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Violence, Women's Rights, and Art Therapy in Italy

Art Therapy in Verona
UMD students learned about the benefits of art therapy as they visited an art therapy classroom in a hospital for the mentally ill in Verona, Italy. Group leader, UMD's Susan Meyers said, "Victims of violence who make art have fewer nightmares, they don't feel as depressed, their self-esteem in raised, and they manage stress better."

"On this trip to Italy I found that you can bring visibility to a problem through art. Art can fill in the blanks regarding an issue such as domestic violence," said Asha Bradley, a UMD senior who traveled, along with 13 additional students, to four cities in Italy: Rome, Florence, Venice, and Verona. Their January 2015 trip explored women's studies, women and law, and art therapy resources. Bradley, who is an American Indian studies major, a psychology major, and a dance minor, said she gained a deeper understanding of culture on many levels. Students learned about the dynamics of domestic violence including issues about power and control, the cycle of violence, and safety planning. Bradley says, "We can make people aware of the suffering caused by domestic violence and hopefully teach and create the safety of respectful love."

Ashra Bradley
Asha Bradley says, "Words that come to mind from this adventure are: survivor, stunning, inspiring, passion, dreams, crave, flicker of light, and scenes."

Comparing Two Countries
The students learned about the issues surrounding domestic and sexual violence and compared systems in Italy with those in the United States. It wasn't always easy. "There is an Italian saying that 'Girls shouldn't be hit, not even with a flower,'" says Bradley. "But a report by the United Nations indicates that domestic abuse in Italy is the most pervasive form of violence." In fact the same report notes that approximately 30 percent of Italian women between the ages of 16 and 70 will experience some level of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

The students visited women’s organizations in Rome including the Antiviolence Center of the Provence of Rome, Maree Center Rome, the Antiviolence Center of the Municipality of Rome, and the Associazione Differenza Donna Contro La Violenza. They also spent time at the P.E.T.R.A. Association in Florence, a refuge for women that offers services related to violence and abuse and they visited Artemisia Center, a shelter and agency for women.

Benefits of Art Therapy
In Florence, they heard Dr. Camilla Weber give a presentation on sexual assault and art therapy at the Florence University of the Art. Dr. Weber's presentation was especially meaningful to UMD's Susan Meyers, who led the student trip. Meyers is the director of a Duluth/Superior program that uses art as a healing tool for women and children. "There are so many recovery benefits from art therapy or the art expression process" Meyers said. "Victims of violence who make art have fewer nightmares, they don't feel as depressed, their self-esteem in raised, and they manage stress better."

In Verona, the students visited a hospital for the mentally ill which offers patients an art expression program that gives the patient freedom to explore art and process their feelings using art. Italian artist and art facilitator Daniela Rosi, head of the Cultural Center of Neurological Rehabilitation Franca Martini di Trento, gave a lecture to the students on her work promoting and guiding women as artists. Rosi has been empowering women for years, elevating them and their art by coordinating art shows and exposing their work to the world.

Bringing the Lessons Home
Bradley is incorporating lessons from the trip into her spring choreography class. "Dance is another form of art. I am designing a choreography piece based on domestic abuse issues. I want to send a message that others will learn from through dance."

"My eyes were opened to many new facets of this issue," Bradley says. "I see that there is so much work to be done in regards to domestic violence in Italy, as well as here in the United States."

Group of students on the Italy trip Children's room at a women's shelter in Rome
Students on the trip in Rome, l-r, Bottom row: Lindsey Anderson, Asha Bradley, Jessica Parnow, Taylor Sahar Zare, Rachael Dorn, Katie Janke, Chelsey Ann, and Sydney Keeler. Top row: Shawna Danae Suomi, Jenny Goodew, Kristin Hetrick, Laura Marie. Lexi Kells, Hannah Carr, Katie Moret, and Susan Meyers. The children's room at Associazione Differenza Donna Contro La Violenza, a shelter for women and children in Rome. The UMD students toured bedrooms, a group kitchen, and the offices. The head of the Associazione Differenza Donna organization gave a presentation, through a translator.
Artwork from the art therapy studio UMD students take a break for some gelato.
The art therapy studio in Verona. Helping women create art to express their feelings is a successful way to help them through the pain of trauma. The students had many opportunities to see the sights in Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona. Gelato, pizza and pasta became their favorite foods.

For more information about study abroad programs offered at UMD, visit the International Education Office website.

For more information about the North Central Windows Program, visit the group's website.


Written by Cheryl Reitan. January, 2015.

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