Health MATTERS: The Power of ART THERAPY –  dealing with trauma through art.                                


veterans4Aside from a proper diet, enough exercise and less stress there is the process of creating art, which in itself is proven to be very therapeutic and therefore healthy.  It keeps the mind busy and helps fight depression. veterans6 It could be ART for Arts sake or you can tell a story through your art.  This is exactly what young Canadian veterans in Afghanistan have been doing to help tell their story and bring something positive out of a traumatic situation.

A friend of mine first told me about this because she took her son to an opening at the Foster Eastman Art Gallery downtown Vancouver in early February to view works from different mediums such as paper mâché, watercolour & photography diaries by these veterans.  They were very moved with the work and the project.

Helping them heal along the way…Squamish master carver Xwalacktun (Rick Harry) helps young veterans carve a Vancouver Tribute Totem Pole.   It’s part of a project aimed at telling the stories of the veterans—their tours in Afghanistan and the challenges they face once they return home.

Xwalacktun leads a carving lesson as participants in the veterans tribute-pole project observe. Photo: YOLANDE COLE
Xwalacktun leads a carving lesson as participants in the veterans tribute-pole project observe.  Photo: YOLANDE COLE

“With men, if they’re busy with their hands, they tend to talk more,” local businessman *Foster Eastman tells the Straight in an interview at his studio. “I mean, we’re not here to offer therapy, but I think if it happens, great. It’s almost like a side effect.”

Xwalacktun has been leading the veterans through the traditional First Nations process of creating a totem pole, beginning with the healing song he performed before they began carving. But the materials of this monument aren’t exactly conventional—the tribute pole consists of two coffins.

The caskets symbolize the 158 Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan, and the fact that many people who struggle with depression feel like they’re “trapped in a box”, according to Eastman.

Tim Laidler carves the surface of a tribute pole being created by veterans. Photo: YOLANDE COLE
Tim Laidler carves the surface of a tribute pole being created by veterans.                                  Photo: YOLANDE COLE

This isn’t the first time the artist has worked with veterans. His previous project resulted in the creation of the Lest We Forget CANADA! mural last year. The 162-panel tribute to Canadians killed in Afghanistan, which raised $120,000 for the Veterans Transition Network, will be kept by the Canadian War Museum as part of its permanent collection.

The process of creating the mural became very therapeutic for the veterans involved, Eastman notes, as the soldiers began to talk about their experiences to civilians who participated in the project.

“The doctors that were treating a lot of the veterans noticed great improvement in their mental well-being,” Eastman says. “So of course it became therapeutic, but that’s not what our intention was. We were just doing art. But it did kind of happen naturally.”

The success of the mural led to Eastman’s current initiative, which is part of a project funded by the Movember Foundation. In addition to the tribute pole, a group of veterans is working on a theatre production with UBC professor George Belliveau.veterans3

Once the pole is raised at the end of April, it will tell the stories of the veterans through the carved military ranks across the front, such as captain, lieutenant, and private.

The pole will also display a tribute to the soldiers who didn’t return, with each of their first names carved into the surface of the caskets.

This is a great project to really bring forward to people to understand where these young people came from in their journey in wartime,” says Xwalacktun. “This is bringing people out and being able to share while they’re working, so it’ll help them grow and heal.”

The tribute pole will be raised at Studio 1398 on Granville Island on April 30, May 1, and May 2.

*Foster Eastman is a local businessman who enjoyed an unlikely debut as an artist last summer at the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art with his exhibition inspired by Mao and the Cultural Revolution.

Other Eastman works to be on display: ghostly silhouettes of Afghan women in burkas cut out of Canadian “guerilla advertising” posters, a series of AK-47s cut from Archie comics—a transformation of familiar objects into sinister instruments that brings the war home in a visceral way. The mural, to be unveiled on April 16, encompasses photographic prints showing Afghan widows in mourning, a funeral procession for a Canadian soldier and a poignant image of a soldier holding a young Afghan boy’s hand, as well as the Pams.

SourceMaclean’s Magazine & Georgia Straight – From Kandahar to Canada: 

Other previous blog posts to do with natural therapies for the soul:










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