Cultural healing was the focus of an amazing two-day African Mental Health Summit (  held at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts last week. The event included African drumming, a tour of MIA’s African gallery, presentations on various mental health related topics and our mask-making workshop…all for 200 participants.

We began the workshop by listening to a few personal histories about masks or mask-making. We then invited the group to creatively explore their past experiences, sacred cultural symbols, and how these components could be used as a bridge to their current journey. This time of creative self-expression also provided an opportunity to actively process substantive information presented at the conference.

Physical movement was a critical component of the mask-making workshop. To organically move participants through the process, we placed natural elements, colorful materials, patterned papers, ribbons and string along with oil pastels and markers at various stations in the room.

The physical movement represented critical life moments such as immigrating to a different country, shifting from one developmental stage to the next, or making educational and career changes. Upon finishing their individual exploration, we asked participants to make room for the next person, symbolically making room for the next generation.

Another component of the mask-making workshop was acknowledging the sense of community that formed as they intersected. It was a collective experience as they interacted and inspired one another while on individual quests of self-expression and discovery.

Finally, we gathered together to debrief and discuss their experience. While sharing the meaning behind their masks, participants often expressed a deeply personal narrative. Some reported a sense of relief, having used this opportunity to process all of the information from the conference. As a group they were able to experience positive forward movement. It was a profoundly moving experience. Masks were layered with trauma, hurts, and history. They showed hidden ideas of self, fears, strengths, and hopes. These masks were exceptional.

“The artwork depicts the symbolism of cultural conflict and shock that  every immigrant experiences in western world. Internal crying for clarity in a confusing but beautiful world. Having two faces to accommodate both cultures. The experience was intense and revealing.” – E.T.

I personally thank Dr. Tolulope Monisola Ola, Founder & Board Chair of Restoration for All (REFA) Inc. and Dr. Richard Oni, Executive Director of Progressive Individual Resources for inviting me to present this workshop: Moving Beyond the Mask We Wore: The Healing Potential of Creative Self-expression.

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Artwork used by written permission.

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