Sunday, February 17, 2013

Transformation by Fire - Women Overcoming Violence Through Clay

I don't remember being as moved by an art exhibition as I was after viewing "Transformation by Fire - Women Overcoming Violence Through Clay" at the Gardiner Museum.  The ceramic pieces in this exhibition were all created by women who have endured and survived physical or sexual abuse.  For over a decade, through a collaboration between the Gardiner and the Barbara Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, "psychotherapeutic" workshops have been led by art therapist Suzanne Thomson and ceramic artist Susan Low-Beer to provide victims of violence an outlet to express their suffering, trauma and hope for rebuilding their lives.

This exhibition highlights a selection of these compelling works, along with powerful and often poetic personal statements or interpretations provided by the artists themselves.  The piece in the promotional ads, called "Hands", has the most beautiful text accompanying it–"Hands .. Once hiding my scars and stifling my voice, now a forest of hands supporting, holding, caring, cradling, reaching out, embracing my story".

Several motifs reoccur in the works.  One is the concept of walls and how they hide what is happening actually happening inside. The sculpture Picture Perfect depicts the facade of a normal suburban home on one side, while showing the painful truth on the other.  And yet, there is hope of rising above of it, depicted by the bird in the window ready to fly away.  The title of the piece called "If Walls Could Talk" pretty much says it all...

It was humbling, yet uplifting to discover the stories of courage and resilience of these women, as told through their ceramics and their words.  Many of the works included depictions of hope, healing, and rebirth, often symbolized by a lotus flower, or new growth coming out of a decaying tree.  The description under the piece called "And The Heavens Wept" proclaims "Never underestimate the power of the human spirit".  Under "Core Beauty" are the words "The outer tree is dead ... I live with wounds on my outer shell ... yet inside of me is a child that is a seed of hope".

It was clear that the participants found these sessions to be therapeutic and empowering.  The malleable, transformative nature of the clay allowed these women to release their memories, fears and emotions, rendering them into physical forms.  Hopefully this exhibit succeeds in bringing the issues of violence against women to the forefront.  "Don't allow violence against women to be the silent, secretive elephant in any situation" is the plea of the work titled "Remember, Elephants Have a Long Memory".

The show is offered with free admission, in order to maximize audience viewing and  awareness of the issue of violence against women.  There is a collection box at the entrance for donations, as well as a souvenir booklet on sale at the gift shop for $5, with proceeds going towards this worthy cause.  I'm hoping that everyone rushes out to see this show. I'm still thinking about it days later!

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