Embodiment of trauma

Our Scottish correspondent Tanya Bhayani reports from The Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.

The annual Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF), led by the Mental Health Foundation, is now in its 12th year and runs from 7-27 May 2018. The festival aims to support the creativity of individuals expressing their interest and struggle with mental health by challenging perceptions, encouraging participation and developing audiences through their art.

I attended a screening of two documentaries exploring the embodiment of trauma, both focused on the repossession of control, at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. ‘Sanctioned’, created by Dominique Murphy-de Neef, a documentary filmmaker and mixed media artist from North West London, explores the vulnerable venture of a remarkable woman, Jessica Tasmin, to reconstruct her relationship with her body after experiencing sexual assault. The film, presented with the Personal Narrative Award at the SMHAF International Film Awards, explored three different and important themes within it. The film explores Jessica’s need to be cautious but conspicuous, which was visually represented through her routine of applying bold make-up looks and jewellery. She explained this as her way of guarding herself. There is a scene where Jessica sits unclothed around a bonfire and candles, handwriting letters to people who had wronged her, including her rapist, whilst adding herbs that evoke clarity and positivity to the fire. The bonfire ceremony represents one of the most vulnerable aspects of Jessica’s journey of regaining control over her body. In a discussion with Jessica after the documentary screening, she explained that there is always a drive to be creative, but trauma makes us more urgent with our creativity to be brought to life. She said that ‘trauma puts your more in touch with creativity, but it does not make you more creative’. Overall, the documentary touched on the process of experiencing trauma through several angles; the aspect of vulnerability and guardedness, coping mechanisms and the ultimate re-strengthening of one’s relationship with their body.

The second documentary, ‘Laura’s Journey’, directed and written by Matteo Born and featuring Laura Fischer, captures the tentative build-up of the returning of a silver platter – a reminder that was kept from Laura’s humanitarian project in Morocco, where she was raped four years prior. As her friend, Born films the journey, where tension seems to arise as his desire to produce a film interferes with Laura’s crucial need to close her psychological wounds. The film features candid conversations between Laura and her companions as well as moments of her resentment in taking the journey and being filmed. In one scene, Laura displayed the cruciality of making sure that others valued her mental health as priority – she demonstrated the hand gestures that she would carry out on the trip which consisted of signals asking for help or to be left alone. In the panel discussion, Laura explained that trauma is registered non-linguistically, and you have to be non-verbal in order to articulate it. This was expressed in a scene showing Laura sawing the silver platter into pieces, each one broken with the intention of being left in the places where she was kept in Morocco.

Towards the beginning of the panel discussion, Born was asked how he coped with the discrepancy between the need to produce a film without hindering Laura’s journey of healing. He openly explained his fear and described the filming as ‘feeling wrong’. However, it was evident that by releasing it, trauma would be observed in its true form; lingering and sometimes incapable of being fully explored or understood. Laura explained that, ‘the longer you leave it, the more it’ll express itself as a secondary condition. Sometimes, the trauma will not be found’.

- Tanya Bhayani, University of Aberdeen.

Find out more about the festival.

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