Men's Art Therapy: September


On a Friday afternoon at the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI), located in Oakland, California, Iranian artist and art therapist Shimana Sadeghi asked nine Cambodian refugees to stand up, say their name, and perform a body movement. The ensuing claps, bows, and even push-ups  marked the beginning of ARTogether’s art therapy workshop for Cambodian men resettled in California, an afternoon in which participants could engage with memory visually and creatively in a group setting.

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Friday’s workshop specifically aimed to bring men together by using art as a tool to communicate experiences. Shimana Sadeghi, an Iranian artist living in the Bay Area, facilitated the workshop and used her background in family therapy and art therapy to show the men how they too could use art to understand their feelings and experiences.

After the introductory activity, Shimana divided the participants into four groups, providing each with a piece of paper and colored markers. She asked the group to collaborate on a drawing without communicating--one participant would add an element, pass the paper onto the next participant, and so on until the drawing was complete. By the end of the activity, the groups enthusiastically shared their drawings, titling their art pieces “village society,” “sad duck,” and “ivy.” As the men shared what they felt when drawing in silence, the room burst into laughter, as each group admitted they did not really know what they were doing. After this activity, the men engaged more frequently in conversation, laughing as they became more comfortable with each other.


Next, Shimana arranged a series of black and white photos on a table and asked everyone to pick one that resonated most with them. The participants were instructed to glue their chosen photos onto a white paper background and then draw what they imagined occurred before and after the photo was taken. The mood in the room shifted upon the completion of the activity, as the drawings and photos revealed poignant narratives that rang true to the experiences of the participating men.

A photo of a happy family in a car became a prelude of peace before a devastating war, one that obliterated all traces of the familiar, leaving nothing but trees behind. A picture of a pigeon told the story of a bird who once lived in nature but who was forced to seek refuge in a dirty city after the destruction of its habitat. A scene of children playing on the beach called up a memory of boyhood in which one man, now grown, almost drowned in the ocean had he not been saved by another.


Each participant had a chance to explain the significance of his chosen photo and  visual narrative, and as the activity came to its end, the men found themselves talking about their hometowns and sharing some of their most intimate experiences and feelings. Shimana ended the workshop with an assignment for next month: each man was instructed to capture in a photograph not a poignant memory, but instead something he was grateful for.