In late October 2019 photographer and art therapist Dafni Kalafati with photographer and cultural facilitator Photini Papahatzi travelled to Amsterdam and Verona, along with the The Language Project team, to run workshops of phototherapy, in the framework of CRISALIS program, with groups of misplaced and human trafficked women, proceeding mostly from the countries of Africa. The two artists are members of the Non- Profit Amaka that specializes in catering Art Therapy programs to vulnerable groups. Together they developed a methodology, which uses visual images and written language to create a meaningful universe where the participants can feel safe and emotions can be expressed in present time. The methodology belongs to the Literacy Through Photography discipline (LT.P), and the story goes like this:

The journey kicked off in Amsterdam, at the atelier of Makers Unite. Throughout an intense day, five ladies experimented with Polaroid and digital cameras creating meaningful images and self-portraits expressing their thoughts and emotions by using visual language. As a first introduction, the women were presented to the work of well-known photographers and a discussion followed around aesthetics and style. Then, the participants were asked to choose one of the photographs they have seen and mostly liked in order to present themselves through it.

After learning some technical skills on how to use the cameras, the group started making its own images. First exercise was a Polaroid self-portrait, which was then combined with text to help each participant express ideas and thoughts. The women talked about womanhood, self-worth, life and love while sharing life stories and experiences

In the second half of the day the group created a visual alphabet, the Alphabet of Appreciation. The 26 letters of the alphabet were written on the board and the women came up with one word that starts from each letter and for certain reasons was important to them. Words like Brave, Dedication, Rescue, Sharing came up. By leaving the group free to decide on the words with no given theme, the women were given the opportunity to talk about what mostly matters to them. After they decided on the words, they had to transform the words into images, by taking one picture depicting each word with the use of digital cameras. Women have experimented with movement, posing and framing in order to create symbols for each letter of the alphabet representing each word.

The words chosen for each letter were: Amazing, Brave, Care, Dedication, Effort, Focus, Giving, Happy, Inspiration, Justice, Kindness, Love, Making, Nature, Opportunity, Peace, Question, Rescue, Sharing, Togetherness, Unity, Value, Worth, Zeal.

After creating the images, the photographs were printed on site. The last part of the workshop was the creation of the printed Alphabet with collage and mixed media methods and one artwork was created for each letter.

The compilation of the 26 letters was hanged on the wall to create what the women chose to call the Alphabet of Appreciation. The making of the Alphabet brought the group together and helped in locating similarities in their life stories and experiences. In a way each of the participants made a statement on things that matter to each of them and the activity opened a ground for further discussion within the group. Leaving the space of Makers Unite in Amsterdam, we felt like leaving a more empowered and self-supportive group than the one we found same morning.

Next stop was Verona. In Verona we worked together with a group of women who are employed by Progetto Quid. Before meeting the group, we spent a whole day visiting the facilities of other organizations that work mostly with migrant women in the center of Verona offering continuing education, labor skills and other services. Having taken the atmosphere of the place in, during the first day of the workshop we followed the same introduction activities as in Amsterdam. After the women learned the basic skills of photography, they started creating their own images. The eight women took their self-portraits to present themselves to the group and talked about their past, present and future.

Later on, they created one more Visual Alphabet. The words that the group chose were: Attention, Business, Company, Distraction, Enjoy, Fashion, Group, Help, Importance, Justice, Kindness, Love, Mindful, Nice, Opportunity, Power, Question, Revolution, Star, Treasure, Unity, Vision, Wisdom, X-mas. Yesterday and Zebra. Once again, the group was given no theme to work with and the participants were left free to brainstorm on things that mattered to them.

The words of: Justice, Kindness, Love Opportunity Question and Unity came up on both alphabets in Amsterdam and in Verona as well. Taking into consideration the common background of both groups, it leaves no doubt how important those notions are for the women. The women want to leave in a fair world, experience kindness, share love, have opportunities and they want to be united. The question remains always there, as all of us human beings’ question and wonder the “whys” of this world. Images and words made a direct, unpolished statement of the emotional status and needs of women that don’t know each other but still share so many things in common.

After deciding on the words, the women in Verona once again took pictures to represent them and made the printed version of the alphabet.

Last day of the workshop in Verona was dedicated to plastic art techniques where the women worked more on their portraits and each of them made an inspired self-portrait collage with the use of colors and textiles.

Closing activity was a group artwork on a big canvas, using artwork created on the previous stages of the workshop. Being able to work together and fill in the gaps and the empty spaces in between, showed a lot about the cohesiveness of the group.
A closing circle was made before finishing on the last day, where many emotions where shared. The meeting in Verona was the last one out of a series of workshops that had lasted for a year and participants commented on their evolution during this time. How much they learned and how much they grew.

In both workshops the participants, as well us, the facilitators, were all women. Creating safe spaces for sharing, among women, leaves us with a warm and sweet feeling, reminding us how important it is to express oneself just to realize that we are all one, that we are all the same. As Hatinah, participant of the Amsterdam group said “Women that work together and support each other grow stronger and smarter”.

What remains now is all the sharing and the opening of the heart, some inspiration of the participants to work more with photography, new skills and lots of artwork. All the artwork produced in Amsterdam and Verona, will be kept in a database to which the designers of Makers Unite and Progetto Quid will run to, to get inspiration when creating new patterns for textiles and new cloth designs.

From our side, we will continue creating new spaces, new relations, new worlds and sharing words through the photographic lens. Creating more opportunities for all.

Photo credits: WeSolomon.Com