Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Paint your feelings

A workshop series in Heliopolis is helping women from all walks of life discover more about their feelings through art, reports Mai Samih

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Paintings can say a lot about the person who painted them, and Hakawwena (our stories) is a workshop organised at the Life Up Factory(a training centre) in Heliopolis by Amany Shenouda, an artist, counsellor and trainer. She is helping women aged 20 and over express themselves through self-exploratory workshops in the expressive arts.

The aim is to help people find value in art and its relation with everyday living. The hope is that people participating in the workshops can live more meaningful lives and find enhanced possibilities for participation and enjoyment.

“The workshops focus on the process, not the product, of art and help us live all that is inside us here and now. I myself attended workshops and training sessions online and read a lot of books about it. I decided to apply what I had studied, starting with myself and then my close friends. Then I started the Life Up courses at the beginning of Ramadan,” Shenouda explains.

“It is an art-based self-exploration process. I feel that women are sometimes marginalised due to wrong perceptions and stereotypes created by society. I believe that art in general can be a way of changing ways of thinking. People are not into listening to lectures or anything of that sort. But they are interested in change that comes about through practice.”

In general, the aim of the workshops is to help participants break down the conceptual barriers that prevent them from getting on with their lives.

Shenouda starts her workshops with an introduction, telling participants about the norms governing them, for example.

Each person is given paper and paint. They are then left to paint what comes into their minds, and there is no obligation to show the result to others. Participants also don’t have to be able to draw.

“It’s like writing a diary, but by drawing. My role is to help by facilitation. It is not easy for someone to get to the deepest level of their feelings. But sometimes this can happen through art,” Shenouda comments.

She focuses on what people want to say, and she often starts with place and colour. The more courageous the participants are, the more authentic are the results. Children, in particular, can have bold perceptions in their drawings.

“If a three-year-old draws a table, for example, he draws a square shape with legs surrounding it. If I instruct him to draw it differently, I may be killing his spontaneity. People must be given space to be as creative as they can be,” Shenouda says.

Once the first stage of producing the paintings is completed, participants discuss the ideas behind each painting in terms of what the producer was thinking when drawing. “Some people draw things that make them happy in life, and they draw the same thing all the time.”

“In this case, my role could be to push this person to go to a deeper level. I can’t help people who totally block their feelings. But I can help people who are interested in shifting their mindsets,” she says.

The workshops also aim to expel negative feelings. “There is no need for people to be universally admired. The most important thing is for them to feel satisfied with themselves. If I am not harming anyone, why not get out what is inside?

“The more I feel happy in myself, the more I am at peace with myself. The more I understand myself, the more I can understand what is going on around me and give to others,” Shenouda says, a process she calls the “art of living.”

“I learn how to express myself, how to be on good terms with myself, how to stop looking at how others see me, how to let go of comparisons between myself and others. At the beginning of the workshops I tell participants not to comment on the paintings of others because sometimes people complement someone about their work, causing them to get stuck in the same mould without letting out their real feelings.”

Shenouda does not deny that the workshops can lead to painful revelations. “Sometimes people feel depressed or angry because of a certain problem, and they spend a lot of time fighting it or denying it, causing them to become stuck with it.

On the other hand, if they let their feelings go and accept them they can often overcome them as the anger fades away with time or can be overcome by other feelings.”

Some people use black to express their fears in their pictures, thus letting the feeling out and causing it to be neutralised.

“This is the difference between counselling, which only helps extract negative feelings, and the workshops, which not only do that but also help people see their feelings at their real size,” Shenouda comments. The more a person lets go of the mould via self-expression, the more she will be free.

Shenouda adds that is important that her workshops are for women only, as they can express themselves more fully when there are no men around. “Some of the participants are married, and there can be a lot of feelings that are shut up and that want to be expressed as a result,” she says. She plans to organise workshops for men at a later stage.

“Amany is a friend, and I found out about Hakawwena from her Facebook page,” says Nisreen Al-Sherbiny, 40, a senior HR manager. It is the first time she has attended the workshops. She previously took part in meditation sessions that featured drawing.

“Hakaweena has made me more aware, and I believe very much that you have to have self-awareness to know your needs and your fears so you can plan effectively. I know my fears now, and I don’t hide them. The workshops have made me feel better,” Al-Sherbiny says.

Magi Rashid, 37, a financial consultant, had preconceived notions about the course. “I found out about Hakawwena from my friends and life coach. At first, I was trying to frame what I wanted, however, and not to express my fears. It was good that I put them on paper, as I didn’t want to do so at first,” she says.

“I read about the workshops on Facebook and really liked them, especially as they are not restricted to a single age group. The workshops have given me a feeling of relief and joy because this is the first time since I was a child that I have done things like drawing. I intend to repeat the workshops,” says Magda Halim, who owns a chain of children’s clothing shops.

“I intend to help people in future workshops to not only express themselves, but also to describe themselves through concepts. I am also thinking of organising workshops that last for several days or a series of art-of-life camps,” Shenouda says of future workshops.

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