Using art in social work training and practice

Each vintage piece of luggage in the installation-performance tells a part of Rogério Pinto’s story. Transformed into sculptures, suitcases and trunks tell of a time when he was consumed by the loss of his three-year-old sister Marília and the struggles of his family after her death.

Born and raised in Brazil, Pinto, professor and associate dean for research and innovation at the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan, found a way through the visual and performing arts to confront a painful past. , find peace and forgiveness. He created an award-winning piece called “Marília”, now readapted into a new art project called “Realm of the Dead”.

This community-based arts initiative invites audiences to delve into complex topics ranging from death and parental assault to ethnicity, race, gender and other issues. It will premiere in October at the UM School of Social Work, which is celebrating its centenary.

“Realm of the Dead” is an autobiographical project that uses self-referential theater as a vehicle for self-healing and advocacy. Based on the pedagogy and theater of the oppressed, it intends to advance the research and practice of social work, as tools for critical reflection, personal growth and advocacy.

As they explore the nearly 30 sculptures in the installation, visitors will learn about Pinto’s journey out of a childhood of poverty and the trauma followed by the death of his older sister, hit by a bus when he was only 10 months.

Audiences will also rekindle the unrest caused by his father’s sexual assault, domestic violence during Brazil’s military dictatorship and the arrival of Pinto, at age 21, as an undocumented immigrant to New York in 1987 and the challenges which he faced as a nonconforming gay man.

“I use autobiographical drama for personal growth and self-healing and to inspire audiences to find creative ways to resolve personal conflict,” Pinto said. “I am particularly interested in inspiring people to think of poor immigrants in a more human way. I believe that all of us getting involved as a community could lead to advocacy around issues being addressed in the “realm of the dead”, such as the prevention of childhood accidents, sexual trauma and poverty.

UM graduate social work student Megan Leys said she cried the first time she read Pinto’s play.

“I was left speechless by its power and impact. ‘Marília’ made me think about my own identity and my own position, “she said.” It made me think about parts of my identity that I do not always share, and myself. made me wonder if and why I could be ashamed of expressing these elements.It allowed me to look within, envision my personal growth and explore my own identity.

Last fall, Leys was a student in one of Pinto’s classes, in which he incorporated activities based on his play. The course aimed to increase students’ knowledge of diversity, anti-black racism, human rights, and social and economic justice by encouraging students to explore the power of autobiographical approaches to self-healing and advocacy. .

“Despite living in the midst of a global pandemic and the heartbreak I felt over lost loved ones, these activities gave me a sense of connection and community and reminded me why I wanted doing social work, ”Leys said. “This feeling has proven to me that performance and autobiographical inquiry are a wonderfully effective tool for improving our own social work. I can’t wait to see the installation in person this fall.

Art helps heal, promotes class discussion

After visiting the facilities and exploring Pinto’s journey, students will be invited to participate in educational exercises. One, titled “The Hair Dresser”, is based on Pinto’s interpretation of his experiences working in the United States, before he became a teacher.

The goal is to help participants practice improvisational and collaborative empathy and develop listening and empathy skills around grief and loss of a loved one, poverty, immigration, gender identity and LGBTQAI2 + issues.

Another exercise called “Moment Marília” is based on Pinto’s evocation of his deceased sister to help him cope and cope with difficult times in his life, for example, homophobic violence and lack of resources in as an undocumented immigrant.

This exercise asks participants to embody a gesture or characteristic of someone – deceased or still alive – and to develop a strategy to overcome a personal problem based on the person in question.

“By sharing her personal experiences, vulnerabilities and successes, Pinto creates a safe space where all participants feel comfortable revealing their true selves,” said Megan Malaski, recent graduate in social work. “Pinto has created an art installation that speaks at length about resilience. His story takes audiences to parts of his past that shaped him to be the person he is today.

“Through these activities, students can learn about a person’s intersectionality, how people are affected through their perspective of the world, and overall a person’s strengths and resilience are not always identified. by your own.”

Your own suitcase

What would you put in your “suitcase”?

Viewers will be encouraged to answer this and other questions: How do personal items help you tell a story about who you are and your many identities? How can specific artistic forms and practices support social justice in different contexts, given demographic diversity, diversity, equity and inclusion?

“I recommend autobiographical exploration to anyone, and social work students in particular, as a way to prepare them for ‘self-use’ in social work practice,” Pinto said. “It’s important to consider creative ways to help their clients engage in self-healing, community engagement, political engagement, letter writing campaigns and more. “

Marc Arthur, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Social Work, has worked closely with Pinto on several projects, including the expansion of a social justice art collective that includes students from across the university. During a course he taught to immerse students in art-based social justice, Arthur used the play “Marília” – with the participation of Pinto in class – to discuss the autobiographical work and process. .

“As a homework assignment, I asked the students to create their own ‘suitcase’ using boxes, then bring them to class to show and tell,” Arthur said. “It was a very rewarding exercise that helped the students understand some of the ways in which self-examination processes are useful forms of self-realization and community engagement. “

For Arthur, community theater is a growing field with few borders.

“Rogério’s project is deeply interdisciplinary with an eye towards the fine arts, bringing together a play and an art installation from his social work perspective,” he said. Rarely do the visual and performing arts come together in a community theater like the ‘Kingdom of the Dead’. “

The installation will be on display October 4-17 in the lower level atrium of the School of Social Work.