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Blog

Reclaiming Agency through Art

Lindsey Malcolm

Anandi tends to stay quiet at lunch. While we gather around the mishmash of desks for our clamorous, giggly afternoon break, she eats her dahl and chapatti inconspicuously, nods along with the streams of chatter, and discreetly cleans up to get ready for work. The boisterous banter and expressive storytelling of her peers often eclipses Anandi’s shy demeanor. In the afternoon, she works on her jewelry pieces with care and reliability, but she rarely exhibits exuberance—at lunchtime or in the workshop.

Last week, she tapped Collyn, our Design Intern, on the shoulder. Anandi held a student laptop in her arms, and a tiny corner-of-the-mouth smile on her face divulged an unusually forthcoming spark. Anandi turned the screen of her laptop so Collyn could see a file of photos; as she began scrolling through them, Collyn realized that Anandi had curated a photo collection of jewelry pieces from around the Web that inspired her. She clicked and clicked through a vast array of images, demurely smiling and more assuredly nodding as Collyn began smiling too. Collyn, initially bemused at Anandi’s rare tap on the shoulder, felt profoundly upended by gratitude that Anandi had shared an intimate sliver of her creativity.

Anandi’s demonstrable excitement and evident proclivity for curating a design concept moved Collyn to ask her if she would like to lead the creation of a new Purpose Jewelry piece. Anandi bashfully accepted and throughout the week, the two worked together to produce a concept, some sketches, a color palette, and eventually, a finished model. April, iSanctuary’s head jewelry designer, loved the finished piece, and approved the model to be sent out with rest of the samples in that line.

In the entire two months that Collyn has worked for iSanctuary, Anandi has been the first woman to approach her with a personal, imaginative concept. Anandi took the initiative to share her artistic predilections, to offer her distinctive insights into Purpose Jewelry designs, and, with guidance, support, and tweaks from Collyn, to create her own model for a new product. Collyn had the privilege of witnessing Anandi peak out of her shell and take a leap of faith in order to share and pursue her art. To relinquish safe ground and hurdle into the obscure, rutted swamplands of “following your dreams”—where vulnerability to self-doubt and external criticisms is stymied only by the fortitude of one’s belief in their vision—is a terrifying bound for any innovator. For a shy artisan recovering from trauma, betrayal, and systematic violence, the choice to open herself up, to make herself exposed to criticism and rejection, and to forgo defenses in pursuit of her creative aspirations, is monumental.

Anandi thrived in the oft-shambolic process of breathing life into her imagination and emerged triumphant, finished design model in-hand. The efflorescence of Anandi’s confidence through taking ownership of her artistry attests to the value of the creative space iSanctuary aims to provide. We encourage participants to generate their own ideas, follow them to fruition, and inspire each other, hoping that these habits will support their art in the workshop and reinforce self-agency in circumstances outside of the jewelry studio. We believe that this space, in which survivors assert their voices, take on responsibilities, and revel in their imaginative propensities, begets recovery, self-efficacy, and sustainable liberation. Anandi, and the women she inspires with her assertive artistry, incarnate the transformative affects that we aspire to engender in our Purpose Jewelry workshop.