ART THERAPY AND CHAGAS
In 1998 Arturo Francisco Solari Fierro took a trip to India. Since the area he was traveling to had a high prevalence of malaria, he came to the Drassanes-Vall d’Hebron Tropical Medicine and International Health Unit for a consultation; this is how our long history of collaboration with him began.
In 2006, after several years and at our request, Arturo created a mural in our center’s lobby. It was an homage to immigrants, titled “Immigrants in Body and Soul”. We were impressed by his special sensitivity and professionality, and thus we remained associated with him; he later created a multi-mural project in our center’s garden.
He has exhibited his own artwork several times in our exhibition room, the art space “Wonee”.
The last exhibition he put on was a selection of works created by a group of elderly people, the product of his work in art therapy in a nursing home.
Because of our long-standing familiarity with his work, it was very easy for us to choose Arturo Solari as a collaborator for incorporating art therapy with people affected by Chagas disease in the BeatChagas initiative; we began work on this project in August 2014.
ART THERAPY WORKSHOPS AND CHAGAS
This intervention involving art therapy for people who are associated with a problematic health issue such as Chagas was an opportunity, a challenge, and an innovation. An intervention like this offers a varied, rich, deep “menu” of strategies to confront a plethora of factors such as: immigration; social, professional, and economic circumstances; general state of health; creative possibilities; the treatment of resistance and inhibition; being part of a group; multiple modes of communication such as verbal, artistic, and metaphorical; understanding of an individual’s inner world; the search for alternative solutions to many types of problems; and many other factors.
When applying this strategy with people affected by Chagas disease, the aim was to offer a forum for creativity and mutual exchange in which things that distressed those people the most could be put “on the table” for discussion–whether directly related to the disease or not. Through different exercises, art pieces, and expressions, these people came to be able to address the core subject of their work: Chagas disease. This allowed them to show their personal realities, both individually and as a group, and discover new ways to confront the disease and live with it.
This strategy was also used with health personnel, and with this group, the aim was to offer a space of exploration and care in which they could make use of their communicative and expressive abilities. It also sought to create a relaxed atmosphere in which issues that are not always addressed in other spaces for various reasons, such as lack of time, could be worked through.
Furthermore, the intervention was intended to explore new ways of understanding health-illness processes in both the first person and third person. It is essential for health professionals to be able to imagine and intuit the experiences of the patients they treat. With this in mind, they can offer perspectives, pathways, and tools that better serve the needs of their patients in terms of health and creativity in therapeutic contexts.
FINAL RESULTS AND REFLECTIONS
This intervention revealed itself to be a compelling tool that provoked very deep personal and group experiences. In the phase of work with the group of affected people–Bolivian citizens that live in Barcelona–the process helped to fill a cultural and existential gap which allowed both the participants and the art therapist to share in a common “space-time”. The flexibility of certain parts of the framework allowed for bonds of trust to be formed which then led to a widening communicative opening. As if they were onions, whose different layers were peeled through expressive and creative work, the participants were able to reach the center, the culminating point of the journey: confronting Chagas disease and its consequences for the life or death of many people. Through their artistic creations, the participants generated attitudes and responses of their own in the face of the challenge of being carriers of Chagas disease. In the phase of work with the group of healthcare professionals, they moved from a “blank paper” situation to a “colorful paper” situation. Any initial inhibitions and hesitations dissolved through the use of artistic methods and materials. Their creative abilities became more and more natural and fluid. They constructed dialogues and exchanges in which private and personal ideas and thoughts flourished and were accepted by the group. Some exercises and experiences included challenges that were overcome throughout the process. This exploration of the relationship between social communication and healthcare enabled important discoveries. The light, good-natured, communicative attitude of the groups at the end of the process was a testament to the positive impact of the experience. Both groups, healthcare professionals and patients with Chagas, finished the course with a presentation of the visual diaries that some participants made. These presentations and the contents of the diaries gave a good account of the life stories of participants in each group. They were “windows” that opened to others, through which the richness of human life, its challenges, and its joys could be validated.
Arturo Solari is an art therapist, visual artist, and social worker of Mexican origin.
He was trained in expressive arts therapy at the former ISPA Institute of Barcelona (currently based in IATBA). He currently works as a professional supervisor and teacher.
He also studied to be an expressive arts educational facilitator at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, USA.
He has coordinated and participated in many art therapy, artistic, and social experiences with a wide variety of groups.
He currently lives in Girona, Spain, where he has a studio and does private consultations. He continues to work on various projects.