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A Dubai Artist Helps Women Process Difficult Times Through Creativity

DUBAI—Zaahirah Muthy, an artist from Mauritius who has been part of the Dubai art scene for 10 years, has found solace through creativity during some of her life’s more challenging times. Now, she is sharing that experience with other women through workshops that help the women come together and share and express pent-up emotions and challenges through art therapy.

“I am a firm believer that art is a gateway that tells stories, it brings comfort and solace to our heart,” Muthy said. “Going through a divorce back in 2008 and experiencing different life challenges in the past, art has really helped me to shape who I am today and make me see life differently.”

Muthy, who is also the founder of ZeeArts, a global organization connecting artists, said that art is a way to chronicle the events in her life, not least through the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown imposed to halt the virus’s spread spurred her creativity, and is one of the reasons that pushed her to organize the Women Art Therapy course, which was first held in September at the Alliance Française in Dubai.

“During the lockdown, I have put up a full collection of 40 artworks. I was stressed, panicked like everybody,” Muthy said. She was alone in Dubai with her children, her husband stuck in Qatar and her mother in quarantine on her way back to Mauritius from Dubai. “There was so much pressure on me until I jumped back to my creative world. But out of it, I launched my sixth solo exhibition at Alliance Française Dubai in August.”

With the slowdown of events and exhibitions, it was a huge achievement for her, inspiring her to organize workshops for other women going through similar challenges. “When you are creative, life flows through you,” she said. “There is no pressure and the women can have this ‘me time’ while they paint and listen to their heart.”

A Modality for Processing Emotions

The six women who participated in the first workshop came from a mix of backgrounds, including a cancer survivor and a lawyer. “They were all dedicated and very serious about it, but at the same time, the childhood within themselves was awakened,” said Muthy, who is now training for a diploma in art therapy.

Louise Lambert, a psychology professor at the United Arab Emirates University who studies and develops positive psychology intervention programs, says art can offer therapy for many reasons. “Art allows a degree of emotional processing that’s not always possible through words, so cognition, thoughts, phrases and emotions can get processed in a different modality,” she said.

“Art allows a degree of emotional processing that’s not always possible through words, so cognition, thoughts, phrases and emotions can get processed in a different modality.”

Louise Lambert  
A psychology professor at the United Arab Emirates University

Lambert explained that art is good for processing the emotional side of one’s mental state, as opposed to the cognitive side, for which talking to friends or going for a walk can be better suited.

“Art can work on a subconscious level and it goes back to childhood. When children play, they’re processing emotions. So as adults we fall back on that method, which taps back into that same circuitry.”

Art therapy can be highly effective for some people, Lambert said, while others may prefer a more cognitive approach. Art offers another safe route for people to use during the pandemic, a time when frequent references to language such as “death” and “disaster” can become overwhelming for people.

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Muthy insists that anyone can participate in and benefit from art therapy. “You don’t need to be an artist to paint, we are all creative in our own way. Nobody will judge you and there is no good or bad arts. It is just your interpretations of seeing life.”

‘Art Speaks When Words Fail’

Mariana Missakian participated in the workshop last year. “I am a woman of words, and I use grammar and punctuation to express myself and tell my stories,” she said. “But art speaks when words fail, and I wanted to experiment with a new tool and a different creative process to discover myself from a different angle and express my words artistically and with a newfound awareness.”

Missakian has no art background herself and had no plans to become an artist, curious only to explore a new modality to process the world around her. “My objective was to allow colors and shapes to emerge from within, and I was very excited to see how my dreams and emotions would present themselves to me, and what would they show me.”

“I know how much art in general can be very helpful to release pressure and help us disconnect and express our deep feelings or state of mind,”

Maryam Lara Darwich  

She has now bought canvas, paint and brushes and has created a space for art in her home office. “This helps me to be in the moment, to silence the outside noise, the intruders, and to surrender to my senses, look inside, recognize my own voice and allow it to guide the brush. I have already created one piece of art which I am extremely proud of, not because of the art itself, but because how I learned to be receptive to the process and the tools.”

Maryam Lara Darwich signed up for the workshop in September as she was very much under pressure in a tough episode of her life. “I know how much art in general can be very helpful to release pressure and help us disconnect and express our deep feelings or state of mind,” she said.

Drawn to art and music since childhood, Darwich studied fine arts and interior design, but still found the workshop helped unleash more of an emotional expression, releasing hidden emotions. “When you paint, you are simply yourself. You can open up to your artwork, it will not judge you,” she said.

The experience also brought some realizations. “Looking at my artwork was a big lesson,” Darwich said. “Seeing how I had painted my parents at a distance from me was an eye opener about how distant I have been over the past years with them, and I realized suddenly the urgent need to reconnect with them,” she said. “On the other hand, I painted my brother and I as two little fish swimming together in the ocean, and this is exactly our bond. We can live on separate continents but we are always together in our hearts.”

The classes helped her realize what she must do to bring balance in her life. “Art definitely brings a valuable help in expressing our deepest emotions and hidden fears, providing a great sensation of calmness and relaxation. It’s a great escape we all need.”

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