If you ever find yourself in Boston, make sure to visit the only Kosher down town establishment where you can have Dary, Meat, vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten free delicious meals. But make sure you visit between 7am to 3pm or you are out of luck. I was lucky to be exposed to the place on my recent visit to Boston, and even luckier to be treated like a royalty by the owners Mark and Beth Epstein, who are running the place for the past 47 years. No, I am certainly not royalty, but this is their way of treating family, or close family friends of their parents.
I came to Boston for the 34th international Trauma Conference which was my opportunity to meet in person many of the top researchers and innovators in the field of Trauma, dissociation and Brain research. This is the place where innovative research and the frontier of trauma treatment are presented to therapists and workers in the field. I have been involved in Art Therapy for adults with trauma for over 30 years, and I felt that this might be my golden opportunity to meet in person some of the teachers and people I followed, like Basel Van Der Kolk, Dick Schwarz and Ruth Lanius. Little did I know that the fabulous state of the art FMRI research Dr. Lanius is doing happens literally in my back yard, at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario where I live for 5 month every summer. We did talk, and exchanged phone numbers, and will continue our discussions back home.
The brain research presentations were fascinating, and one of the PhD students showed the connection of the olfactory nerve in the brain to trauma memories and their emergence. It was an important explanation for me of an incidence that happened when I went with my husband and friends to the Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv a few years ago. This museum is an experiential one. You learn about the Palmach, one of the early military groups during the British mandate in Palestine, by walking through their activities. One of their tasks was to assist illegal ships of refugees from the 2nd world war to come to Palestine. We walked into an inside bunk of a ship. There were old suitcases, bunks, a porthole with the sea waters beating at it, and the smell. The smell triggered a dissociative episode in me. I was again a scared, frightened and miserable little 3-year-old, cowering in the corner and crying in a way my whole body shook. My husband put a hand on my shoulder, and I cowered away and shrank to the floor. It was a body memory. It passed. It taught me what Van der Kolk says, “The body remembers”. It taught me to look more carefully at some of my client’s bodies when they talk about their trauma. And now we have the brin research showing us the evidence of how it happens, and possibly how we can access the memories and heal the trauma.
Another person I simply needed to be present with is Gabor Mate. I have been following his talks and wisdom for many years. I identify with him, and feel a real kinship not just because we both speak Hungarian. His work with addiction and trauma, recognizing the protective function of anger and the need for reparative connection resonated with me. I feel he knows me as well as I know him, and it has little to do with the fact that we both are holocaust survivors. I wanted to see him in person, to make sure he really is genuine and compassionate as I pictured him in my mind. I am glad to say he is. I am reading his book “The myth of Normal” which he so graciously signed for me, as he did for over 200 people who stood in line. In spite of being obviously tired, he was available to listen to all of the fans who shared stories and ask for advice. I feel I found a family member. Who knows, the future will tell, perhaps it will actually happen.
So much scientific innovations, new and important treatment modalities Some which I studied, like the Internal Family System developed by Dick Schwartz over the past 40 years. I was delighted to meet and talk with him and share the way I use art therapy to augment his system. There were also promising treatment modalities which had positive research results, and my head was swimming with all the exciting possibilities. That is when I decided to breath some fresh sea air and to walk to the IcA (Institute of contemporary art/Boston) which was a mere 15-minute walk from the hotel. It is open Thursdays till 9pm, and is free on that day to boot.
The feature exhibition was a very impressive Simone Leigh huge ceramic sculptures. I am so glad I was exposed to this important artist. Leigh has often said that her work is focused on “Black female subjectivity,” with an interest in complex interplays between various strands of history. She was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2023. Clay, being one of my favorite mediums to work in, I was amazed at the size of the sculptures. Some of which took up a full room, and others expanded across a room. My most favorite was a sculpture of a women bending to wash clothes in a pool of water. Another exhibition that talked to me was by Maria Berrio, The Children’s Crusade. It blends the history of the 1212 CE children crusade with contemporary mass movement of people across borders. The works are a collage of Japanese rice paper and watercolor. Bario, born in Bogota, Colombia, and working in Mew York, also writes. This is one of the texts accompanying the series of the incredible evocative paintings.
“As the children embark on this arduous journey, they infuse the ordinary with the mythic, as their innocent and imagined interpretation of the world bumps against stark realities. The darker and more bleak aspects of these travels are depicted through the naivete, humanity, love, and wonder of a child’s eye.”
How fitting these exhibitions are to remind us of the state of the world today. The suffering, trauma, discrimination and yet beauty and love.
On the way out I encountered a whimsical reminder of past – a work by Senga Nengudi consisting of hanging pantyhose. It was good to get back to the conference with a smile on my face.
Inspired by my experiences and by writing about them I finally returned to the Clay Art Studio I belong, and started creating again.