Krupa Jhaveri is a woman who believes in the Anne Turner saying that all art takes courage. As the creator and founder of Sankalpa, an art therapy organization, Krupa’s work has brought the benefits and healing power of art therapy to those who often have the least access to it. She has worked in locations like Sirubadi, Auroville, and in her own home city of New York, emphasizing the therapeutic goodness in making art, a process she believes is the most important. Saying she is dedicated to her work would be an understatement and one often has to look hard for the exact words to describe all the ways in which she is reaching out to touch people with her work. A woman whose work is never done, Persephone folks, please welcome Krupa Jhaveri.
Persephone Magazine: You are the owner and founder of Sankalpa: Art Journeys, a center that provides a safe, supportive place for open creative expression and art making. Why did you start Sankalpa? What was the process like?
Krupa Devi: Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word which means intention, affirmation, goal, willpower and determination. I created the organization to share the development of my art therapy work in my ethnic motherland, India. I am yet to open an actual center, though I was very fortunate to find a space in a recent six-month period spent in Auroville in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu. The process continues to be challenging as I raise funds to purchase art supplies and to buy and renovate this studio space. (Any donations are greatly appreciated and can be made here.)
I chose the word Sankalpa specifically to help me find the continued strength to establish and evolve this vision despite all obstacles. Underlying the process there has been this indescribable magic that fuels my faith in the universe. Everything I need somehow continues to be provided, as long as I continue to channel all of my intention and energy into manifesting this dream. As Rumi says, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” In my own life, art continues to teach, heal, and transform me as I journey deeper into the process of reflection which occurs when I create. My life is now devoted to helping others find the same benefits in their own artistic expression.
PM: How did you decide to become an art therapist?
KD: While working in children’s publishing in NYC as a graphic designer for over six years, I felt frustrated that I was creating books for children without actually interacting with them. I began volunteering for an early morning reading program with New York Cares, which led me to FreeArtsNYC, an arts-based mentoring program for at-risk youth. There I found the essence of art therapy and realized it was the ideal synthesis of my passions for creativity and social work. As I reflect back on how quickly I found and completed the graduate program at the School of Visual Arts in 2008, it is clear that this was a natural path. My thesis work included a recycled art pen-pal exchange between women living with HIV/AIDS in Brooklyn, NY and in Uganda, Africa. I specialized in working with children, adolescents and adult women living with HIV/AIDS in the New York area before moving into international work.
Art therapy is particularly accessible as a non-verbal exploration of any traumas, conflicts or issues (often through metaphor), which clients of all ages can experience in individual or group sessions. Creativity is an unconscious externalization of our inner psychic state, and many artists know, we can begin to know ourselves better by studying and understanding these reflections.
PM: What is the most rewarding things about working within art therapy? One of the most challenging?
KD: Witnessing countless moments of mastery in my clients continues to be extremely rewarding. Due to the massive population, the highly competitive nature of educational settings, and all-too-commonly abusive surroundings, children in India have remarkably low self-esteem. They engage deeply with enthusiasm and interest in the projects, and often turn to me with surprise in acknowledging talent and value their own creations. I see them genuinely internalizing some positive realization about themselves and their abilities, which is invaluable for their development. Facilitating this kind of self-awareness through art is unbelievably fulfilling.
In this international work, I constantly encounter new territory where my Westernized training is irrelevant. Pioneering this type of work has cultural implications, personally and professionally, which I consider on a daily basis. I also continue to struggle with the significance of process versus product, as I began my professional career in a very product-based field of design. In art therapy, the process is all that matters, and in promoting Sankalpa, I face ethical dilemmas of sharing artwork which I know will be judged outside of context. These are all fascinating issues to confront as I gain experience in this relatively young niche of international art therapy, and I have learned to trust my instinct as the only way to move forward. Ultimately, I suppose the most challenging aspects of the work often yield the most rewarding results.
PM: Your specialty seems to be working out of a globalized context, specifically working out of Auroville, in South India. How did you choose Auroville? What were the specific workshops you were doing there?
KD: In 2009, I traveled through over 80 locations in India and Nepal, independently surveying locations to potentially share art therapy. Visiting schools, orphanages, NGOs, and villages, I spent ten days in Auroville, an international township near Pondicherry where about 2,000 residents are dedicated to a vision of human unity. Auroville integrates sustainable practices such as solar power, electric vehicles, earth architecture, community-based agriculture, among many other utopian experiments. Upon returning to the U.S., it became clear that Auroville was the most receptive and supportive location for my work.
I was inspired when introducing paints to children in remote villages like Sirubadi in Nepal but found my immune system could not handle the lifestyle of these regions and I grew lonely without fluency in the language. I learned a great deal about indigenous traditions in areas like the Kutch region of Gujarat, but ultimately discovered it would be challenging for someone born in the U.S. to immediately start a new initiative in rural India. Auroville encourages experimentation and is a microcosm of exchanges between cultures, providing a ripe foundation for my vision.
PM: Where has your work taken you? Who are the people you are working with?
KD: I anticipated working with the underserved and oppressed women of India, but quickly learned through immersive work that they become isolated after marriage and are generally unable to defy tradition even by leaving the home on their own. Instead, I have focused mainly on children and adolescent girls, finding that higher receptivity in youth results in more meaningful impact and benefit long-term. Most recently I was working with the following groups in the villages surrounding Auroville in south India.
I held bi-weekly group sessions with village children (about 5-12 years old) in an after-school program at Thamarai community center in Edyanchavadi village, focusing on color exploration, recycled art and creative literacy. I offered weekend sessions to village adolescents (12-14 years old) visiting the Edyanchavadi Healing Center, focusing on body awareness and identity. Over four months these teenagers were taught how to create their own affirmation dolls, sewn by hand with scrap fabric and including a positive affirmation sewn inside. The girls were guided through body awareness meditations, photography, drawing and development of stories based on these dolls, as well as the creation of a collaborative life-size doll for ongoing educational purposes. Similarly, weekly groups were held at the Life Education Center in Kottakarai, with young village women learning life skills (12-24 years old). They also created dolls, paper beads and jewelry, and were given journaling and drawing exercises. I also led women’s circles with a local group advocating for women’s safety and helped them organize an event to publicly address the issue in Auroville. Ongoing support and involvement was provided to a developing effort of Child Protection Services of Auroville, including individual art therapy sessions in abuse cases. When I return in September, I will be the first fully dedicated member of the Child Protection Services team, and I look forward to further assisting in prevention and educational workshops in the local schools.
PM: Do you find that there is a common theme with the people you end up working with? What are the ways in which you witness art change them?
KD: I begin almost all sessions with a silent moment of concentration, which allows each person or group to ground and become present, coalescing into a similar energetic space whenever possible. One fascinating phenomenon often occurs in group sessions, where art created in the same room is nearly identical, though the artists did not even look towards each other or the art made during the session. This is the power of the collective unconscious.
I cannot help but see universal tendencies in the ways that people make art, whether it be the shapes they create, the colors they use, the ways in which they layer and develop patterns, sublimate emotions, or dive completely into the creative process when the perfect medium matches their need to express in the moment. The nonverbal space seems to grant permission to explore what is foreign, forbidden, secret, unknown, and visceral. Towards the end of sessions, I regularly see relief, calmness, catharsis, pride and increased self-awareness. The most common behavior I witness is self-doubt and fear in creating at all, and especially over extended periods of work I almost always see an increased sense of self-worth, mastery and self-esteem.
PM: What is your long-term hope and goal for Sankalpa? How do you want it to grow?
KD: The Sankalpa logo is a yantra or sacred diagram, a color wheel used to teach basic color mixing, which also serves as a map for collaboration. I hope to continue meeting like-minded souls and expand what Sankalpa offers, potentially including the spectrum of expressive healing arts such as music, dance, and drama. As I return to settle down in the Auroville community this fall, I will be able to invite volunteers from around the world to assist and offer workshops in the studio space. I am brainstorming a creative mentoring program, pairing any visiting volunteers with local youth for one-on-one and group activities. I have found art exchanges to be powerful, memorable and inspiring for all involved, and hope to facilitate many more in the future. Ultimately, I also hope to take the model and approach I am developing in Auroville to other parts of the world.
PM: Describe a typical day at Sankalpa.
KD: An early morning meditation in the studio is followed by some care of the plants surrounding the space. The morning session of children able to visit before school begins with a brief collective meditation and suggestion of a theme for the art-making by one of the children themselves. Supplies like paint and paper are already laid out for them when they arrive so they can immediately begin to create. Their seats in the studio face out into a lush forest for inspiration. After about 30-45 minutes of art-making, they would share and process the work, followed by cleanup and hanging the work outside to dry before the children leave. Later in the morning, I host an individual art therapy session in the studio, being able to provide a safe and private space for deeper healing. In the afternoon, I take some time to experiment with new media, create my own art, write notes and process the previous sessions. The evening includes either a women’s circle or a figure drawing session. Each day flows with a steady pace of connection and creativity. Since previous work has been varied and preparatory in many ways, this is a description of what I hope a typical day at Sankalpa will include. Knowing the power of intention, I look forward to manifesting this reality very soon!
PM: Is there anything you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in art therapy?
KD: It is important to note that like any related psychological field, art therapy tends to uproot the one’s own issues. I found necessary balance and support through my own therapy, allowing me to process being a childhood survivor of domestic violence. Coming to terms with this part of my life and story has deeply motivated the work I do today, and this type of self-actualization is common for other therapists drawn to this work by their own unresolved traumas and experiences. The artwork I created as a child allowed me to escape and imagine an alternate reality, and today it continues to be an intimate space for reflection and growth. For anyone entering the field, be prepared to never look at art the same way again! I sometimes find myself overwhelmed and have to leave exhibits, as my art therapy training has granted me access to unimaginable layers of information beneath and woven into each piece of art.
PM: What amazing work of yours can we look forward to?
KD: If you are in the New York area on August 12th, please join me and a talented line-up of performers, musicians and interactive artist stations for a Sankalpa fundraiser at the House of Yes in Brooklyn! You can find more information, photos, links and donate at www.sankalpajourneys.com, or write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading!