Women find the courage

AN INNOVATIVE art therapy project has allowed 27 courageous women to come together in three towns across the region to voice their personal experiences of mental illness and weight gain.

Rohini Agnew, program co-ordinator and trained art therapist, said the women had faced potentially life-threatening health problems and subsequent isolation from the community. She encouraged the community to come along to the exhibition to record their responses to the women's voices.

The program, funded by Family and Community Services' Community Builders program and developed and run by the Lismore and District Women's Health Centre, works to raise community awareness of women with these experiences and encourages them to get together and to participate in community life, she said.

 

GOOD HELP: Co-ordinator of the Wishing Well Project for Women with Mental Illness and Weight Gain, Rohini Agnew, and participant Michelle Wakely of Goonellabah.
GOOD HELP: Co-ordinator of the Wishing Well Project for Women with Mental Illness and Weight Gain, Rohini Agnew, and participant Michelle Wakely of Goonellabah. CATHY ADAMS

"I met some beautiful women through this project who had felt isolated and trapped by their mental and physical health," Ms Agnew said.

 

"By offering a safe, non-judgmental community-oriented space, these women, despite their hardships, used art to identify and focus on what's right for them."

Michelle Wakeley, of Goonellabah, exemplified what Ms Agnew referred to as one of the program's prime success stories.

Mrs Wakeley said that program had helped her enormously, and gave her the confidence to get out of her comfort zone. She now even goes to the gym.

"It opened more avenues for me to deal with my own issues. I've come a long way," Mrs Wakeley said.

Ms Agnew said it wasn't just the participants who benefited from the program - she said she done so too.

"It was a privilege to work with these women. In this form of therapy, we learn - we allow ourselves to open up and learn as well. Art does that to you," she said.

She said that the women finally could express things they hadn't had a chance to before. They'd had a great fear of not being heard.

Here, she said, they had the chance to finally be heard.

Now the artworks that these women have created will be shared with the Northern Rivers public, with three interactive travelling art exhibitions, beginning tonight in Casino.

The travelling exhibition will visit three centres:

  • Casino Community and Cultural Centre: Opening at 6 tonight by Page MP Janelle Saffin. Running until March 15.
  • Serpentine Gallery, Lismore: Opening 6pm Friday March 22 by Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell. Running until March 28.
  • Kentwell Community Centre, Ballina: Opening 6pm Friday April 5 by Ballina deputy mayor, Sue Meehan. Running until April 8.


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