Survivors of trauma ‘make something beautiful out of tragedy’

By Mari Devereaux, Staff Reporter

Camilla Forte
The Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center, 1957 S. Spaulding Ave., holds the opening night of its exhibit “Survivors of Trauma” Friday, Oct. 4.

Sharon Burrink stands before her neatly-framed work with a sense of accomplishment. Hanging around the artist and teacher in a small, cluttered room are dozens of art pieces with themes of trauma and healing.

After 12 years of working through trauma and repressed memories, art became the voice Burrink never had to express what she was going through.

“I wanted a testimony to the pain that other people are going through when they’ve been abused,” Burrink said.

The Chicago Urban Art Retreat Center, 1957 S. Spaulding Ave., held the opening night of its exhibit, “Survivors of Trauma,” Oct. 4, featuring artists’ work from around the world depicting trauma that stems from racism, sexual abuse, mental illness and violence.

Dianna Long, director, founder and curator at CUARC, said the exhibit is a safe place for people to express themselves in a meaningful way, even if the pieces are not always comfortable to look at.

“There are people that make art that is disturbing or upsetting because that’s been their reality,” Long said. “It might disturb or upset you,  but this is my life. This is something I want to talk about, this is something I want to share.”

Amy Williams, an artist and gallery director who sent pieces of blackout poetry all the way from Brooklyn, said the work she created explores nearly two decades of sexual abuse by a high school teacher she was close to.

“When I couldn’t talk about [the trauma] anymore with my therapist, the art is what really helped me to process those feelings,” Williams said.

About a year ago, Williams was inspired to start a “book treatment project,” vowing to use the next novel she found on the street as inspiration through which she could look inward.

It was through this “serendipitous” process that Williams began working with a vintage copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” underlining words that spoke to her and helped her understand how she was exploited.

“I’m talking about it publicly, so maybe someone can identify with it and find their own courage to speak out,” Williams said.

Rosie Solano, a 21-year-old artist who moved to the city from Kewanee, Illinois, submitted two mixed-media collages chronicling her struggles with manic depression, anorexia, medication and racism.

“It’s kind of a messed up situation, but it’s sort of comforting that you can look at it all in one set and see that it all still works together,” Solano said.

Since founding the center in 1984, Long said CUARC has stuck to its mission of education, bringing awareness to social justice issues and the trauma of victimization.

Long said the arts help people express themselves and learn more about who they are, ultimately making the world a better place.

Burrink said through sharing her own artistic process and experiences dealing with trauma, she aims to leave people with a message of hope.

“It’s trying to find the little treasures, ” Burrink said. “And [trying] to make something beautiful out of tragedy.”

Since founding the center in 1984, Long said CUARC has stuck to its mission of education and bringing awareness to social justice issues and the trauma of victimization.

Long said the arts help people express themselves and learn more about who they are, ultimately making the world a better place.

Through their program “Have Studio Will Travel,” CUARC currently offers women retreats, art therapy, workshops, assistance with problem-solving and even temporary housing, with daily, weekly and monthly rates in “a safe, welcoming, and women-only space to call home for a night or for a longer while,” according to its website.

Burrink said through sharing her own artistic process and experiences dealing with trauma, she aims to leave people with a message of hope.

“It’s trying to find the little treasures … in what happened,”Burrink said. “And try[ing] to make something beautiful out of tragedy.”

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.