This post was originally published in the 2019 Summer Issue of CAN Journal.
Art imitates life. And sometimes, art unlocks a life.
Just ask Menna Asrat, 25, and Erin McCall, 23, two young artists preparing for their first joint exhibition in the Streeter Gallery at Judson Park.
Although their paths to this point have differed—Erin comes from Pennsylvania, for one, and Menna is from Ethiopia—the women share much in common. Both are graduate students in counseling and art therapy at Ursuline College; both studied psychology as undergrads; and both share the title of “artist-in-residence” at Judson Park, where they assist with creative arts and art therapy programming under the direction of program coordinator and art therapist Cathy Bryan. In exchange for their residency, the women receive housing and access to Judson Park’s art studio.
Menna and Erin also share this: a conviction that art can break through barriers that traditional talk therapy often cannot.
Art therapy has long been recognized as a valuable tool for reaching and engaging people who, for whatever reasons, are unable to communicate through words. “Art doesn’t lie,” says Cathy. “It’s a projection, a mirror of what’s going on inside.”
Menna agrees. “Art breaks down barriers and can lead to conversations that people might not engage in otherwise,” she says. “It can trigger memories, provide release from pain and stress, and help maintain relationships with family and friends.”
Erin has long been interested in making art, but it wasn’t until her junior year of college, when she decided to check out an art therapy class, that she saw a bridge between her vocational and avocational objectives. “It was a way I could do my art and also help people,” she says. “That had always been my goal.”
Menna, in contrast, came to her practice as a fortuitous side effect of undergrad stress. “Even though I was studying psychology, I started taking one art class each semester to help me de-stress,” she says. It didn’t take long for her to appreciate the therapeutic powers of art-making, and she soon launched a personal practice.
Since starting their residency, both women have focused on acrylic pouring, the process of making swirling abstractions by pouring acrylic paint over canvas. The results can be breathtaking. One of Menna’s paintings, Serenity, is a dimensional whirl of turquoise, buff and black, and bears a striking resemblance to a topographical map. Likewise, one of Erin’s pieces, The Marble Effect, brings to mind delicate Florentine paper.
Entitled Identity & Growth: the Art of Menna Asrat & Erin McCall, the show includes these pieces, along with approximately sixty other works chosen to reflect the women’s evolution as students, therapists, and artists.
Its focus on personal identity will make the show highly relatable, Erin promises. As for Menna, who has long favored abstract art, the exhibit is a chance to share her own identity with others. “I love it when viewers project themselves into my work,” she says. “It feels great when my art gives them their own story to tell.”
Spoken like a true art therapist.