Shawna Ayoub Ainslie, 33, from Bloomington in Indiana, U.S. is a Lebanese-American woman born in Texas, raised in Arkansas. A writer since childhood earning a MFA in Creative Writing at Indiana University in 2007. ASLI chose Shawna’s submission as it felt so raw and powerful that creating a bigger platform for this writer was something we were keen to do. This inspirational artist is doing what we at ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL are all about, using art to engage, educate and express our world, raising awareness on important issues through artistic creativity. We spoke to Shawna and here is what she had to say:
What motivated you to deal with the subject of abuse and sexual oppression in your art?
“I was raised in a conservative religious household where I was taught that my greatest failing lay between my legs. I grew up ashamed and afraid of being a woman. I tend to write on subjects of abuse, shame, sexual oppression and survivor-ship as a way to work through trauma.”
Tell us why you chose this submission?
““Right Kind of Woman” is an exploration of choice and the individual examining a woman who rediscovers the joy and curiosity she was taught to repress.”
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Why have you chosen the medium you use for your art?
“Writing is my favourite form of self-expression. There is space to make mistakes and corrections, to grow, to think and to launch a grand appeal to perfect strangers simply because you share a language.”
What is your process when creating?
“I write to clarify emotional confusion. I like a quiet space and a handful of comfort objects such as wrapped soaps and favourite books. The objects serve a dual purpose: they inspire and ground. The grounding is important. The topics I engage are often difficult. I teach Writing through Trauma. The first aspect of trauma writing we cover is safety. If I am overwhelmed by memories or my subject matter, taking hold of one of those objects brings me back to the safe “now.””
Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?
“Suheir Hammad, Hanan al-Shaykh, Naguib Mahfouz, Diana Abu-Jaber, N.S. Koenings, and Shannon Hale are among my writing heroes. These are writers who push boundaries and take risks with their work in areas of religion, culture and expectation.”
What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
“To me, feminism is about being defined as a person before being categorized as male or female. When humanity comes first, equality follows.”
What made you want to get involved with our non-profit ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL mission?
“I write on a public level because I believe art has the power to heal. My work as a writer is to reach just one person and, even if imperceptibly, effect the positive expansion of their social awareness. The mission of ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL speaks to my desire to increase global compassion through writing. I want to be a part of that effort.”
Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?
“Absolutely. Women are vilified for demonstrating personal strength and self-confidence. Our bodies are modified for public consumption through objectification from birth. In an alarming trend, pink infant onesies now bear slogans implying self-judgement and physical dissatisfaction. While many are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the prevalence of big butt and fat thigh comedic t-shirt slogans that are seen as “fun” and “cute” point to widespread tolerance of body shaming. As a woman, I am constantly navigating public perception of my person via my body. Whether it is my skin tone, my body type or my social presentation, I must consider who is viewing me and adjust my actions to offset any negative assumptions in order to be received as intelligent and capable.”
Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?
“My moderate experience of world cultures is of patriarchy. Women’s bodies are commodities for trade and social status. I was raised believing that my father’s failure or success was defined by my chastity. I was taught to obey men, and also to expect men to harm me. As a woman, my body is being consumed. I was taught that my job is to buffer the level of that consumption through dress and behaviour modification. Unfortunately, I also absorbed that, should I be raped, I would be at fault for inviting it (an assertion conflicting with the very definition of “rape”). This came mostly from my American culture.”
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for etc…..?
“My big loves are raising awareness of domestic violence (specifically child abuse) and combating the stigma of mental illness. More often than not, the two go together. For example, men who abuse are often seen as “bad” when they are, in fact, suffering from manageable mental illness and capable of effecting change in their own lives. Women and children who are abused may develop depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, as I have. While I do not believe abusers and abused should stay together during the healing process, I do believe healing and change are possible in many cases. I am also passionate about racial justice, rape prevention and survivor-ship.”
What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in anyway “saved” your life in any way?
“I began teaching Writing through Trauma because writing was my main source of healing after a violent childhood and multiple physical and emotional adult traumas. Writing is a way to reflect internally and affect externally. It can be a non-invasive, non aggressive means of communicating possibility. One facet of societal upset is widespread inability to recognize alternate methods of action. A personal narrative or short story is a safe access point to otherwise unwelcome information.”
How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?
“Receiving art means receiving another person’s experience through intimate expression. It is a window to the soul, so to speak. We can experience art passively, such as on a billboard as we drive the highway, or actively by walking through a museum exhibit or reading a novel.”
What are your goals as with your art?
“Again, my goal is to reach just one person in a manner that positively effects his or her life. Each time I accomplish that, I am successful. I then reset that goal.”
What is your next project or piece that you are working on?
“I am putting together a new set of classes geared toward trauma writing, growing stories on the page and finding ourselves as writers. I am also writing through my own trauma on a deeper level than I did in pieces such as “The Letter No One Wrote My Mother” or “Confessions of an Almost-Abuser” on my website honeyquill.com.”
Shawna Ayoub Ainslie instructs Writing through Trauma in Bloomington, Indiana. For information on upcoming writing classes or private writing coaching in the areas of Fiction or Creative Nonfiction (local or long-distance), contact Shawna at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about Shawna Ayoub Ainslie:
Website: The Honeyed Quill (honeyquill.com)