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The Body Language Project

 The Body Language Project is a creative art program which helps participants to express themselves and their feelings through art. Many of the marginalised people I work with have experienced domestic violence, neglect, abuse, isolation and fear. Art can make them feel better, boost their self-esteem and morale, and help them to problem solve creatively. The Body Language Project aims to foster resilience through creative processes and improve mental wellbeing, self-esteem, self-identity and social connectedness skills. Through a process over five weeks, one day each week, participants work to develop and expand on an initial theme starting from scratch plastering the mould through to completion. Creating plaster torsos helps them create an external expression of their personal journey in a way that is emotional, honest and often thought provoking. This enables them to experience a sense of identity and ownership, expressing what they feel on the inside and creating it on the outside of their plaster torso. The participants learn vital skills such as team work, compassion, inner strength and confidence.
The Body Language Project enables participants to develop an expressive language and provides a first step into more connected relationships by tapping into creativity and offering a form of non-threatening communication over which the person has control. When participants enter the art room, they find drawing materials and other forms of media on a table. They are invited to draw how they are feeling about their life choices or an issue they are passionate about and even to make a statement in images that represent their feelings about being in a therapeutic setting.
This casual approach is a surprise and counteracts the fears of exposure and pain. The participants soon realise it is not about verbal cross-examination. Instead, I am interested in their opinions of their world as expressed through imagery.
At the conclusion of the workshops, participants of the Body Language Project are invited to exhibit their completed pieces.
Resilience can be a strong factor in delaying or preventing alcohol and drug use in youth.  Creativity is one of seven resiliency strengths and can boost self-esteem, increase coping skills, and help address existing concerns (Wolin & Wolin: 1993; Prescott et al :2008). Creative arts activities also provide a distraction from dealing with painful circumstance, an opportunity to reshape reality and to formulate future goals and changes. Resilience and the creative process are reciprocal:  Not only is creativity an aspect of resilient behaviour; it also fosters resilience.
Art programs like this one encourage discussion and dialogue between teachers and students regardless of age and set the stage for regular self-expression and reducing delinquent behaviour.
The Body Language Project helps young people build social competence and effective problem-solving skills (e.g. cooperation, communication). Youth participants in community-based arts initiatives express having greater tolerance and respect for difference (Heath & Roach: 1998). They also develop coping strategies that enable them to better handle conflict.  Research indicates that community-based arts initiatives are an effective strategy to reduce risk factors contributing to drug and substance abuse (Gasman & Anderson-Thompkins: 2003). These initiatives allow participants to develop protective factors such as caring relationships with adults, the ability to resist negative peer pressures and the opportunity to build positive self-esteem while fostering resiliency.
The Body Language Project validates and empowers the uniqueness of each person. Making an object out of an idea puts a powerful tool in the hands of a person feeling fragile and unworthy.  In the words of one participant, Shane Try, “All the emotions that I used to feel in the past, I just wanted to express it through art so other people could see that there’s other ways of letting it out.”  At 20 years old, Shane had always enjoyed art and sculpture but said the workshop was the first time he had consciously used art to express such raw emotions.
Gasman, M., & Anderson-Thompkins, S. (2003). A renaissance on the eastside: Motivating inner-city youth through art. Journal of Education for Students Places At Risk, 8(4), 429-450.
Heath, S. B., Soep, E., & Roach, A. (1998). Living the arts through language+ learning: A report on community-based youth organizations. Americans for the Arts.
Prescott, M. V., Sekendur, B., Bailey, B., & Hoshino, J. (2008). Art making as a component and facilitator of resiliency with homeless youth. Art Therapy, 25(4), 156-163.
Wolin, S.J., & Wolin, S., (1993) The Resilient Self. New York: Villard Books.


Evangeline Goodfellow has been the Arts Trainer for BoysTown since 2008 and has a background in Creative Arts, Community Welfare Work and Youth Work. She facilitates, delivers and develops art programs for the wider community, especially those that are marginalized, at–risk and without a voice.
Being an artist for 20 years, Evangeline has experienced art’s healing power in helping people express emotions and overcome pain. She developed The Body Language Project nine years ago as a way to encourage young people to break down barriers that were holding them back using art as their voice. A highlight was displaying Body Language Project torsos created by young people from Logan in the Brisbane Festival at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre last year, with Debbie Allen’s Dance Troop from Fame. Evangeline aims to nurture creativity, self-expression and the personal confidence of marginalised people through the arts.

For further information about this project, phone 0412 959 160 or email
Featured image: Cover image from The Body Language Project 2012 by Evangeline Goodfellow

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