Emily Erb

Adoption became officially legal in the 1850s, and has drastically evolved over the past 150 years. About 135,000 children are adopted in America each year through either the foster system, private agencies, by family members or internationally. By this statistic, one out of every twenty-five families in the United States with children have an adopted child. Of these children, forty percent are of a different race, culture, or ethnicity than one or both adoptive parents (1). While being adopted is a wonderful act for most children, almost all have some psychological effects from the process. It doesn’t matter the age, gender, place of origin, or how caring the adoptive parents are. Being adopted is bound to have hurdles for the adoptees, even if they do not arise until later in life. The children may feel grief because of the loss of cultural and familial ties. In the case of closed or semi-open adoptions, these feelings may be elevated since there is little to no information available about the adoption. The children may feel especially vulnerable in the fact that they are “abandonable”, or “not good enough”. The identity development process can also feel more difficult, as can the idea of self-worth. There are so many questions that will most likely remain unanswered for most, or all, of their lives. Then, adoptees may feel guilty for wanting the answers and that lost connection, because they feel as though they are betraying their adoptive family (2). One way to try and cope with all of these strong, confusing emotions is art therapy.

Art therapy and adoption go well together. The creative process can help children and adults to understand their feelings and experiences through nonverbal means. It can also assist with the development of social skills, behavior management, reduction of anxiety and depression, and can heal trauma and increase attachment in existing relationships. Art therapy is especially effective with children. Since children may have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, the creative process can be fun and playful. It also equalizes the adults and children, making communication easier (3). The art itself mirrors a person’s experience of the world, and helps with the cause and effect of certain actions. The art may even reveal hidden memories that the child was not even aware of. A big part of this type of therapy is that it is non-confrontational, non-threatening, and non-invasive. The process can be continued over the years as mental check ins, and makes talking about adoption an easier pill to swallow (4). Some adoptees may draw inspiration from their life experiences, and continue making art publicly.

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Your Daughter is in Good Hands is an art exhibit by Shannon L. Peck, which is a social commentary on being an adoptee. Peck was adopted in 1970 from an English-Irish West Coast family, after being born with a Swiss-German-Czech heritage. This cultural tension provides inspiration for her art. This exhibit is specifically about an adoptee’s struggle with secrecy, shame, rejection, and identity. It also commentates on the transformation of a life due to the adoption process and privacy legislation. The show itself took 4 years to complete, and includes 45 textile works. The textiles explore Peck’s relationship with her birth family, her adoptive family, and her own identity. She utilizes quotes from her personal adoption record to guide the audience through the exhibit. The medium of ink on paper, and thread on fabric, represent an adoptee’s lifelong search for self. The lines are tangled up to parallel the daily struggles of love, rejection, loss, anger and forgiveness. Peck personally feels like it defines who she is in the world while simultaneously trying to accept her past. She mixes contemporary and traditional media to try to invite the viewer into changing their attitudes towards adoption. Another duality throughout the work is between fact and fiction. There is an overlying sense of a false perception of past events guiding the whole exhibit. The quotations and historical records keep track of the time period, while the embroidery and textiles present the complexity of relationships and experiences of an adoptee. The textiles also show the harsh options for unwed mothers that are often a result of societal or religious beliefs. Peck is being cynical towards the advice typically given by the Church and state. The idea of a mother and child never crossing paths is laced with feelings of loss, shame, rejection, and fear. The exhibit as a whole represents the progression of an adoptee trying to find themselves throughout their entire life. (5)

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Xhiv was born in Guatemala in 1991 to an Ixil Mayan family, and was then adopted as an infant after the death of her birth mother. She was raised in Phoenix by her adoptive family, where she still lives and works. She says that in second grade she took the first step in consciously choosing her identity by asking to be referred to by her birth name, not her adoptive name. At the age of fourteen she was reunited with her Ixil family in Nebaj, Guatemala. This event had a profound impact on her as a young woman, and as an artist. Ten years later, she traveled to Guatemala again to meet her birth family. This meeting continues to impact her art. As an artist, Xhiv explores questions of identity, family, culture, and place, both in her primary medium of paint as well as in other media such as printmaking, sculpture, and fiber works. The bright colors and detailed textures mirror Guatemalan craftwork, while the painting process allows her to study family photographs that help to reveal her background. Through her art, Xhiv is able to reclaim previously lost moments and aspects of her life. (6)

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Tori Grace Nichols was born in Baguio City, Philippines, and was adopted seven months later. She was then raised on military bases in Okinawa, Japan and Heidelberg, Germany. Nichols states that she was searching for ways to express herself and her ideas, which is how she became a performance artist. She quickly decided that it would not be in one singular poem, speech, or dance, so she has multiple different shows and performances. Her work reflects her self identity in which she describes herself as a transracial, transnational adoptee, queer, genderqueer, third culture, separated from her twin, non-monogamous, survivor of religious trauma, Scorpio, soccer fanatic with invisible and invisible disabilities, person living in the South. She has categories for the advantages and disadvantages she sees in her own identity. This is also an outlet for Nichols to try to understand her own power and privilege. Her work is engaging with questions about identity and existence. She firmly believes that trauma serves an evolutionary purpose that takes us closer to our true selves, and assists us in leaving our own legacy. Her most recent production is a solo show called Just To Be Clear, I’m Not Who You Think I Am. Nichols utilizes poetry, skits, opera, languages, music, and dance to convey her life experiences. The topics of identity development, adoption, depression, confrontation with codependency, experiences with a variety of isms and phobias (such as racism and ableism), art modeling, social justice and direct action, and love are all tackled in this one show. (7)

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Dana Weiser is a Korean-born adoptee that was raised in a Jewish-American household in the mid-west of the United States. She uses her childhood to explore questions of lost identity, multiple identity, and racial identity. This topic also extends into racial stereotypes, and observation of contemporary society. Growing up, Weiser didn’t feel strong ties to any of her communities, which made her question her background and the stereotypes held against her. She uses sculptures, drawings, and mirrors to express her experiences and messages. Weiser describes her sculptures as being gestural, and are often literal representations of idioms. The figures mimic simple translations, but have more complex connotations. In her drawings, she attempts to put the viewer in the place as a person of color who is facing stereotyping and racism. The patterns are meant to calmly draw the audience in, and then jolt them with harsh words. Right in the middle of those two mediums are her mirror works. Although the actual mirror is flat, the changing background and viewers add depth and link them to her sculptures. With the viewer now being a part of the piece, the words are amplified and accent each individual’s biases. Weiser’s main goal is to make her audience look into themselves and assess their own offensive behaviors, and to start a conversation about the social integration in our society. (8)

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Mi Ok Song Bruining was born in South Korea. She lived in an orphanage until she was adopted by a Dutch American family in New Jersey. Her name was changed to Anne, she learned English, and drew for the first time. Meredith Wildes Cornell gave Bruining art lessons when she was six years old, and this continued for a couple summers. As she grew older, Bruining became more active in her community: conducting over 80 speeches on international adoption issues, publishing poetry, and participating in many poetry slams. In 1996, she returned to South Korea to search for her birth mother. In January 1997, Bruining found her, and lived in Korea for two years teaching English. Since then, she has self-published poetry books, such as Made in Korea, and has produced watercolor cards and posters about both adoption and Korea. Since she has been making art from such a young age, most of her journey to finding her identity is shown in her art. She drew many self-portraits when she was younger, trying to fit herself in her own life. Her art became a way to express her struggles and self reflection with the people around her, and eventually was shared with adoptees across the globe. (9)

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Kim Dauphin was born in South Korea, to the name Kim Eun Ae, and adopted by a Belgian family. Through her travels, she learned that she loved to make oil painting of nature, after self teaching herself how to paint. In 1997 and 2012, she returned to Korea to discovered her cultural roots and get a new sense of inspiration. By understanding her origins better, Dauphin is able to use her cultural mix of Asian and Western to express herself through painting in a new way. Her exposure to different art and places inspired her to start making sculptures, as well as oil paintings, mostly relating back to Korea. (10)

Since I am an adoptee myself, I find a deep connection with this type of art, and I respect it immensely. I was born in Nanjing, China, in 2000, and was adopted fifteen months later by my American parents. In 2010, the three of us returned to China together to adopt my younger brother from Guang Guo, China.

Growing up, I was very open with the fact that I was adopted. I remember that being adopted was constantly my interesting fact about myself on the first day of school. However, I didn’t really think about what that meant. I knew that I was born in China by different people, but that fact didn’t really affect me until later on in my life. The first time I really thought about myself as being an adoptee was in third grade. I remember this girl in my class called me a “chink” for the first time. I didn’t even know what it meant, but I knew it had to do something with how I looked because she pulled out her eyes to be thinner. From that point on, there have been little reminders to me that I am in fact Chinese, not American. Even though I don’t know any Chinese, and have no family members or significant memories in China, people will judge me by my looks. It can come from anyone. It comes from peers making “jokes”, to my math teachers assuming I will be the best in the class, to complete strangers asking me “where are you really from?”. Even before I fully understood racism and stereotypes, these comments confused me. I didn’t know why my blonde hair, blue eyed mother never got the same remarks made to her. I didn’t know why people always assumed my parents were just babysitting me when we went out. I didn’t know why no one on TV or in books looked like me. It made me feel like an outcast when I wasn’t even sure what that meant. I wished to look like my mom every night at 11:11 for years, just so I could blend in more.

Now that I am older, and I am coming to understand society further, it makes more sense. Even though it isn’t right, I know how most people will automatically perceive me. I know that many think it’s ok to say that my future job will only be at a nail salon, or say that my English is really good for a foreigner. Finding my identity has been a hard process, and one that will probably last my whole life. Although I have only ever known America as my home, I do still feel cultural ties to China. I am trying to learn more about my history and myself. I am between two worlds, like many, and I am on the journey to figuring out what that means to me. Hearing others’ stories makes me, and others, feel not as alone or scared. I am grateful that there are artists and programs, such as art therapy, willing to help confused and insecure adoptees.

1) Fogle, Asher. “Surprising Facts You May Not Know About Adoption.” Good Housekeeping, 8 Dec. 2015, [[http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/a35860/adoption- statistics/|www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/a35860/adoption- statistics/]]. Accessed 6 June 2017.

2) Patricelli, Kathryn. “Long-Term Issues For The Adopted Child.” Mental Help LongTerm Issues for the Adopted Child Comments, 22 Jan. 2007, www.mentalhelp.net/articles/long-term-issues-for-the-adopted-child/. Accessed 6 June 2017.

3) Crawford, Lee. “The Power of Art Therapy in Adoption.” The Power of Art Therapy in Adoption | Adoptive Families Association of BC, Focus on Adoption Magazine, www.bcadoption.com/resources/articles/power-art-therapy-adoption. Accessed 6 June 2017.

4) “Art and Play Therapy in Adoption.” The Brook Institute, 6 May 2015, anniebrook.com/art-therapy-play-therapy-adoption/. Accessed 6 June 2017.

5) Peck, Shannon. “Exhibit: Your Daughter Is in Good Hands.” Shannon Peck, www.specksurfacedesign.com/your-daughter-is-in-good-hands.html. Accessed 6 June 2017.

6) Bogart, Xhiv. “Xhiv Bogart.” Xhiv Bogart, xhivbogart.com/artist-statement/. Accessed 6 June 2017.

7) Nichols, Tori Grace. “‘I Am From Grace.’” Tori Grace Nichols, 2017, torigracenichols.com/. Accessed 6 June 2017.

8) Weiser, Dana. “Artist Statement: Dana Weiser.” Dana Weiser, Something In The Universe, 2011, danaweiser.com/artist-statement/. Accessed 7 June 2017.

9) Bruining, Mi. “About.” Mi Ok Song Bruining, Genisis Framework, 2017, www.mioksongbruining.com/about-3/. Accessed 7 June 2017.

10) Dauphin, Kim. “Kim Dauphin.” Kim Dauphin, 2017, www.kimdauphin.com/. Accessed 7 June 2017.