Thursday, June 21, 2007

‘Trauma, interrupted’: Naming the pain

What can art do in the face of global suffering? Can artists interrupt the trauma or do they intensify the pain when they step into it and try to do something to ease it?

These are some of the questions posed by women artists in the art exhibit “Trauma, interrupted” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (June 14–July 29).

The art works in different media are the 18 artists’ expression of their deep emotions (rage, shame, hope, peace) and resolve that have arisen from pain and trauma they’ve had to deal with—their very own or the collective pain and trauma of the women they have encountered.

The exhibit explores the links between trauma, art and healing. The art works, curator Dr. May Datuin said, challenge us to come to terms with a range of traumas, including those resulting from conflict situations, natural disasters, human rights violations, mental and physical afflictions.

The exhibit is dedicated to the memory of Tomasa Salinog or Lola Masing of Antique whom Japanese soldiers turned into a “comfort woman” during World War II. She died last April 6 at the age of 78. The exhibit also honors the more than 50 Filipino comfort women (the Malaya Lolas) and many Asian women who had come forward to speak about their ordeal and demand recognition and apologies from the Japanese government. (So far, no apologies. Most former comfort women have refused to accept funds from Japanese donors.)

It is also dedicated to women from all walks of life, women who have been wounded emotionally, spiritually, physically, and who seek to become whole again.

“Trauma, interrupted” is about naming the pain, looking it in the eye. But it is also about stepping back and looking at it from another vantage point. As psychologist Dr. Sylvia Estrada-Claudio told the exhibit crowd, “Art makes people step away from reality, from coherence and logic.” Yes, to step out of the here and now and return to the source of pain and look at it with new eyes. But not to dwell there and make it a place of no return. There is a time to emerge from that hole and go back to reality.

There is no single formula for healing, Claudio said, and healing could take place in many levels. Many Malaya Lolas’ healing took place in a communal level. These women’s trauma had festered in their souls for more than 50 years until someone like Rosa Henson broke the silence. With her revelation, the dam broke and the comfort women’s collective voice rang out to jolt those who might have forgotten. They were no longer ashamed.

Here are some of the artists speaking about the spirit of their art.

Brenda Fajardo (Philippines), “She and I (Siya at Ako) series, oil: “In the past it seemed easier to focus on the negative. (But here) I show the evolution of the victim to victor, strengthened by the feminine spirit-being we associate with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the babaylan, Isis, Sophia, etc. She is the moon with strength of the sun, the yin and the yang in one. As spirit, she is transparent. The text (in gold) coming in from nowhere is inspired by meditative verses. I find the series a turning point for me, as a crossing of the threshold of space and time with the realization that SHE is there.”

I felt unusually drawn to the third in the series. I kept gazing at the luminous SHE, the healing woman-spirit, and then decided to take a photo of the painting with my cell phone.

Terry Berkowitz (USA), “The Malaya Lola Project”, photographs with soundtrack: “This project has brought me a deeper awareness of the suffering that has plagued women throughout history. It has allowed me to meet, interact and work with some very incredible women who survived the events of 1944.”

Yong Soon Min (USA) “Wearing History”, installation: Yong spray painted each of the 75 years on her clothing in order to have a personal daily connection to history. The business cards she gave out say: “I’m wearing, close to my heart, one year of the 75 years since Japan established the first comfort station in 1932. Over 200,000 women were coerced into sexual service for Japan’s military. In demanding that the Japanese government accept unequivocal official responsibility for this war crime, I wear a year every day.”

Sally Gutierrez (Spain) “Crying Room/Patch-worked Dreams), video: “This is an intimate journey into the soundscape of the crying room, where the pain from the girls’ damaged lives erupts in all its brutal, unprocessed intensity. Primal therapy, which is controversial in some countries, creates a sheltered space where abused girls can face their traumas and start their personal journey toward healing.”

Lyra Garcellano (Philippines) “Burning Beds”, oil on polaroid photos: “The bed is always considered a refuge, a resting place, a source of rejuvenation, and even a provider of comfort. But how can there be refuge and comfort when brutality pervades our surroundings? Do we merely close our eyes and sleep through it?”
Garcellano’s “Flowers for our Generation”, silkscreen on paper, tries to achieve a wallpaper effect with images of guns shaped as flowers.

Ann Wizer and Naomi Wizer-Green, “Pain Drain”, installation: The mother-daughter collaboration recreates Naomi’s bathroom—her place of refuge—where she has been writing poems and communicating pain for herself and for her mother to read later. In this therapeutic space, viewers are invited to write their pain, fears and secrets.

Almost all the artists’ works—many of them installations—invite to interaction and participation. Go, name your pain and begin to find healing.