August 11, 2020 | By Farah S.A., MAATC, LPC

A version of this article was first published by Between Friends

During the COVID-19 pandemic domestic violence survivors have been experiencing many hardships. Domestic violence cases have increased since the shelter-in-place order took place. Some survivors were unable to leave an unsafe living situation, while others recently left and were trying to maintain their sense of security after experiencing financial abuse prior. Clients were in crisis on multiple levels. Our agency was focusing on safety planning, emotional support, and offering direct services, which involves finding resources for clients basic needs. Additionally, there were new factors to consider for those living with an abusive individual and many new precautions needed to be taken into consideration especially with technology use. For survivors who do have access to a safe environment and are focusing on trauma recovery work, the theme of uncertainty is triggering for many. Providing remote art therapy has served as a tool to help clients in resourcing and regulating themselves.

Connected While Apart is a collective collage art project created by participants in a counseling support group at Between Friends, where I offered art therapy services.

In June of 2020, I started to recognize that despite the absence of the communal in-person gatherings previously offered by Between Friends survivors have found creative ways to maintain connections.

This project sought to highlight the hope that clients are finding through the creative process of artmaking. I invited clients to create an individual collage that would be joined into a collective tapestry reflecting our community’s connection and healing despite being apart due to COVID-19. The goal was to highlight how resilient survivors are when they engage their creative voices in their process of healing and growth, while also staying connected to one another and supporting other survivors within the community.

Participants joined a remote art workshop session to create these collages alongside one another. I guided their process with inspirational questions such as, “What vision do you have for your healing and growth this year?” and “What have the connections in our group community inspired you to create in your life?” Additionally, participants were invited to set their collages as their screen backgrounds to serve as a reminder of their creativity, hopes, dreams, and communal togetherness. Participants submitted their collages to be connected into this tapestry to serve as a tangible testament to the fact that they have maintained a strong connection through these times of uncertainty.

Our participants had this to say about the project:

“It was fun to work on my collage while others worked on their own at the same time via a remote platform. It was wonderful to see people’s art as they completed it as well!”

“I enjoyed working on this collage project! I don’t have a clear image of my future plans, however this project helped me meditate on it.”

“I thought about how our community helps me move from the grey into the more colorful parts of my life.”

“I felt like I was a part of a greater community, a larger whole; even my collage reflected this concept. I liked that we were making our own creative collages in our own spaces then sharing it within the group remotely. I liked this project so much that I plan to continue making more!”

“There was no limit to our creativity!!! Everyone produced very creative and meaningful collages. I can’t wait to see the Connected While Apart communal tapestry with all of our artistic and creative expressions connected as one!”

Farah S.A., MAATC, LPC

I am an artist and art therapist practicing in Chicago. I operate from a cross-cultural understanding, and provide bilingual art therapy and counseling in both English and Arabic. My art therapy counseling practice is centered within an intersectional feminist and social justice lens, a trauma-informed approach, and a relational-cultural framework. I have offered my services in clinical and community-based settings. My clinical experience includes working with individuals of all ages who are domestic and gender-based violence survivors, refugees and immigrants and people recovering from trauma and substance use.

As a multidisciplinary studio artist, my practice is rooted in photography and expands into video, performance, fibers, projection, and installation. I attempt to capture the portals and spaces between two or more worlds, as I engage the performing body in movement from cultural to natural landscapes. My artwork explores the politics of seeing and the roles of access, agency and power in the displacement of identity as a material. As I continue to engage in my own studio practice, I see reflections of my research and material exploration bridge into my clinical work. Through our creative material exploration, participants can externalize inner experiences and create tangible, visual evidence of the changes they want to make in their lives.