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Art, Psychology, and Healing Side by Side

An NYC exhibition takes on trauma and human trafficking.

"Soulmates in Gold" by Layla Love, used with permission.
Source: "Soulmates in Gold" by Layla Love, used with permission.

Talk about a classic dance.

Art and psychology are entwined in endless ways. The world’s most ancient artworks are all things cerebral -- wonder, talent, determination of expression -- projected outward.

Interestingly, a little light research showed me that the formal study of art and psychology in an interdisciplinary way dates back only to about the 1880’s, via a treatise on the psychological underpinnings of architecture. Some would say that music, drama, literature, painting, dance, cinema, VR, and all the myriad art forms are pure psychology -- and even if they are just moments in time, they all tell stories.

I have known the photographer Layla Love for years, and I’ve always been interested in her own story. After personally emancipating women in conflict zones from prostitution, slavery, and other forms of human trafficking (being imprisoned overseas in the process), she became deeply involved in their story. Together with Gloria Steinem she conceptualized Rise of the Butterfly, which aims to connect the Fine Art world with those whose lives have been shattered by the practice.

One wonderful aspect of all the therapy that I’ve done over the years: I’m hungrier than ever to learn about the things that I find fascinating. So in advance of her exhibition RISE opening May 17th in Chelsea NYC, I asked Love how she saw the working relationship between art and psychology.

“Art is the physical manifestation of the psychological state,” says Love, whose photograph “Love from the Roots” is part of the White House’s permanent collection. “It is a reflection of the interior world, the intangible, and the inexpressible elements of existence. Therein, art and psychology are deeply intertwined.

“You can use art as a means to explore your psychological state. Art therapy is used with children because they’re able to express through visuals what they’re not capable of expressing through words yet. They can translate raw emotion into art, before they can do it with language.”

Healing Via RISE

Love’s month-long show features her artworks, which can range from achingly raw to meticulously crafted, as well as many visual, musical and experiential guests throughout the month. It’s not just a visual display -- one that contains many challenging images for the viewer to take on -- but also a healing journey. From torturous heartbreak to empowering triumphs, Love’s imagery converge women, humanity and deep feelings. Her hope is that visitors to RISE will be able to not only empathize with those who have suffered at the hands of human traffickers, but will also find inspiration and guidance for their own recovery.

“We’re using art as a path for transformation and transcendence, for people who have survived any kind of personal trauma,” she says. “Human trafficking is one of the most gruesome and tragic situations imaginable. It is it the third-largest black market trade in the world. Life is reduced to a commodity. Conservative UN statistics estimate 40 million people worldwide are ensnared -- the most ever in human history.”

Rise of the Butterfly is combatting the horrors of human trafficking with the power and pull of art. The organization is raising awareness through public art and gallery shows, the publication of a 300-page workbook authored by Emily Anne Gendron, and other initiatives to engender empowerment. Funds raised will be channeled to select nonprofit organizations that battle human trafficking, all of which are vetted by Steinem and Love.

“The hope is that we can bring positive change to the people recovering from human trafficking, which is really modern-day slavery,” Love says. “The psychological impact on people who experience this first-hand is devastating. They become despondent, their heart and soul become totally separated. They have to turn to substance abuse and worse, as the culture of abuse becomes deeply ingrained in them.

“We have to work really hard to bring back a sense of self-esteem and personal infrastructure with those who were caught up in human trafficking, so they can get back to seeing themselves as a person, not a commodity. It’s why we say, ‘Humans should not own other humans.”

RISE runs from May 17th to June 15th at Gallery Henoch, 555 West 25th Street, NYC.

-- Mr. Analysand

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