Darkness to Light shares survivor stories in the hopes of highlighting the ways that survivors are healing from their abuse and helping others.
Clarissa Carpenter helps survivors of child sexual abuse through her work with The Younique Foundation, an organization that provides retreats for women where they learn skills that can help them find individual healing. She’s also a survivor of child sexual abuse herself, which gives her the valuable ability to empathize with the women she helps.
During retreats, Clarissa leads art therapy groups using “kintsugi,” a Japanese art form. Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The process usually results in something more beautiful than the original. For survivors, kintsugi is a powerful metaphor for healing and hope.
Check out The Younique Foundation’s video about kintsugi below:
We asked Clarissa about kintsugi and her work with survivors. Here’s what she had to say.
D2L: Was art something that you turned to naturally as an abuse survivor?
CC: I have always been a creative person but I haven’t really considered myself an artist until recently. I didn’t use art as an outlet until many years after the abuse occurred. It felt amazing to create something-through pottery, expressive writing, painting, kintsugi, art journaling, etc. After participating in the kintsugi activity I realized that when I was doing something artistic I felt more calm and peaceful. There’s pride in creating something beautiful for myself, even if no one else saw it. When I first started using art to release the pain and increase my hope I didn’t share my art with anyone. I needed that level of safety to express my true feelings. Later on, I felt comfortable displaying some of what I made and when people see these bowls and comment on how lovely they are I get excited to explain the kintsugi philosophy to them.
D2L: How did you discover kintsugi?
CC: I had seen a couple kintsugi bowls from Asia when I was younger and there was a musical reference a few years back but I did not have a lot of exposure to it. I hadn’t heard about the kintsugi philosophy until I started working with The Younique Foundation. I participated in a class where we were each asked to break and repair a bowl. I didn’t realize what I had signed up for! I discovered it by accident but it resonated with me a great deal. I loved it so much I eventually started teaching the class!
D2L: Was it easy for you to embrace the idea that there is beauty to be found in being broken?
CC: It was not easy to embrace that idea of being beautiful and broken. For me it took years to realize that the sexual abuse didn’t have to be shameful. I always disliked the term victim. I was victimized but I am a survivor. What I loved about kintsugi was taking those broken pieces and repairing them myself and feeling valuable again. I had cracks, but those valuable streaks of gold are a part of my history too. I had mentors, therapists and people that guided me but I had to use the golden glue to heal. I will never celebrate the fact that I was abused but I will celebrate the person I have worked to become.
D2L: At Younique Foundation you lead groups of survivors. Is there something special about groups discovering the metaphor together, rather than as individuals? Are there challenges that groups present?
CC: The most special thing about a group doing kintsugi together is that women will have a lot of “me too” moments. They realize they are not alone. Also, no two bowls are the same. They never break the same and each person must follow a process to repair their bowl. Oftentimes breaking the bowl is difficult. The hammer feels awkward and you hesitate. “Why would I break something that is perfectly good?!?!” is a question we get asked a lot. Once the bowl has been broken though you can only reassemble the it piece by piece. You can’t rush this part! The resin won’t adhere properly if you rush and you can’t do multiple pieces at once. Pottery can only be repaired by using a little gold resin and holding the piece into place until it dries. After that you do the same thing with another piece until the bowl is reassembled and repaired. There is no fast track or reward for the first person finished. Since we are all working on kintsugi the women will talk with one another about their healing and how this bowl perfectly represents them and their healing journey. They perceive their strengths and weaknesses in this one activity. Some really struggle with the power of holding a hammer. Others try to rush and glue back several shards of pottery at once and then the glue won’t hold and it falls apart and ends up taking longer. Some people are very emotional when they are repairing their bowls. There is a lot of significance since the entire group is working on something and each has a unique object they repaired individually. Each piece of kintsugi pottery is as unique as the survivors and their stories- like a fingerprint!
Some of the challenges a group presents are that everyone is at a different stage on their healing journey. Some women are really fast because their bowl was split into 2 or 3 pieces. Other people take a long time because there could be a dozen pieces or there could have been a hole from the hammer and they might fill in that entire opening with gold resin so it takes a while for the glue to dry in those spaces. We all have to learn the hard lesson of being patient with ourselves while we repair the breaks.
D2L: Is there a particular piece of kintsugi that is your favorite?
CC: I have kintsugi bowls, plates, teacups, mugs, pottery, and vases. My most favorite piece is the one that looks the worst. I had only done a few pieces of kintsugi and was trying to figure out which objects work best to teach others. I found this iridescent lavender glass plate that was stunning and decided to try that. Everyone that saw me working on this suggested I give up immediately after I used the hammer. There were hundreds of shards of glass! They were worried I would get cut or glue my fingers together. I am sure they didn’t mean to discourage me but their hesitation fueled my determination. It took hours to glue that plate together but it helped me process a lot of my story and the satisfaction and accomplishment I felt haven’t been duplicated. I love that plate more than any other piece because it was the hardest and most worthy of repair. When the light touches the glass and gold I feel like I’ve reclaimed hope.
Photos by Annie Vandermyde.
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Clarissa Carpenter grew up in California, Texas, Germany, and Utah. Her bi-continental childhood inspired her to study Theater, Psychology and Gender Studies and she was privileged to perform in England and Scotland. Ms. Carpenter is honored to be employed with The Younique Foundation, an organization that hosts therapeutic retreats for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She feels passionately about advocating for survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Clarissa enjoys volunteering, reading, travel, art, and hiking with her daughter on mountain trails in Utah.