Rebecca DiSunno on The Healing Power of Art

October 14, 2010

On October 7, MPS Art Therapy Department faculty member Rebecca DiSunno presented a special lecture at The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, that examined the role of art therapy in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. DiSunno’s talk was part of an exhibition at the museum, “The Healing Power of Art: Works of Art by Haitian Children After the Earthquake,” which includes artwork created at arts centers housed in converted buses in Port-au-Prince. DiSunno spoke to an audience of educators, museum professionals and students about art’s ability to transcend cultural differences and the subsequent value of art therapy following a traumatic event like the earthquake.

In examining the children’s work, DiSunno observed, “The art has some devastating images of severed limbs and dead bodies, plus lots of anxiety markers—there’s no baseline, things are kind of floating, and there are many pictures with dots of color, which shows tremendous anxiety.” She also examined “response work” created by Jill Biden, wife of U.S. vice-president Joe Biden; U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama; and Elisabeth D. Preval, the first lady of Haiti, all of whom reacted to the work of the younger artists. “It was a wonderful show of empathy through images,” she said. “Michelle Obama and Jill Biden could empathize in their watercolors, but they had a visible baseline, on safe ground; the Haitan first lady’s work had a spiral and no baseline, which is visually significant for someone recovering from trauma.”

“The Healing Power of Art” is on view at The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art through Sunday, October 17.

Images: (top) Rebecca DiSunno speaking at The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art; (bottom) drawing by Desir Lucson, 2010.

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