Emylia Safian’s Traces Exhibition Sheds Light on Art Therapy & Childhood Wounds

Provoking its audience to pay closer attention to childhood issues affecting or arising from contemporary society, Traces, a research-informed and art therapy practice-based art exhibition, aims to make such issues and concerns more accessible to achieve greater public awareness.

Emylia Safian, the academic lead of the exhibition and a registered art therapist, added: “Such research material would otherwise be confined to academic journals. This has also encouraged the art therapists to become agents of social change, using art as a platform.”

Created by final year MA Art Therapy (MAAT) students at LASALLE College of the Arts, Traces is a first-of-its-kind group exhibition that reveals how creative expression is utilised to work through mental issues.

According to Emylia, art therapy is a mental health profession which integrates fields of human development, visual arts and psychotherapy. When LASALLE started to offer the MA Art Therapy programme back in 2006, Emylia saw it as her calling and never looked back: since 2007, she has been collaborating with educational institutions, voluntary welfare organisations, government agencies, and non-governmental organisations within Southeast Asia.

Traces: Interview

Emylia said: “I grew up creating and making my own objects as toys and played outdoors a lot, my folks certainly did not indulge me in store-bought play items. This developed a natural curiosity and fascination of materials and how things are formed, which also resulted in the way I approach art therapy – the process and authentic expressions that lead to associations with the emerging product are invaluable.”

Explaining that “pieces of broken objects, cardboard and textile, scraps of paper and other ephemera all serve as metaphors and potential for reconstruction”, it is therefore symbolic for such art forms to transform from the unpleasant to a more acceptable form or states of emotion that reflects the feelings of the individual who created it.

Traces: Exhibit 1

In response to a US-based landmark research, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, most of the artists involved in the Traces exhibition has worked with local children “affected by adversities arising out of familial dysfunctions”. The result is the intriguing artworks that are all at once cheeky, harrowing, and thought-provoking.

Traces: Exhibit 2

For instance, one can see that the cutleries on the dining table are in distorted shapes. This is a reflection of the damage that poor parenting can have on children’s inner state. In the full artwork, there are several sets of distorted cutleries and one set of normal ones to show the stark contrast.

Traces: Menu

The exhibition even features a satirical menu showing the different ways children can be scarred using bizarre dish names and descriptions, such as “bruised leg”, “sexually assaulted vegetables” and “an extra serving of guilt”.

Traces: Stickers

Another artwork that impressed is one where arbitrary rules are placed on random locations in the library. Among them are stickers that state “please do not stick on face” and even a sign telling students to snore quietly. The artist aims to get us to question the rules set by adults to discipline children, and whether these rules are meaningful.

Traces: Video

Keep an eye out for an art installation in the form of a video, where a strangely dressed reject visibly attempts to get the attention of people around her but repeatedly fails. The experience of being treated as an outcast in one’s personal environment can also affect the child very profoundly in his or her later years.

Traces: Mosaic

This mosaic artwork on the library wall is easy to miss, but only more visually apparent when one steps back to see the whole picture. It is a symbolic representation of how children’s concerns are often ignored
– no matter how big or small they are – and it is necessary to see the bigger picture to care for them.

Besides the artworks featured here, there are many more at the Traces exhibition for you to reflect upon and explore. The imageries and metaphors used are highly creative and impactful. As said most aptly by Emylia: “I enter the work fully realising that my role is to journey with the clients’ emotional distress and pain… given that the work is relational, any shifts or transformation we wish (that) the clients will, in the same vein, move and change us.”

Traces: Firewood

Similarly, the artworks featured in the Traces exhibition awaken our social conscience by reminding us how our individual actions in a community can shape the environments children grow up in.

The Traces Exhibition will be displayed till 23 December 2018 at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Library, extending out into the foyer and across the link bridge. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Photos by Brandon Neo of the DANAMIC team.

Huang Yimin

Aiming to live passionately and not settle for a mundane life. Firm believer in the Oscar Wilde quote "You can never be overdressed or overeducated". I wish to publish a novel someday in the unknown future.

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