At Awakenings Gallery in Chicago, Artwork Offers Healing

Chicago is home to an uncommon art gallery that has become an important place for exploring artistic expressions of healing.

Before we take a look, a warning that some of the featured artwork may be considered graphic or upsetting.

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Brandis Friedman: At the Awakenings Gallery in the Ravenswood neighborhood, there are wish-filled dreams and horrifying nightmares.

It is the work of artists united by trauma.

Jeri Frederickson, creative director at Awakenings Gallery: Our mission is to make visible the artistic expression of survivors of sexual violence. For us that means people who maybe have experienced sexual violence firsthand, and it also means family members, friends, loved ones.

Laura Kinter, executive director of Awakenings Gallery: We hope to give all survivors a trauma-informed professional arts experience that they otherwise might not have access to. We have visual art exhibitions, we have performances, music, theater, we have a literary magazine and a blog, so we’ve got a lot going on.

Friedman: In the permanent collection, one canvas looks at the fine line walked by survivors and their partners.

Other works reveal the weight of enormous pain.

Kinter: I think a lot of people do remark on how dark some of the imagery is, but there’s always a very healing story attached to it, which is why we really value the artists’ statements to go along with the artwork, so people can understand that they might be looking at something that seems very disturbing but it was very, very healing for the artist.

Friedman: Artists come from across the U.S., including Chicago, and as far away as Portugal. They include men seeking to reassemble their lives.

Kinter: We work very hard to make sure that men feel included in this conversation. Sexual violence is not a weapon of oppression that can be dismantled without men, and especially it’s important to include male survivors in the movement because there are very few resources for them.

Friedman: Awakenings Gallery is now in its 10th year of breaking silences.

Frederickson: It’s a huge component of what we do, providing space and resources for people to tell their story as they want to tell it, for them to define survivorship on their own terms, and through their own artistic medium. That also means that sometimes survivorship looks really angry, sometimes it can feel very stuck, sometimes that artistic expression is full of joy and glitter on a canvas. So it takes a lot of forms here.

Friedman: The art is therapeutic, but …

Kinter: We are not a clinical space, we’re not therapists. A lot of people think we are art therapists, but our job here is to really showcase the art and create a community around healing through art.

Friedman: And there are hopeful outcomes in these creative endeavors.

Frederickson: We also are really excited to see people who are able to say, “My healing actually now looks at all the places where I find joy, and all the people who’ve supported me along the way.” Even if that support has been imperfect or maybe at a different timing than that person wishes. So there is, I think, a huge place for renewal and for people to feel like what maybe for a while was stuck or very fragmented has begun to grow again.

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Awakenings Gallery is a nonprofit organization supported by city and state art programs and private donors.

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