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Mia Janković Shentser

CREATING CROATIAN ART THERAPY

 

Crossing the borders with culture and tradition

Summary: Since the creation of Creative therapies studies at the J. J. Strossmayer University of Osijek, Art therapy in Croatia gained an approach to art therapy created by the first generation of students so as to build a bridge from the new therapeutic branch to the potential clients in Croatia, an approach that leans on multicultural theory that recognizes that all helping methods ultimately exist within a cultural context. In this article there will be examples of themes from Croatian culture and the experientials that they were turned into, the processes and results of workshops created in Osijek, Zagreb, Zadar, Skopje, and Jerusalem where these experientials were brought to the life. The list of the themes coincides with the UNESCO's list of Croatian heritage and were applied within the art therapeutic sessions for roughly a year with psychiatric patients, elderly persons, trauma struck persons, children with special needs.

 

Artwork made by clients with intellectual disabilities, photo: Privatni albumArtwork made by clients with intellectual disabilities, photo: Privatni album 

 

Intro


Croatia is in many ways new and ancient, her borders are surpassed by her tradition and culture that in the last two years got another perspective – an art therapeutic one.


Since the creation of Creative therapies study at the J. J. Strossmayer University of Osijek, Art therapy in Croatia gained a voice, 6 voices to be exact, that created an approach to art therapy so as to build a bridge from the new therapeutic branch to the people of Croatia. The bridge was also for all the people involved or interested in art therapy that never had a chance to experience Croatian culture. The six voices were right: the idea was successfully used in representing the Croatian art therapy at the George Washington University in Washington DC and at the 49th Art therapy Conference in Miami where art therapists from around the world could hear and see about Croatian traditions as art therapeutic directives.


In this article there will be examples of themes from Croatian culture and the experientials that they were turned into, the processes and results of workshops created in Osijek, Zagreb, Zadar, Skopje, and Jerusalem where these experientials were brought to the life.


The experientials were chosen with a thought of the therapeutic goal and their results are visible in the presentation. The list of the themes was long and coincided with the UNESCO's list of Croatian heritage. The six voices had to concentrate on few which they worked with in the art therapeutic sessions for roughly a year with different populations (psychiatric patients, elderly persons, trauma struck persons, children with special needs..). The themes we chose are Vucedol dove, Magna Mater, drywall technique, lace from Pag, Hvar, and Lepoglava, and Licitar hearts; with the tie and ''Pep Ups –The Encouragers'' embroidered kitchen clothes (bodrice) on the pending list.


The Background


The multicultural theory describes multicultural counseling as a „metatheoretical approach that recognizes that all helping methods ultimately exist within a cultural context“(Ivey et al. 1997,p134.). This cultural context is structured through the family, social and cultural factors which affect the way person experiences the world around and in him. „Ethnicity, nationality, religion, language, age, gender, place of residence, social, educational and economic status, affiliations to different organizations and informal affiliations to ideas and a lifestyle“ (Pederson,1994) are all variables that any of us can be identified with and to fit ourselves in multiple identities and cultures too.


In this way, we can identify our similarities as much as differences with/to other cultures which are an important point for each and every person living in a nowadays globalized culture who as an answer seems to turn to a singlefocal view of the right-wing. The awareness of your culture means taking a neutral point of the knowledge of the history, tradition, and influences and this seeks curiosity and open-mindedness. When, as therapists, we work with someone from a different culture, we should be aware of these points and continue to study the specific culture.


The idea that ''multiculturalism acknowledges the presence of diverse worldviews where each culture is unique and dynamic, needing to be understood within its own context'' (Comas-Diaz, 2014, in Corsini & Wedding, pg. 534) made sense in creating a uniquely Croatian art therapy. If, according to Gergen and Gergen and Sue and Sue, ''multiculturalism embodies cultural constructionism - a process whereby individuals construct their world through social processes that contain symbols and metaphors'' (as cited in Comas-Diaz, 2014), then recognizing the associated language and connecting the cultural symbols to personal stories in constructing Croatian art therapy is apt.


Themes


Neolithic ceramic traditions used included the Great Mother and the Vuchedol dove. Through these symbols, roles in the family, family structure, parental figure relationships, and personal associations to war, peace and freedom came to light during art therapy sessions.

 

Licitars, Foto: Private albumLicitars, Foto: Private albumThe drywall, a highly ecological stone wall construction technique, without using mortar, was developed using only stones in situ to create the farmland borders between the pastures and fields (Puljak, 2014). The technique has been pronounced a Croatian cultural heritage in the year of 2013. When creating walls, clients spontaneously identified symbols of protection, isolation, and communication.

 

''Licitars'', known since the Middle Ages, colorful dough shaped as hearts, human figures, horses or boots (Biškupić Bašić, 2001) were made as a present or decoration. Placing a mirror in the middle of the heart captures the reflection of the giver and receiver, and expresses affection. Used in art therapy, licitars can elicit hopes, dreams, and altruism.

 

There is a strong tradition of lacemaking in Croatia, particularly from the islands of Pag and Hvar, and the areas of Lepoglava and Dubrovnik. Women continued their grandmother's patterns, adding a personal touch, and creating unique, meaningful pieces over generations. The lacemaking as a contemplative activity was used as a memory enhancer with a social trait, and as an informal assessment for cognitive capacity levels.

 

The Vuchedol dove and The Magna Mater as an art therapeutic directive


The prehistoric culture of Vuchedol covers the territory of Croatian lowlands, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, and with the time the territory spread even more. The name comes from the locality of Vuchedol, archeological site five km east of Vukovar. At its peak, ca. 3000.b.c. – 2400.b.c., the refined ceramics were developed and metallurgy which brought first non-toxic bronze and designed the first metal saw in the world. The architecture main feature was a residential object with typical „basket-built“ three-room houses, with separated fireplace and bedroom, furnished and with 23 different kinds of earthenware, from which each person in the house had his own plate and cup. The construction of temples was connected to the deity it was serving. The God of Fire had his temple in the underground catacomb of the metallurgist's house where the fire was always kept on. In the underground temple the ceremonies took place and this is where our clay, partridge-shaped incense-burning fire holder, the famous Vuchedol dove was found. It was used in magical and religious rituals led by the shaman, a person who knew the secrets of metalwork, fire, and earth. The religious usage of the Dove presupposes that the symbol was connected to the spirit world, which was used by shaman in mediation with gods.


Artworks made by clients in Psychiatric hospital, photo: Private albumArtworks made by clients in Psychiatric hospital, photo: Private albumIn the time of Croatian war of Independence where Vukovar was the symbol of horrifying losses, injustice and agony, Vuchedol dove acquires additional meaning, it becomes the symbol of the city of Vukovar, a symbol of peace and freedom, the justice and human rights.


The Great Mother symbol is an universally found matriarchy symbol of earth, home, fertility found in many corners of the world. The specific one was found on the archeological site in Skopje, Macedonia.


Using these symbols we are tracking universal symbols existing in the collective memory. Bird and a mother, two archetypes that anybody connects with surfaced the link with the theme of family and family dynamics. The GreatMother evoked the mother figure or other female figure of the family while Vuchedol dove symbolized the father-figure or another significant male figure in the family. In the case of working with only one symbol, the Vuchedol dove theme, the results were tracing the themes of home and family(nesting, leaving the nest, children leaving the nest), or spiritual meanings. It was a meaningful tool to reach the personal stories and deal with issues buried in the family past and it used as a key to open a process connected to the family trauma.


Krunislav Stojanovski held the sessions at the Daycare center at the Psychiatric clinic in Skopje, Macedonia; and with the artists' population in Paris, France. Mia Janković Shentser worked with the Holocaust survivors and the patients at the Psychiatric clinic in Jerusalem, Israel.

 

The drywall technique as an art therapeutic directive


The drywall as a technique is used for over 36 centuries worldwide, as the first form of building technique. In Dalmatia, Herzegovina and Dubrovnik, they were used since ancient times and until today this technique stayed contemporary. Dalmatian drywalls are short and thus making the communication between fields and owners easy, they also serve as pathways between overgrown flora of the fields not in use, making the communication possible. Their mmicry in nature as if made by nature itself and their longevity makes them the perfect border that rules out no one, but puts the two in a fair contact of knowing where „i“ finish and „you“ begin, the righteous integrity rule. The other rule of integrity is its marking the border of territory for the safety and protection of the property, or for privacy reasons.


Characteristic of this technique used as an art therapeutic activity is its meditative and contemplative quality. The examples of Vodice community members that pitched in and built a Vuchedol dove in drywall technique as a collective mourning act for the firemen perished in the horrific fire on the Kornati island, shows its therapeutic value, and this characteristic with the others stated above, viewed metaphorically, transferred to the human condition were used in art therapeutic purpose.

 

For the patients on the Psychiatric ward where thereis no peace or quiet, it provided so much needed silence of mind. For others it was a way to express their need for space and privacy, need for protection and security, to show their position in the hospital or their homes.


From the aspect of multicultural theory it is interesting that the elderly persons that had the experience of the drywall from their life, it was a trip down the memory lane to the lost pieces of the childhood, that evoked smells and melodies, long forgotten places. Their artwork was reviving the shapes of the architectural form of „kažun“ houses while others dealt with the symbolic levels of the theme.


Magdalena Rubeša, Krunislav Stojanovski and Mia Janković Shentser worked with Psychiatric patients, children with behavioral and trauma related problems, and elderly persons in Retirement homes.

 

Artwork made by clients in Psychiatric hospital, photo: Private albumArtwork made by clients in Psychiatric hospital, photo: Private album Artwork made with the child with behavioral disorders, photo: Private albumArtwork made with the child with behavioral disorders, photo: Private album Artwork made by elderly persons in Retirement home, photo: Private Artwork made by elderly persons in Retirement home, photo: Private

 

Lace as an art therapeutic directive


Croatian tradition of lace is rich and goes back before the 15 c. when it was broadly used in the monasteries of Pag and other islands.


Lace-makers of Pag did their work without any scheme drawings. Each woman used works from her mother and grandmothers as examples, each adding a unique personal touch. Each lace piece is a symbol of the anonymous, modest and self-sacrificing life of its maker.


Artworks made by clients with intellectual disabilities, Photo: Private albumArtworks made by clients with intellectual disabilities, Photo: Private albumLepoglava lace won the Paris world fair award in 1937. among other outstanding achievements, chosen for her distinguishing, sophisticated patterns.


The therapeutic use was to reduce anxiety, slow down and focus. These qualities are especially important with the mood disorders, but also with the elderly where Magdalena Rubeša has spent more than a half year working. The importance of this activity for this population was also the memory sustenance. The tradition has deeper influence and stronger roots then we acknowledge. The hands remember the movements and the thread told the story of their past and their mother's past too. In this way, the history was traced back, got materialized and connected the persons in lively discussions while comparing the variations and possibilities of this technique.


In the next example, lace was used as an informal assessment with the intellectually disabled children, which Jasmina Pacek designed as a technique to asses the cognitive level of clients. In the results, it is visible that the work of the client with a higher cognitive level had more elements depicted and more organized pattern, as opposed to the lesser organization of pattern and composition distancing from the original in the works of the lower cognitive level.

 

Licitars as an art therapeutic directive


Artwork made by clients at the Psychiatric hospital, photo: Private albumArtwork made by clients at the Psychiatric hospital, photo: Private albumThe tradition says that the lover would give the licitar heart to his/her loved one and while giving the present stood behind her/him to accomplish their mirrored image together in the heart – in love forever. The theme immediately communicates the importance of deep emotional connections which is proven to elevate the quality of life, resiliency to different life situations and emotional stability. Support of the others is something we often depend on. This was revealed as a result of this activity too. In the retirement home where Jasminka Bukvić worked it was this support and socializing that brought smiles on the faces and the sharing of stories, songs and wishes one to each other. It connected the people into ties that are stronger then the activity practiced this one time and that continued in the succeeding sessions.


In psychiatric ward it was important because of their isolation from the families and finding the emotive ties helped them go through the rough times in the hospital.


Jasmina Pacek, working with the children with special needs used their tactile sense as a means of communication, discovering their non-verbal language in this activity. The self-awareness and feeling overwhelmed with the self-image –which was dependent on the cognitive level of the child – which they showed by communication with their reflection was another beneficiary element of the activity, since it gave us the chance to peek into their world, which is rich on the inside, and not visible on the outside.

 

Conclusion


The traditional themes, symbols and techniques were used succesfuly in Croatia and outside of the scope of Croatian tradition reach. The work that six professionals, art therapy students made in a year showed a big potential this multicultural approach can yield. Weather persons were accuanted with the theme or not, the subconscious respond to it was deep and significant. The Croatian heritage themes were presented in 6 different ways and resulted in almost identical responds and their therapeutical use was conspicuous. The experientials were tailored for and used according to specific situations with different populations or issues.
The stories from the cases go beyond this format, but the images show the deeply emotive and intruiging stories that were just the begining of the therapeutic processes.

 

Refrences:

Biškupić Bašić, I. (2001). Licitars and candles, Croatian Revue, 3-4, Zagreb: Matica Hrvatska;
Comas-Dias, L. (2014). Multicultural theories of psychotherapy. In D. Wedding & R.
Corsini, (Eds.) Current Psychotherapies, 10th Ed. (pp. 533-567). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole;
Dimitrijević, S. (1994). Vuchedol culture. Vinkovci, Croatia: Privlačica, Slavonica;
Eckhel, N. (2012). In honor of a hand: Lacemaking in Croatia. Zagreb: Ethnographic Museum;
Ivey, Allen E., (1993.); „Counseling and psychotherapy a multicultural perspective“, Boston Allyn and Bacon;
Naumov, G. (2010). Neolitic antropocentrism: principles of imagry and the symbol manifestation of corporeality in the Balkans. Documenta Praehistorica XXXVII.
Retrieved from https://issuu.com/sonjcemarceva/docs/neolithic_anthropocentrism_-_the_pr.;

Puljak, L. (2014). Drystone constructions of Brač. Pučišća, Brač, Croatia: Pučišća School,
Retrieved from http://www.dragodid.org/materijali/Bracki_suhozidi_small.pdf.