This Bengaluru artist uses contemporary arts for therapeutic experiences

Artist Brinda speaks about how expressive arts can be a powerful therapy and her reasons for choosing ‘desire’ as the theme of her new play.
This Bengaluru artist uses contemporary arts for therapeutic experiences
This Bengaluru artist uses contemporary arts for therapeutic experiences

Brinda Jacob-Janvrin is an artist with more than 25 years of experience in contemporary theatre. As an artist, she combines Kalaripayattu, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Hatha, Vinyasa flow yoga and a host of other movement styles into her performances.

Since 2012, Brinda has been working extensively on expressive arts therapy, visual art therapy, drama therapy, sand play and psychodrama.

The News Minute caught up with Brinda at the premiere of her latest play, Wish you were here, in Bangalore. An unorthodox production, it combines elements of photography, movement, soundscapes and dance. The play aims to explore desires held within the body and show how realising these desires can be an exhilarating experience.

When did you decide that this was the career you wanted to pursue?

I began my journey as a contemporary dancer at the Natya STEM Dance Kampni in 1994. Dance was my passion and even though contemporary dance was almost unheard of then, I was very clear that that was what I wanted to do. The joy I got in performing surpassed everything else. But very soon I noticed that whether or not I performed, just creating movements with my body gave me immense joy and satisfaction. While at that time I had not heard of dance therapy, I knew that dance went beyond performance. I started offering dance sessions to those from underprivileged backgrounds.

In 2001, I was offered the Crowther fellowship, and I travelled to the UK to study under dance therapist Terry Braithwaite. When I returned, I knew I needed to train further and did my counselling courses. Ever since then I have been bringing dance/movement and body closer to psychology and counselling.

To the uninitiated, can you explain expressive art therapy?

Expressive arts therapy combines psychology and the creative process to promote emotional growth and healing. Expressive arts usually weaves the different creative arts together and uses our inborn desire to create as a therapeutic tool to help initiate change.

In expressive arts therapy, we explore our inner and outer world through the experience and creation of different art forms. It is process focussed and not product oriented, therefore it can be used with a wide variety of clients, irrespective of whether they have an arts background.

Often, we use our bodies and/or art materials and processes to communicate innermost feelings that stem from the unconscious. Creativity becomes the pathway to the expression of inner feelings, leading to a process of self-discovery and understanding. When we use expressive arts, often we connect very quickly with the unconscious and hence it helps us understand our inner world better and the dynamics that are playing out in the psyche.

Expressive arts can be used with individuals, groups, children and adults, and can work alone or in conjunction with other therapies. It allows for a more holistic understanding of self, than what we know merely with our conscious mind.

Do you feel there is a lack of trained expressive and creative art therapists in India? What role can these therapists play?

Expressive arts therapy is a relatively new field in India and formal education began only in 2012. Hence trained therapists are quite rare. However, India has always had a tradition of marrying art forms like dance, drama, music and visual arts amongst others. India also has a trend of seeing the human as a whole; we know that the body-mind relationship is a continuum and ancient Indian philosophies of yoga have always acknowledged this. So the premise in expressive arts that the body-mind-soul are interrelated is not something new in India.

However, as mental health is quite taboo in India and seeking help is still quite new, working with the arts is a less threatening way to explore our patterns.

What is your latest play, Wish you were here, about?

Wish you were here is about reclaiming our desire and taking ownership of it. Which means our desire belongs to us and not to a particular relationship. We all have a desire to connect, to be seen, to be acknowledged. If we are brave enough to follow our desires with responsibility and explore this longing, often we will see those parts of ourselves that have been repressed or wounded. We will reconnect with ourselves in very powerful and transformational ways. This for me is the first step towards empowerment. In the play, the different characters access different parts of themselves as they start exploring desire.

How was the idea of Wish you were here conceptualised?

The idea came from the longing felt by separated lovers, who, in the absence of an actual day-to-day relationship, live on small exchanges and a whole lot of fantasies and projections. And we all know that we project those parts of ourselves that we are too scared to see on the other. As we explore this desire, the projections begin to fall away and we therefore start seeing ourselves in a deeper, more meaningful way.

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