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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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    Recovering Through Expression

    It has happened before — sexual abuse victims using art as a medium for therapy — but never at Stony Brook University.

    The 17th annual Sexual Abuse Survivor’s Show premiered for its first year at the university in Ballroom B of the Student Activities Center on Saturday afternoon, bringing with it new methods of creativity other than the usual “color-me-a-feeling” approach.

    Sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York Health and Human Services System, the show has been offering gallery presentations for sexual abuse survivors to display their visual and audio work since 1991. While most works were submissions and did not require the presence of the artist, some artists who did attend stood out for their different approaches towards recovery.

    Julia Vargas, 48, did not “draw” her feelings. Instead, she took a wooden pony and reinvented it for her own purposes. “I found it one day by the garbage and it felt so discarded, just the way people feel sometimes,” she said. “So I took him home. My husband helped to restore it, and I glued on whatever I found, whatever I felt made it better.” The rocking pony, covered in assorted newspaper and magazine paper, stood knee-high with a dark brown yarn mane. Vargas named it “Joy.”

    “I decided to name her Joy because she was the first piece I’ve made that was just enjoyable, and because I found moments of joy for the first time in this journey,” Vargas said.

    After going to therapy for abuse that dated back to her “diaper days,” Vargas went through a deep depression at 30. “I stayed in bed all the time. I went to therapy and even talked to the church pastor. But I never connected anything to my sexual abuse. I was very suicidal.”

    Art cleared the way for her memories. In another piece she created for one of her first survivor’s shows, Vargas used a magazine clipping of a female swimmer diving into a cemented area as the central focus for a collage.

    “It’s representative of taking a dive at life,” Vargas said. She also used two already-bitten apples to signify the dissociative nature of men and women, along with many small images, Vargas said.

    Athena Reich, a young piano artist, decided to voice her feelings through lyrics. She described her music as “piano punk-pop with a theatrical twist.” Stationed next to a table filled with self-promotional posters, albums and t-shirts ready for purchase — along with three self-made paintings — Reich discussed how she used music, and then painting, to deal with her early childhood experience.

    “I started playing piano when I was five, singing by 16. It was my therapy for dealing with the pain from early abuse,” Reich said. “This past year I’ve had bronchitis and partially paralyzed vocal chords. I had laser surgery three months after and could not sing for the time being.”

    To deal with the time off from singing, Reich picked up oil pastels to paint. She never thought them through, Reich said. She drew whatever came to mind. The three oil pastel portraits depicted images of females with battered faces and strong expressions.

    “I couldn’t sleep at night. It was very upsetting. I grew angry very quickly,” Reich said. “I was in a new relationship during this time. I had trust issues because it brought back old memories, and I had to face them.”

    With her fifth album on the way, Reich said the track “Merry Go Round” was one of her favorites, one of the first songs she wrote as a teenager after doing therapy for her early memories.

    Lyrics like “Little lace girl, never stop to let the dirty men touch you where you don’t want/Stay on the merry-go round/I wish I could go back/I wish I could stop that/Give him a good kick and run away” were part of her coping techniques as an adolescent.

    Visit www.athenareich.com for more tracks and album information.

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