Men's Art Therapy: January

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Led by Shimana Sadeghi, a graduate student in Art Therapy, the Men’s Art Therapy workshop started with a physical warm-up exercise. This workshop took place at the Center for Empowering Refugee and Immigrants (CERI) in Oakland, CA on Friday the 20th 0f January in 2018.  A group of around fifteen participants were instructed to say their name and improvise a physical movement and pair it with a sound.

As each person in the circle took turns taking center stage to perform their improvisations, laughs and impromptu exercises and stretches were incorporated into the exercise. Once everybody in the circle had their turn and sat down, Shimana then delved into what artistic project they were going to do that day. Participants could choose between decorating a picture frame or to paint a picture on a large piece of paper. Shimana encouraged the men to use their fingers instead of brushes to paint their masterpieces, as she said that it “feels different”.

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Those who were painting on large sheets of paper started to map out what they wanted to capture in their pieces. Common themes amongst the paintings were trees, mountains, landscapes, and houses painted in mostly black, brown, green, red, and yellow. As for those who were decorating picture frames, the most common colors opted for were blues, greens, oranges, and some purple and magenta. Many painted trees on the boards inside the frames, others painted other things including houses and an apple, which in Cambodian translates to “pom”, the same as the French word for apple, which is “pomme”. 

With every stroke of the brushes and every dip of the fingers in the paint, the men were reflecting on their thoughts, experiences, and lives in general. These thoughts flowed from their minds, their hearts, and their souls and manifested themselves in the artwork. After everyone was done with their pieces, the participants were then instructed to name their works with only one word. Names of their works included: “Farm”, “Three”, “Stream”, “House”, “Apple”, “People”, “Love”, “Tree”, “Mountain”, and “Cow”. The group chuckled at the fact that some found naming their works with only one word was difficult as some things were described with two words rather than one in Khmer or English and did not translate accordingly.


 Brave participants were inspired to talk about the significance of certain elements of their works. One man named their work “Mountain”, because of the fact that Cambodia used to have many mountains, but now only about thirty percent remain because the mud on the mountains is clay-like, so it is shipped internationally to countries like China. Another man illustrated the significance of the bloodshed in Cambodia, and the experience that Cambodia may “have sun, but no freedom”.

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Others said that they were “drawing their imagination” and that they had never felt interested in learning how to draw, but now that they were here, they love learning how to draw. Some shyer men voiced concerns about not being good or skilled enough at art, but Shimana assured them of the fact that in these workshops, there is “no pressure”, that “you're always free to do what you want”, and to “be your true self”. Shimana made sure to emphasize that “quality doesn't matter” because the purpose of them is to “do something together”. Another point that she highlighted was that they were “not here to be artistic”, but rather “to express” themselves.