This month’s Inspirational Interview is with Charlotte Farhan, of Art Saves Lives International
Charlotte is an international visual artist, a published illustrator, feature writer, the Editor and chief of ASLI Magazine and Managing Director and co-founder of Art Saves Lives International. Charlotte is both French and British and is an active campaigner and activist for many issues, such as mental health awareness, women’s rights, anti-capitalism, and anti-war and for breaking down rape stigma and fighting against rape culture.
The second part of her interview will be published on October 26th.
All pictures courtesy of Charlotte Farhan and Art Saves Lives International.
1. Could you please tell us more about Art Saves Lives International (ASLI) and how you came to create this charity to tackle the issue of violence against women?
After the original Art Save Lives disbanded in 2014, Sadie Kaye (my mentor) and I created Art Save Lives International. Sadie is our International Creative Director (based out of Hong Kong) and I am the managing director of ASLI. I run the day to day aspects and am the editor of our online publication ASLI Magazine. I have a wonderful team which includes my husband and biggest supporter, Mohammed Farhan. Mohammed acts as our chairman.
At ASLI we are determined to use art as a source for healing and to create change. We focus on issues which we feel need more attention and we feel through the application and language of art and creativity we can reach the most vulnerable and communicate the most under-represented causes we have on our planet.
This includes giving a platform to minority groups such as those from racial and ethnic groups, cultural and social, gender and sexuality, religion, age and people with physical and mental disabilities.
2. ASLI has a magazine. Can you tell us more about that and how it fits into what ASLI does?
ASLI Magazine is an online publication which is used to showcase an artist and their work. Every 3 months ASLI come up with a campaign and we do a call for artists (we accept all forms of artistry and creativity, including visual art, creative writing, poetry, music, dance, theatre pieces, etc.). We often have around 2,000 entries from all over the world, myself and my team divide the artists into categories and then we choose around 50 artists to feature. We get so much talent and we try and share everything we receive, if not in our magazine than via our social media platforms.
Our next campaign is “Civil Rights, Poverty and Capitalism.” The call for artists will be released at the end of October. Within this context we shall look at all manner of civil rights, how poverty affects every aspect of life and how capitalism is helping the few elites in society but pushing down the most vulnerable. Soon we will launch several monthly features such as featured artist of the month, Local artist spotlights and guest bloggers and feature writers.
3. As a survivor of rape and sexual abuse who has turned to art as part of your personal healing, what advice would you give to survivors who don’t feel artistic enough to try art as a means of therapy?
Creativity can be used in so many ways to heal us. I use visual arts because I am a visual artist, but I also use other forms of creativity, such as creative writing, poetry and music. As well as less prominent art forms such as cooking, crafting, up-cycling and just dancing it out on my own with my 3 cats in the middle of the day. Creativity is the use of our right hemisphere of our brain, where imagination lives and our daydreams begin. This is where our creative thinking is done opposed to our logical thinking, it is where we interpret colour and where our rhythm to dance is ignited. So whatever you can find which uses your imagination, this can heal, so go for it.
My art is my life – art is my saviour and has truly saved my life in all aspects. As a severely disabled person who is unable to leave their own house due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and agoraphobia I had to find a way to be productive and not just exist. I needed to find a way to live. Art gave me this. I have put everything I have into my career and will continue to as this allows me to be an active member of society and I feel in control of my life as well as actively creating change for other survivors.
4. Earlier this year, we interviewed activist Brooke Axtell, also a survivor who uses art as a medium for healing. Why do you think survivors may be more comfortable expressing themselves through art?
I know from studying psychology that when we experience trauma we dissociate and this can mean basic language is lacking from our ability to speak of what happened to us. Art tends to be visual or sound based which helps survivor’s access traumatic events which are stored in our implicit memory which is our sensory memory rather than our narrative memory. So when suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, this kind of approach and art based therapy can allow a safer place to express emotions and thoughts which one has no vocal language for.
My final thought on this is also that society treats violence against women, rape, incest and sexual abuse as a dirty secret. It blames the victims and makes the survivor feel like a victim again. Art allows you to control what you choose to express and gives the opportunity for others unaware or less educated on the matter a reflective piece to maybe understand the matter better.
5. Putting your artwork out into the world is often terrifying if you are not particularly confident. A lot of women who have faced abuse tend to have low self-esteem. Is there a way in which women can overcome the fear of inadequacy and having their work judged, without causing a setback in their healing process?
This is a really tough question to answer. As an artist and one with mental illnesses (such as borderline personality disorder and many others which affect this in particular) I go from thinking I am unstoppable and am determined to change the world (and know I can through my art, ASLI and my future plans to write a book) to feeling like the biggest loser, wanting to take everything back I have ever shared and fade into oblivion. This is compounded by my mental illness and can cause meltdowns and dissociation. However I try to remember that I have many followers who rely on me and that they keep me strong and the fight is never over.
But my advice to someone starting out with artistic therapies and wanting to share this or even start a career, is start small, find a local group in your community or on-line where you can share your creativity. Then I would also suggest sharing with family and friends and then maybe start a blog, where you can express yourself to a specific audience. Whatever you do it will be terrifying, but remember: you do not have to share your creativity with an audience. It can be personal and this can be just as effective. This is a choice and one which is very personal. As a side note, I would also say to any audience out there who comes across survivor art: please do not assume that we are highly confident or self-assured. We are just sharing the truth that is our lives and trying to take back control and heal.
Charlotte’s Farhan’s photo: By Lisa Reeve. Taken during ASLI’s most recent event for Mental Illness, Health and Recovery where they had a pop up exhibition, local art stalls and a swap shop. The event was held in their local community of Portsmouth.
Team Member photo: Mohammed Farhan, Charlotte Farhan, Sadie Kaye, Lisa Reeve, Iain Turrell, Bex Smith, Becky Saunders, Anna Bispham