Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Promoting art's role as emotional safety valve

There's been some tribal mapping going on in east Belfast which has absolutely nothing to do with flags. The photographic project behind the Bacon, Butter And Belfast exhibition, opening at the Red Barn Gallery, features life in east Belfast before the Troubles even started.

Cancer Focus art therapist Joanne Robinson (43) remembers clearly the most dramatic session she ever supervised.

"A woman in her 40s who was suffering from cancer came in a couple of years ago and poured black paint all over the paper. She did five or six paintings like that, digging into the next couple of images that seemed to show blood and surgery, which she'd undergone. She really needed to express a lot of stuff that couldn't be put into words – there was anger there... and pain," she said.

As Joanne explained, this woman, who has since recovered, didn't need an art class, but she did need a safe place she could stay – and paint – anything.

"It's not like a class where you paint a bunch of flowers and learn how to mix colours, it's about getting out emotions. I also worked with a young man who survived leukaemia.

"His work was cellular and he imagined what the cancer looked like and the impact his illness was having on his wife and young child," she said. Matthew Knowles' work ended up on show in Queen's Medical Building to help the student doctors understand what patients go through.

Joanne originally worked in fashion in Paris, having taken a design degree in Leicester, but moved into art therapy after working with the Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle.

"I also work with the L'Arche community, helping people with learning disabilities. They're so full of fun and don't care what surname or politics you have."

At the moment, however, Joanne is concentrating on her forthcoming wedding to civil servant Andrew Boal in Second Ballyeaston Presbyterian Church. "He's computers and I'm creativity. We've got 100 people coming to our wedding later this week. I can't wait."

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Don't bring your work home with you. Although you're wonderfully efficient in your job, you require different skills when dealing with friends and family. Be generous with your praise, resources and encouragement. Someone who is struggling needs moral support. Giving a lecture about personal responsibility will not help. Instead, lend a sympathetic ear. Ask questions. Picture things from the other person's point of view. A receptive attitude will strengthen your relationship.More