Artist. Healer. Activist.

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Tell me about the moment you realized that your passion for art was connected to healing. 

I have been drawing since before I could walk. My father was an artist and my mother was an educator who made sure that I always had blank pieces of paper and pencils nearby, but healing through art ... as a "formal method" was introduced to me in high school when studying Psychology. There, I found out about Art Therapy.

I had just moved to the USA with my mom, step dad and siblings ... I was in high school.

Not an easy time in the lives of most people … imagine that plus not speaking the language, leaving all your friends and family behind and to make matters worse, my mother became involved in a local non denominational Pentecostal church which was quite different from the "Catholic by birth" idyllic life I had lived until then.

All of a sudden everything was hell and damnation and the weight of not only being in a different place physically but also spiritually really ROCKED my world and NOT in a good way.

I became anorexic and withdrawn and began to devour books… especially those about people who suffer. I read books like Dibbs, In Search of Self and Why is Johnny crying ... mostly books about children in pain. Which on retrospect, is what I was, although at 13 I felt "much older" - I moved on to read books by Elie Wiesel, “Who's Afraid of Virginia of Wolf, Flowers for Algernon etc ... Soon enough, I found myself making drawings of young children crying.

I think it was because I was in pain and needed to feel some sense of "belonging"… I didn't realize it was really about me ... and for some reason (I can't remember: maybe a school project) - I wrote and illustrated a small book for "Children experiencing the Loss of a Loved one." In it, there were prompts for children to make drawings on blank pages.

            Somehow I knew that ART heals intuitively, 

                                       it was just 'there'....
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"It is art, and art only, that reveals us to ourselves." 

                                                                                        
                   ~ Oscar Wilde






How can art serve as a healing tool for others?

When I was in my early teens, I became a “peer counselor” in my high school. There were seven of us in what was a fairly new program. Our sponsor was the psychology teacher and he was very encouraging in our approach to helping others. He was aware of my artistic background - and he told me about art therapy.

As I went off to college, I was pretty certain that I wanted to be an artist, but my father wanted me to have something to “fall back on”… so I went into my second interest: psychology. I went as far as getting certified as an art therapist, but in the end, my art was calling to me loudly and I left the field of mental health for an MFA in painting.

While I was studying, I was a very young mom to my son and single to boot ... I had little time for much so I decided to apply for a grant that would allow me to leave my day job as a counselor to focus on my art studies.

The grant specifically asked for artistic projects within the community and I decided to focus on the immigrant community of my city. I put together a workshop called “mis suenos” (my dreams, in Spanish). 

I brought women together who were undocumented immigrants to share through their art why they came to this country. What led them to leave everything behind (in many cases children and spouses) to come to the USA.  

It was a terrifically touching experience for all involved. We all hugged and cried and the work they made was just fantastic. 

Not only did I get the grant that enabled me to continue my studies, it also opened up a whole new world for me in how to use art to heal.

What I had learned in art therapy was using art more as a diagnostic tool … and I had (and have) reservations about some of it … but using art for self-healing was an awesome discovery!

There is SO much power in Art to heal us from the inside out (using our own art) and from the outside in (the art of others).

It is so powerFULL… and I am always surprised that we can be so open to other esoteric practices as healing modalities but Art as healing gets oft overlooked.

Art can heal also simply by the fact that when we are drawing or painting we are indeed in a process of active meditation...there is SO much healing in that and I suggest everyone keep a visual journal and "play" in it daily.

How has your life changed because of art? And also, how has your life changed because of embracing your role as a healer?    

I think I have been a bit of a 'late bloomer' as far as embracing my role as a healer ... I have been actively helping people heal through their art for many, many years ... yet really did not see it as something that I could do an *even exchange of energy for* (ie: I was not charging) as such, I have spent most of my time in the past teaching traditional art classes on technique and creativity. 
Now that I fully understand my role as a healer a whole new world has opened up for me … it was always there, I just wasn't looking in that direction ...
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Now that I have, it is unbelievable to wake up each day and see the signs all around me as my intuition gets sharper and sharper (enabling me to serve my clients better), I am currently in the process of becoming a Reiki practitioner along with my partner as we hope to use Reiki to not only help others heal, but also to infuse our art with the healing power of Reiki.

This past year we traveled to Chile to study the spirituality of the Mapuche Native Americans and the pieces we made as a result of that trip are just amaZing and infused with powerful healing energy.

It has been such an exciting turbo-like shift in my art!

It is funny, because people have always told me that my art is "spiritual", and many people have told me throughout the years about the 'sense of peace' it gives their space, couples have bought my art to have as a reminder of their love-and they have told me that simply standing by it the energy is felt (one couple reports they go there when they argue to help center them) ... and still ... I never really embraced any of it with my role as the healer ... it has totally changed my life to acknowledge the power that is inherent in each one of us if we just open to the possibilities of all we are meant to be!


What work of art has helped heal you? 

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I married when I was 17 to a man I was not in love with, but whom my mom and step dad wanted me to marry. I was unhappy for a long time, but my painting and my son were my life savers.

When I finally left my husband, the small family unit that I have here in the USA turned against me (because divorce is “a sin and unforgivable”) and I was very alone. 

At the same time, my ex-husband was very angry at my leaving and proceeded to concoct false testimony against me once a year for 7 years in order to try to take my son away from me - he took me to court each year, and although he always lost, he continued the harassment and stressful “suits”. 

Once, he attacked me at tried to choke me to death, the only reason he let my breathless body fall to the ground is because my son came out of his room, but that was not the worst of it ... the worst was the fear that he would take my son away physically, or as he also tried emotionally by telling him lies upon lies about me. It was awful. 

I have always had a heart for children, and here was my very own child suffering. He was rebellious and so full of anger ... and I knew it was because of all the events he was having to endure because of my ex-husband. I felt quite helpless … and painted.

I began a painting I call "The Lioness"... it is a self portrait of my son and myself: me, haggard and quite like the roach-man in Kafka's Metamorphosis ... my son, a sweet little face in my arms. 

It was a chilling painful portrait. 

I worked on it one year. Let it rest, and a few years later took it back and worked with the figures so they were not as frightening. It was clearly a process of my own evolution as a mom, still frightening and sad, but now I did not look so haggard. 

It was healing and powerful. It gave me a voice for what I could not even express ... I was alone and full of fear ... yet I would hold on to my child and love him and care for him even if it meant my own death.


How important do you feel the role of arts has in the lives of children? What advice would you give to others about supporting art programs in schools and in the community? 

Art is SO important in the lives of everyone, but especially children... we are born onto this planet as creative beings and it is important for the development of our sense of self to continue to engage this basic essence of who we are; furthermore, art teaches children a sensibility for the sacred sans dogma.

Art and the making of art is a vessel for the Divine to pour through, it helps us to speak the unspeakable, art heals and it also reveals and speaks to us from our higher self’ from Spirit/God/All that IS - a live and lively mode of communication down and through the paper/canvas/clay - art is manifested truths and enlightment.

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"Art is the expression of the profoundest thoughts in the simplest way." 

                  ~ Albert Einstein





Claudia Olivos resides in Arlington, Virginia with her son Julian and her partner/husband, painter Sergio Olivos . She is a full time artist, working with drawing, painting and collage/assemblage.   

Born in Washington D.C. to Chilean parents, Claudia Olivos was raised in Chile where she attended a private Catholic school, and was witness to the political upheaval of the Allende-Pinochet years. Her family returned to the USA when she was 13 years old. In doing her MFA studies, Claudia concentrated on the art of the Surrealists and on the literary genre of Magic Realism. She formulated a thesis to show that Magic Realism, like Surrealism, is a postmodern genre founded in literature and leading to the visual, and that is serves as a language to convey feelings of repression and oppression in a manner which is obvious yet sublime. 

She holds an MFA from Vermont College, a BA in Psychology, and a BFA in painting from George Mason University. The founder, and one time owner of a gallery in Washington D.C., Olivos currently exhibits widely nationally and internationally. She has beeen included in the 2003-06 Editions of Marquis's Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who of American Artist (2006-07).

Her paintings have been featured in several publications including on the cover of Coming Home by J. Pizarro, and on the cover of the CD, Octaves Beyond Silence featuring Eve Ensler and Indigo Girls, a CD made to benefit women survivors of violence in Rwanda, Bosnia & Afghanistan, and a book of Latino Poetry (2007).

Claudia has also used her studies to investigate the role of the artist within her/his community, and how the arts make a difference by allowing the artist to form a dialogue with the community regarding socio/political issues. 

 


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