The exhibit, “Trauma, Trials and Triumph . . . As Evident Through Artistic Expression,” is based on the theme that burdens, no matter how heavy, can be overcome.
Residents of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo, Iowa, produced the more than 30 works in the exhibit through the therapeutic art program. The home is the state training school for delinquent girls and also serves boys and girls who are deemed Children in Need of Assistance, typically as a result of abuse or neglect.
“This exhibit offers the opportunity to see how Iowa treats at-risk children in dire circumstances and how kids respond to treatment and grow,” said Kathy Fejes, Drake professor of education and co-organizer of the exhibit.
There are paintings, sculptures, woodworking projects and digital photographs created by young artists ranging in age from 14 to 17. Each work is accompanied by the artist’s essay detailing the emotions and events that prompted the creative expression.
“The photos in the exhibit are phenomenal,” said Fejes, who has worked more than 15 years with adolescents and staff at the Iowa Juvenile Home. “You can see the layers, not just in the photo, but the layers of emotion.”
“The artists are anonymous, although they should be commended for having the courage to offer their work for public display,” said Gary Olson, co-organizer of the exhibit and director of the therapeutic art program at the home.
“Within this collection of work can be seen the trials or complications that result when one succumbs to rage, aggression, suicidal ideation, learned helplessness, loneliness, fear and despair,” Olson said.
“Those artists who are able to identify the source of their initial anger within their imagery are considered to be on their way towards resolution and towards the restoration of hope in their lives,” he added.
“Trauma, Trials and Triumph” includes only art that has genuine artistic merit. The show is intended to showcase the students’ artistic talents, demonstrate the effectiveness of art therapy as a rehabilitative intervention, and educate the public about the Iowa Juvenile Home.
The exhibit will open with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 7 in the Curriculum Library of the School of Education. The exhibit will be on display Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through the middle of November.
Drake education students in two of Fejes’ classes will examine and analyze works in the exhibit. The participating classes are Introduction to Special Education and Global Perspectives on Spirituality and Learning.
“I expect my students to gain an understanding of how therapeutic art can help teens with emotional and behavioral disorders attain personal and spiritual growth,” Fejes said.
She noted that “Most students at the Iowa Juvenile Home have had trouble finding acceptable ways to express themselves in their communities, often lashing out with anger, violence and other criminal behavior. The art program offers them a way of expressing deep feelings without getting in trouble.”
Fejes also has submitted a proposal to develop a multimedia presentation of the art and essays in the exhibit to be shown at the 11th biennial conference of the International Association for Special Education. The conference, which will take place next July in Alicante, Spain, is titled “Broadening the Horizon: Recognizing, Accepting and Embracing Differences to Make a Better World for Individuals with Special Needs.”
After “Trauma, Trials and Triumph” leaves Drake, the exhibit will travel across Iowa next year with stops at Marshalltown Community College, Iowa State University and University Hospitals in Iowa City.
Drake’s School of Education hosted a similar exhibit of art by residents of the Iowa Juvenile Home in 2006. That exhibit, “Trauma Reflected in Art,” will be displayed permanently in the School of Education once the new exhibit completes its tour around the state.