Special photography exhibit highlights sexual assault survivors’ healing journeys


Although April was officially designated as Sexual Assault Awareness month, an upcoming exhibit in May continues to relate photography and healing to survivors of sexual assault.

“Join us at the University of Michigan School of Nursing May 10-17 between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to see a special photography exhibit highlighting survivors’ healing journeys after experiencing sexual violence on college campuses,” according to Laura Sinko, organizer of the event. “The exhibit will feature interviews, advice, and photographs taken by 24 female survivors of undergraduate unwanted sexual experiences. Our goal is to teach students and service providers about healing after sexual violence while fostering a dialogue surrounding how universities and service organizations can best support survivor healing and decision-making.”

The University of Michigan School of Nursing is located at 426 North Ingalls Street, Ann Arbor.

Sinko described how photography can be instrumental in the healing process.

“We found that photography was helpful to externalize one’s trauma and to help women recognize what facilitates and creates barriers to their healing,” stated Sinko. “We also found that photography elicited a certain vulnerability in our participants by empowering them to recognize and feel their darker moments as well as their healing moments. Identifying emotions as they came up throughout the week seemed helpful to our participants to encourage them to actively pay attention to their feelings and engage in their healing.”

Survivors can become empowered through photography as well, according to a study in which she was the researcher.

“Creating photography and being present with one’s feelings in their day-to-day life seemed to be healing in our sample,” stated Sinko.

“In fact, all of our participants indicated that photography, either somewhat or fully, contributed to their understanding of how to improve their situation and gave them a different idea of what their problems were according to our post interview survey. Anecdotally, however, survivors seemed empowered by our photography display after the data was collected. It seemed to bring a true understanding that they are not alone in their suffering and also seemed to inspire them to try to imagine what a more ‘healed’ them might look like. By seeing people at all stages of the process, many witnesses described feeling hope and a rejuvenated feeling that healing is possible.”
University of Michigan Hospitals reportedly uses similar techniques with their patients to help them heal.

“In the hospital, we frequently engage the patients in art therapy to help them express their feelings and externalize their experiences,” said Sinko. “This seems to create a different outlet for patients to process and interpret their experiences. Due to privacy concerns, however, we are unable to use photography while on the unit.”

The exhibit in May was first shown at the Matthai Botanical Gardens in April.

“The last exhibit seemed very successful,” stated Sinko. “Around 250 visitors attended consisting of survivors, supporters of survivors, and service providers. The visitors were engaged and the feedback was very positive.”

Please email the researcher and curator Dr. Laura Sinko at laurasin@umich.edu if you have any questions. Go to  FindingTheStrengthToHeal.com for more details.

Writer’s Note

Donna Marie Iadipaolo has been a certified State of Michigan teacher since 1990 and found that offering art and writing across all disciplines of the curriculum to be extremely healing, rejuvenating, and motivating for students in their learning and overall well-being. Furthermore, she is currently developing a math and art class, in part, to help alleviate math anxiety or/and other anxieties. 

“I also teach a photography class and students often tell me how the art of photography is healing and confidence-building and also helps them work through other issues,” she said. “Photography, and art more generally, is not only healing and comforting when examining an issue through a different lens, but also can be beneficial to the viewer of the work as well.”

Three titles in the May exhibit are “There’s just something about the beach,” “Balancing wrong and wrong,” and “Balance.”

As an example, with the piece titled “”There’s just something about the beach” photograph we might think about walking by the shore and hearing the comforting sounds of the water and the infinite view of an ocean or lake.

With the photograph “Balancing wrong and wrong” we might recall making bad choices that were not in our best interest and having to force ourselves to think outside of the box to create better choices.

With the photograph “Balance” we might think of certain moments in life where we felt more balance or at one with nature and our surroundings.

According to the Foundation for Art and Healing, loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and major public health crises affecting 30 percent of us. Creative expression is a great outlet to address loneliness as well as a host of other physical and mental health challenges, traumas, and predicaments.

In recent years, there has been more interest in the relationship between art and healing in the medical, educational, and artistic worlds, according to the Foundation for Art and Healing. Also, according to the foundation: “Often based on their personal experience with illness, painters, dancers, sculptors, writers, and arts educators have also realized the power of the creative process to heal body and mind.” Artists, educators, medical professionals, and many others are all known to utilize the creative process for healing and understanding.

See https://artandhealing.org/our-history/ for more information.


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