Thriving, Not Just Surviving: The Art Lab

Balmore Ruano | New University

Balmore Ruano | New University

The UCI CARE (Campus Assault Resources and Education)  office collaborated with ASUCI to feature a project called, “We Step Into the Light” at The Art Lab on Feb. 27.  Held on the Student Center Terrace, the project showcased a variety of artwork such as  photographs,  watercolor paintings and 3-D pictures that told stories of sexual assault survivors who are now thriving, despite past traumas.

“We adopted this idea from Dr. Desmonette Hazly, who came up with the concept of ‘surviving to thriving’ by working with survivors of sexual violence,” Zabie Khorakiwala, CARE’s Violence Prevention Coordinator, said.

“This mentality is aimed to help individuals not live on a day-to-day basis, but learn how to thrive in their living. We wanted to empower students who have the same struggle to heal through mediums of art.”

ASUCI President Traci Ishigo was pleased to partner with the CARE office to present this artwork.

“When CARE asked us to collaborate with them on this amazing project, I was so excited! It’s such a beautiful idea and I’m so excited to be a part of it. I hope that people will find inspiration from it as I do,” Ishigo said.

Third-years Kevin Lam and Elizabeth Thai served as the coordinators for this year’s “We Step Into the Light.” A CHAMPS (Challenging All Men to Prevent Sexism) peer educator for the CARE office, Lam and special project intern Thai facilitated the project.

“It’s exciting to see how the collaboration with CARE and ASUCI draws attention to a very real, critical issue that happens worldwide, but also on college campuses,”  Chad Ngo, a third- year current CHAMPS member, said. “It’s so important to educate others and I think it’s enlightening that we’re able to do it through art. The turnout we’ve had is also great so far and the performances reflect such strength, which means that we’re doing something right.”

Survivors of sexual violence were each paired up with an artist to create a work of art on behalf of the survivor’s story. A creative outlet to storytelling and the interaction that highlights the beauty and growth of sexual violence victims, the art exhibit expressed the personal stories of survivors to go public.

Balmore Ruano | New University

Balmore Ruano | New University

Rashmi Guttal, a fourth-year student and peer educator in the Right to Know CARE program, paired up with an artist who created a picture that she loved and said was beautiful.

“She [the artist] knows that I love trees, and so she drew a picture of a tree that had words written on the leaves of the tree, words like ‘empowered,’ ‘beauty,’ ‘strength,’ ‘warmth’ and ‘light.’ What’s amazing is how those were words I never gave her when she asked me to describe myself. It’s a very emotional but beautiful piece for me,” Guttal said.

Students and faculty members stopped by the student center to see the artwork displayed on wooden stands illuminated by strings of light. Pizza was sold and live performances of songs and spoken word were recited by students who revealed the depth of their struggle, their lives as survivors and the importance of the healing process.

The Art Lab attracted many students, whether they came to the event to support or were simply curious. Third-year Alex Chan decided to come out to the event when she heard about it from a friend.

“I like that [the art lab] is very empowering. Each piece of art is different from the rest and it’s a unique idea to exhibit,” Chan said.

“I haven’t seen anything like it before and it’s very powerful.”

Khorakiwala regards “We Step Into the Light” as a transformational opportunity to showcase the raw talent of the artists and the stories of pain and struggle that result from the experience of a survivor affected by sexual violence.

“The mission of this project is to really transform survivors from merely surviving life to learning how to thrive in it through whatever means they choose to express,” Khorakiwala said.

For these survivors on the college campus, their bravery to speak out through art to achieve healing is truly beautiful; like every person around them, they are made up of dreams, passions, love and courage.