity in order to guide the students in this path of knowledge of the self and of the others, which is not always easy.
Why did you choose to participate to the project ‘Stories to Leaf Through’? How do you think these workshops will help students with their lifepath?
Valerio: “We discussed a lot with each other on the work we were doing. On some occasions, we worked in the same context in different ways, but never together. I was interested in understanding how my works and Evelyn’s could be shaped in an organized and meaningful structure. Moreover, we were convinced that art, by creating a kind of deep and intuitive work, could be complementary to what happens with words.” Participating in these workshops can help people because “making art is therapeutic by itself. Giving shape to something, painting, writing, looking at something that is inside you from the outside is reconciling with yourself and the outer world”.
Evelyn: The artistic work of giving shape to things is very interesting, and somehow it is similar to what happens with my work of reconstruction of the meanings with the other person. Thus, I was interested in combining these two different views and processes. I also believe that art and the artistic narrative represent a form of resistance. This narrative is also linked to the necessity of building collective memories. I often asked myself how to create spaces where words, testimonies and narratives could circulate, not remaining closed and tied to the clinical space. And, I thought that this kind of workshop could be a starting point to propose new narrations.
The workshop’s dimension is intimate and snug, but it also has an extended dimension which is neither identified with a pure psychological path, nor an artistic one. We put our tools at people’s disposal and they decide what to do with them, how to use such tools, in order to create a self-narration both meaningful and important to share.”