CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR OWN STORY OF SURVIVAL?
raven: Well, I'm an r.a. survivor, and the child of alchoholic and drug addicted
WHEN DID YOU BEGIN CONFRONTING YOUR ISSUES WITH ART?
raven: After the loss of a beloved family member when I was about 3 years old, I
stopped talking for a long time and started drawing instead. In regards to
my art, I was fortunate that my parents were also artistic, and that they
encouraged me. I drew some pretty cathartic stuff when I was little -
scenes which revealed the specific kinds of abuse that I had suffered. My
parents would say, "How creative!" and tape them up on the fridge. They
saved a surprising number of my drawings. A lot of the abuse content was
pretty blatant, but I guess my parents' denial kept them from seeing it for
what it was.
During my teenage years, when the worst chaos erupted in my life, a new wave of very specific abuse content came out through my art. At that age, I began to gain a consciousness that some terrible truths lay just beyond the veil of my denial. I craved vision, a panoramic view of what the hell was going on in my life. I began to recognize my art as a conduit of truth. I think that realization brought me to the point where I started to consciously utilize my art as a tool for my healing.
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS, DOES IT RELATE TO YOUR HEALING?
raven: Well, nowadays my process of making art often originates in my journals. I
write a lot, like many survivors, and sometimes a metaphor for a particular
insight, feeling or experience really strikes a chord.
When I paint, I find new images and meanings in the abstract patterns that the paint makes as I apply it to the canvas. This can take me in directions I never could have planned.
With my sculptures, I often have no plan at all in mind when I start. I just pick up some clay, and start making a face out of it. The expression that comes through seems to tell me about how the rest of the body should look, and what the feeling or mood should be. I find the other design elements of the piece, which help tell the story, through adding and removing gobs of clay to see what speaks to me.
HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND OTHER SURVIVORS TAP INTO CREATIVE ENERGY?
raven: I think that in this culture, there's a lot of pressure on kids to pare down
their rainbow of various interests into some tiny little segment that might
be useful in procuring an office job someday. Often, abusers reinforce this
by discouraging any interest or talent in the arts. I believe that every
human being is born creative, and that it's the right of every person to
explore whatever it is that lights a flame inside their souls. Especially
with people in healing, who discover new aspects of themselves every day,
art can provide an opportunity for another part of the self to speak and
I notice that sometimes people get really frozen up in fearing that others will criticize their deeply personal expressions. I believe that art is primarily a gift to the person who makes it. Art can be created strictly for a person's own exploration and enjoyment. When sharing with others, a person can choose supportive viewers, and specify what kind of feedback (if any) that might be helpful.
I think it's important to really set aside a space in one's life for art, in order to invite quieter parts of the self to reveal themselves. These parts have been silenced by this culture -- and perhaps also by abusers -- for so long. Art can provide a means of transforming the pain of this oppression into new freedom, color and life.
As for inspiration, a survivor might invite other survivors over for an art party. I think that art can provide a means of celebrating the soul. It's exciting to get a bunch of markers, crayons, and magazine clippings together and see what comes out of them. I think that colors, shapes and interesting magazine photos can help invite the kid part of a person out to explore new means of expression and being in the world.
Some other ways to invite submerged parts of the self to express themselves is to do things in an unusual or unfamiliar way. It can might be good to try drawing or writing with the non-dominant hand. Working with clay can also draw out other parts of the self. Because it's a 3-dimensional medium, it seems to bypass some intellectual part of your brain. Plus it's mooshy and messy and brings out the kid in people. Clay can be as silly or serious as you'd like it to be.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE PIECE?
raven: I call this piece Phoenix in
the Flooded River. It's about a near-death experience, when my human self
was stripped down to its essential source.
WHICH SYMPTOMS DOES YOUR ARTISTIC OUTLET SOOTHE FOR YOU?
raven: As a survivor, my art gratifies the need to have my self and my experiences
seen. As a child, by abusers bulldozed my wishes, needs, feelings, and
experiences beneath the weight of their own sickness. My abusers fed me so
many lies, that I could not recognize my own life, or my own heart. Through
my art comes my true being: This is what I lived. This is what I felt.
This is the strength I brought forth, in order to walk through that kind of
fire. All the colors of my soul fly out like birds to form the shapes of my
art. In my art, I can see my human self as beautiful and sacred, like a
loving mother gazing into the eyes of her newborn child.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR YOU AS A SURVIVOR AND ARTIST?
raven: Well, it's really meaningful to me when people see my art, and they connect.
It's a way to bridge that emotional isolation that abuse histories seem to
leave behind. Such feelings of kinship rise up in me when I'm around other
survivors viewing my art. It helps me to feel seen and understood. It's
also so validating to see other survivors' artwork. Some of my favorite
survivor artists are Linda Ness http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Gallery/3331/
and Vozamer http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/Veranda/1699/art.html . It
really helps me to feel less alone in my experiences to see the work of
I like to think that there's some universality present in the stories that come from my experience. A lot of people who aren't survivors "get" the meaning of my art. The images communicate with people in a way that can bypass denial, and get right to the heart.
Often when I exhibit my work, random people will just come up and hug me like a long lost friend. I think that people can sometimes see themselves within the images. Maybe they see their own beauty, inside the pain.