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‘We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down’ – Kurt Vonnegut

Written by: Ola Karmowska

Photo credits: Ola Karmowska

In April 2021 we had the pleasure to guide the CRISALIS workshop with 4  wonderful women (Nigerian and Albanese) that unfortunately experienced exploitation, human trafficking or forced migration. The workshop had the aim to make some team building for the new women entered in the project at Quid and to boost their creativity and took place in Banca di Tessuto (Textile Bank) that had seen many creative workshops for women in the job placement processes of the D-HUB association.

Who are they? Who they would like to become in their job pathways? What means fashion for them? These were some of the questions we were trying to answer to in our 2 days long workshop on art therapy with the help of the professional art therapist, Maddalena Altea.

The first part of Day 1 was devoted to getting to know each other better. Team building in a new group is a crucial thing! In pairs, the women exchanged some information about themselves that they wanted to share with other ones. Then each woman had to tell the same thing as she was the other one: is it easy to talk about ourselves? How do we get to know our colleagues from work? Maybe some of them had seen each other before, but they did not know their names. Generally, when we hear somebody else describing us with our own words, do we recognize ourselves in it? Certainly, this workshop posed these questions and the answers could not be different: it is not very easy to talk about ourselves, especially to the people we do not know and with the psychological luggage that those women had. We started to write our names on the pieces of paper. It was not just writing it but it was to put this name in the context: where does my name find itself now? Where do I dream to be, where do I see myself? Most of the women put their name in a very pleasant landscape: at the seaside or drawing a beautiful sunset or a mountain next to it, another drown a house from her childhood in her country of origin.

One of the exercises during the workshop: the tree of hopes and fears

Creating the tree of hopes and fears was instead a way to learn more about each other. Each girl had to anonymously attach the leaves to the trees: the green leaves were the ones that reflected the hopes and desires. The yellow ones falling down from the tree were reflecting the things they would like to get rid of. Some of the women had admitted they did not want to feel fear nor to be judged by the way they look and based on where they are from. They did not want anger to prevail over anything they do in their lives. Among the things which they would have liked different aspects emerged: mostly the will to improve themselves in their job, to sew, and to create a new life with ‘freedom’ as a keyword that opens everything else. Courage and strength with a little bit of music (music especially for Nigerian girls was very important and emerged many times during the workshop!) were among the leaves they attached to the tree of positive things.

Painting the silhouettes

The next part of the day we had real fun: trying to draw our silhouettes on big sheets of paper. Funny poses, different colors, and it’s done! Then some of them told what they like about it and what they dislike. It was a really touching moment when one woman told the others that she was imagining her shape in a totally different way.

Women drawn their silhouettes one for another.

To finish our day-one journey into creativity we went to a nearby park, to immerse our minds in the green around and make the last activity of the day: the women had to take pictures of themselves and try to take photos that can represent themselves the best. In the beginning, it was not easy for some but then they all tried. With a little help, A. photographed the flowers touching them with the hand, B. felt more and more relaxed and started to pose as a model, R. has taken the photo of a Venetian lion that she found on one of the walls of the garden.

The last part of the first day of the workshop the women spent on choosing the colors of their mood boards, exploring the world of different shades and hues, and searching for the one that was the most adequate to their mood!

B. said she wanted to depict the nigerian sand that she misses

And here we’re on Day 2! It started by creating the background of our mood boards: women chose different colors and patterns to decorate them. The background of the mood board of B. as she told us, was Nigerian sand and the sea that reflects the rainbow. S. instead covered her mood board with green and white: colors of the Nigerian flag, her country that she misses and is proud of. B. had covered her board with a rain of colors in a very artistic, almost Jackson Pollock’s way! All of them reflected their personalities and sensibility. In the end, participants had created very interesting patterns that easily, one day, could become an inspiration for fashion collections.

Next was the presentation of the photos we had taken the previous day and the women chose the ones that were describing them in the best way. All were watching each others’ photos, there was a lot of laughter but also a little bit of astonishment: ‘am I so beautiful? I went out really well on this picture!’ Later on, we used the pictures they chose to fill our mood boards!

The mood board is a reflection of our moments of creativity and the goals we would like to reach. It had to inspire us! The women put on it a lot of their dreams and wrote different interesting phrases that reflect their soul – about life, as for example: ‘life is nothing else but a thrill that flies away, all of the balance above the madness’, or ‘to live and to laugh about the troubles’- said A. In their mood boards the one thing was certain: fashion and their love for it, but also the fact of being really grateful to find the opportunity at Quid recognizing it as a sort of milestone in their lives. In their mood boards were not missing also the values like health, so much threatened in the times of pandemic (R. wrote: ‘health is wealth’) or others mentioned other important traits as for example ‘gentleness’. There were messages of hope and encouragement to carry on even in the most complicated situations. To create a mood board they used different techniques, fashion reviews, colors, post-it and different pieces of fabrics. The photos took an important place: B. put her photo that we had taken last day and the photo of her friend R. in the center of her mood board and created around the framework. She admitted that friendship for her is one of the most important things in life.

The intermission between different workshops was also the exercise of drawing the sinusoid with different colors. It was a very useful, mindfulness, and relaxing experience for the women, in search of balance and inner peace. Sometimes the easiest exercises can become the most difficult ones!

The little exercise that we made next was to make a postcard using the collage technique. We could see the women really thinking out of the box: R. created a mail art depicting herself adding the word ‘”April” accompanied by springtime flowers and cutting out the paper in a shape of a heart.

In the end, the feedbacks have been shared and women discussed the elements of their mood boards. The majority of them admitted that before they had never been involved in creative workshops. They were happy to be a part of the project, thinking now about their future in a lot brighter way. Probably one of the most touching moments of the workshop was when they had to write a message to the other imaginary woman that had been through similar things in life and they had to say something to encourage them in their pathway: most of the women wrote words of comfort, to carry on despite the difficulties, to stay strong. The messages were full of love and as they were reading it, they were moved and their voices trembling. It was a very important passage: at that moment it seemed simply they wanted to express all of the hardships they have been through.

The messages of comfort have been destined to other women, but in fact, in the end, they wrote it for their own selves.

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