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The art of coping with traumatic events

The Woolwich administrative building has some new art on the walls this month, but the undertaking is about more than showing off colourful paintings.

The Hope and Help: Overcoming Trauma exhibit is comprised of works of art created by those who have experienced trauma in their lives. The artists were asked to contribute pieces that showed their hopefulness, looking towards the future. The collection is just one part of the Waterloo Region Trauma Service Initiative’s long-term plans. The pieces are hanging in the main lobby of the township building in Elmira until the end of the month.

Elin Moorlag, one of the project coordinators, says the municipal building is the perfect place to hold the exhibit.

Kathryn Ssedoga is one of the artists whose work is on display in the exhibit. She submitted a piece made from melted wax that represented her healing from intergenerational trauma and complex post traumatic stress disorder.[Liz Bevan / The Observer]
Kathryn Ssedoga is one of the artists whose work is on display in the exhibit. She submitted a piece made from melted wax that represented her healing from intergenerational trauma and complex post traumatic stress disorder. [Liz Bevan / The Observer]
“You actually have to walk through the art. When you walk in from the parking lot, you are just surrounded by the art,” she said, adding that the placement of the collection is perfect for their mission. “The focus of the project itself is really around raising awareness around trauma, people’s experiences in trauma. It is a pretty large project and there are three objectives. One of the working groups is focused on awareness, and that group is the one that launched this art project.”

The other two branches of the initiative are focused on treatment and guidelines around trauma, and how different organizations working with the public can be more informed about trauma.

Moorlag says the awareness group thought art was a great way to get the word out about the initiative because of the medium’s accessibility, with the pieces open to interpretation based on the viewers and their own experiences.

NEWS_ArtShowTrauma_post2“It is really just the beginning. The working group thought of an art exhibit as being a good bridge between the community and experiences of trauma,” she said. “It just seemed like a really expressive way for people to put their experiences out there. It is a medium that anyone can do. The work didn’t have to come from a professional artist. It was for anyone who felt they could express themselves in this way.

“Along with that, an explanation of where the piece is coming from and how they are connected to it. There are some really powerful pieces. People coming to the exhibit start to read the descriptions, and they can really relate to the works through their own experiences.”

Kathryn Ssedoga is one of the artists with a piece on display at the township building. Her piece, titled Not Alone, which shows a series of hands holding each other in the form of mountain range. The piece is done in caustic, which is the art of melting wax, a technique she says reflects the feeling she had when creating the piece.

“Working with hot wax, all of a sudden it is alive, it moves, it takes on a life of its own,” she said. “Any illusion of control as an artist is left being held very lightly, which is kind of symbolic to me about what it is like to live with intergenerational trauma and with complex post traumatic stress disorder. Each one of the hands of the different people are a meaningful moment. If I were to define myself, I would says that I am a seeker of meaningful moments.”

Ssedoga says she hopes the exhibit brings people together in a unique way, possibly opening up new relationships that could help those dealing with trauma in their lives.

“There is so much being learned now about intergenerational trauma, and there are so many disciplines, whether it is learning about how everything can contribute. It might be concussions you have had in your youth, or the research that is being done in neuroplasticity,” she said. “This is all really exciting, and all these different disciplines need to learn how to come together and work. That multidisciplinary approach has helped me, but the different professionals aren’t necessarily working together and do everything that they know might be helpful.”

Her advice for those that are working through their own traumatic experiences and the feelings that come along with that?

“Follow what is alive in you and then however that wants to express itself, go for it. It could be through painting, it could be through collage, or exercise, or running, or singing, or poetry,” she said. “Just start with finding what is alive in you.”

The exhibit was shown last month in Kitchener City Hall before coming to Elmira, where it will be displayed until the end of the month. The Waterloo Regional Trauma Services Initiative held an opening reception for the exhibit on Apr. 11, where artists shared their stories, and visitors were treated to a spoken word/musical performance.

To view the exhibit, stop by the township hall at 24 Church St. W.

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