Often feelings like grief, loss and trauma can be too overwhelming to put into words. This is where artist, teacher and researcher Dr Anne Riggs’ work is helping to change lives. Dr Riggs’ cross-disciplinary research and ongoing work into art and healing shows the huge benefits for people on the road to recovery and discovery.
“Art can help us understand and acknowledge – perhaps better accept – sorrow and loss, by providing the space to find clarity and express deep feelings. For some people, art can work better than talking therapy.
While writing my doctoral thesis at VU – 'The Creative Space: Art and Wellbeing in the Shadow of Trauma, Grief and Loss' – I worked with a group of women who had been sexually abused, mostly as children, using art as a way to explore their feelings and discover their creative self.
VU was very open-hearted to outsider ideas and this cross-disciplinary approach. My supervisors were Associate Professor Jenny Sharples and Associate Professor Michele Grossman, whom I admire greatly.
In his commentary, renowned Psychiatrist Dr George Halasz described the research as a groundbreaking development.
I have my own art practice creating ceramics, painting and drawing. I’m also teaching students studying a BA Community Mental Health & AOD at Chisholm Institute, and I work with clients at the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (SECASA).
My work never ceases to move me. My students, who are referred by their counsellors, will sometimes say it’s the art that keeps them going.
I work with participants in mosaic and clay because these materials are more easily used by inexperienced artists, and offer a broad scope for expression.
Since the Royal Commission (into institutional abuse), people have a better understanding of the long-term impacts of abuse, and they now know that help is available.
Every year I go to Nepal and India with Artists in Community International (an organisation I co-founded), training community leaders and social work students in using arts practice, and working creatively with local communities.”