Art Therapy for Social Justice: Radical Intersections edited by Savneet K. Talwar (2019), Routledge Books, New York: NY, 218 pp, black & white figures.,
$39.95, ISBB-13: 978-113890969
Reviewed by Nadine Cohen, Ed.S., NCSP, ATR
In this wonderful and timely book, Savneet Talwar (2019) has edited a collection of essays that explore not only our multi-dimensional identities, but contextualizes art therapy within a social and historic fabric. As a starting point, this book posits the notion that we need to critique art therapy as a movement, and uncover paradigms that we might otherwise take for granted. The book achieves this objective by highlighting how art therapy is socially constructed, and is played out within a context of mutually dependent political, legal, personal, and social systems that coincide on many levels.
This book is rich and succeeds on many levels. To name a few, it is thought provoking for both experienced scholars and practitioners, as well as those more recently drawn to critique social paradigms and our place within those structures; marginalization is addressed in its many forms, including disability culture and identity, gender violence, ethnicity, and other –isms that construct who we are; but most importantly, this book includes personal experiences that are well thought-out, and related from a first person perspective. In so doing, not only are practical creative forms of social engagement explored, but we as readers are invited to question our own assumptions of power, and how we position ourselves in our social, spiritual, relational, and work lives.
While this book is broad in scope, it is focused. Authors include models of caring that are based on the methodologies of “self-care, radical caring, hospitality, and restorative practice” (p.xiv). In so doing, this editor broadens the concept of care and well-being and underscores the importance of ongoing self-reflectivity. This concept posits a shift in our thinking towards wholesomeness, and envisions transformation that extends beyond incorporating what is politically correct, but is more reflective of a way of questioning cultural norms and our own blind spots.
In as much as the style of this book is outspoken, it is neither didactic and moralistic, nor attacking and aggressive in its orientation. The writing is readable and accomplished. Practical programs and individual scenarios are referenced. Hierarchies between various art forms are unmasked as we are encouraged to examine how various art forms inform us. As an example, Talwar references her personal journey of reaching back into the various forms of fabric and domestic art experienced in her own home and culture, and how she then comes to then use those self-same art forms to critique current social prejudices that may otherwise be taken for granted.
Equal credence and validity is given to fabric art, performance art, protest art, community art, and craft, to name but a few expressive forms. In short, we are encouraged and invited to explore our own humanity from several vantage points. Terms are clearly explained for the newly initiated, and elaborated upon for readers more familiar with working concepts of different paradigms within the field of mental health in general, and art therapy in particular. While personal experiences are supported by statistics about exposure to violence, this book is a call for a deeper understanding of the cultural and historical contexts in which we live.
This book is a reminder of writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ affirmation in “The Case for Reparation” (2014). In that article, he states how “we must imagine a new country” that includes “full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences” (section IX, para 13). He thereby acknowledges the need to consolidate and reconcile all our different narratives, in order for us to all “feel known.” Implicit in this approach is the suggestion of difficult conversations and inner work that needs to take place. As Coleman Hughes (2019), columnist, comments; “the possibility of a just society . . . depends on our willingness to change how we relate to it” (para 34).
As a school psychologist with a background in art therapy, I so appreciated the opportunity to read this book. In being open and receptive to what the authors share, we are invited to deepen our ability to listen and engage more profoundly as we uncover the many layers of identity. Thank you Savneet Talwar and your contributors for your part in opening up this very relevant conversation.
Coates, T. (2014 June). The case for reparations. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
Hughes, C. (2019 March). Reparations and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s pyrrhic victory. Quillette. Retrieved from https://quillette.com/2019/03/17/reparations-and-ta-nehisi-coatess-pyrrhic-victory/
Nadine Cohen, is a practicing and nationally certified School Psychologist. She also received her Master of Arts in Art Therapy from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, IL; and Early Intervention in Deaf Education from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, MO. She has worked for over twenty five years, in both educational and clinical settings, and has a diverse educational background and work experience. Since leaving her native South Africa in 1988, she has worked in the field of special education, and has facilitated community based workshops in the areas of art and spirituality. She is a life-long learner who enjoys creative expression through clay and fiber art.