My Magazine Article! Adoptee Artists

cover of the Adoption Constellation Magazine
I was one of three featured adoptee artists in the latest issue of The Adoption Constellation Magazine. This magazine explores the diverse voices of the adoption triad and encourages an ongoing dialogue about topics related to the adoption experience.
 Below I have shared my essay on how my own artwork has influenced my experience of being an adoptee. To find out more about this magazine, follow this link to their site: The Adoption Constellation Magazine 
The Power of Art: Adoptee Artists 

The Artist’s Path to Self: How does the adoption experience translate into art?   

Three adoptee artists use art as a medium to gain a greater understanding of their adoptions and themselves.

“What did your face look like before your parents were born?”  -Zen Koan
A few years ago I had a dream about my birth mother. I was walking through a crowded room and everyone was dressed in masquerade clothing and masks. As I meandered through the large hall, the back of a woman caught my attention and I immediately knew she was my mother. In the dream, I held my breath as I waited for her to turn around. She turned for only a moment, and I saw she had the face of the Mona Lisa. Her face then shifted into another face as she melted into the crowd. I ran after her, but could not find her again.
my article and two featured paintings
Thinking about the dream, I later realized that not knowing my mother may actually fuel my constant desire to create. Without knowing my mother’s face, I am free to create one for her, even imbuing her with the face of the Mona Lisa.
My adoptee and artist identities have often been inexplicably linked. My search for self parallels my path as an adoptee and an artist. I trace this search visually through the artistic process. My art draws from archetypal images, such as the Great Mother, Mother Nature, and from other mythological women, to help me form an image of my mother. The struggle to form an identity and likeness for my mother is mirrored in my painted depictions of floating figures and faceless apparitions.
Symbolically, I reclaim my lost mother through the artistic process, evoking her through dialogues with my paintings. Art has given me a way to meet my mother metaphorically on the page or on the canvas. Abstract landscapes evince terrain that I have traveled in my search for self, and for my mother. Shifting figures of women hover in limbo – waiting to be born or to move on to the next stage of life. 
Those who know their biological family trees are assigned to a specific branch on the tree. Perhaps not knowing my family tree has freed me to paint my own family trees – in various colors, shapes, types, and settings.
As an art therapist, I often tell my clients to “focus on the process more than the finished product.” When I think about my constantly evolving search for self and for my mother, I often remind myself of this philosophy and how it can apply to all of life as well. Perhaps it has never been about finding myself, but about the act of creating myself in each moment. 

Cover of Adoption Constellation Magazine

I’m very excited to share that one of my paintings titled “City Spirits” is featured on the cover of the upcoming issue of Adoption Constellation Magazine!

The Adoption Constellation Magazine explores adoption from different perspectives and features unique stories and articles from the adoption community.

I feel very honored to be a part of this issue, in such a wonderful magazine:)

Altered Book

And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.

“Little Gidding” T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I am almost finished with my altered book. This book is the central piece of my thesis for graduate school, and it explores my literal and metaphorical search for my birth mother. I used a combination of collage, paint, and writing, to alter a book called “Healing Waters.” Here are a few pages from the book – enjoy!

The Primal Wound

I have started to read a classic book on adoption (and geared towards adoptees) called The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, by Nancy Verrier. Although the author is not an adoptee herself, she is the mother of an adopted daughter, as well as a biological daughter.

As I read, I am finding that the subject material and her descriptions of the adoptee’s unique position in life is definitely ringing true for me. I found myself nodding my head as I read, and feeling as if the book was written specifically for me! Here is an excerpt from her book that seems to summarize the main theme she explores:

What adoptees need to know is that their experience was real. Adoption isn’t a concept to be learned, a theory to be understood, or an idea to be developed. It is a real life experience about which adoptees have had and are continuing to have constant and conflicting feelings, all of which are legitimate. Their feelings are their response to the most devastating experience they are ever likely to have: the loss of their mother. Just because they do not consciously remember it does not make it any less devastating. It only makes it more difficult to deal with, because it happened before they had words with which to describe it (preverbal) and is, therefore, almost impossible to talk about. For many of them, it is even more difficult to think about. In fact, some adoptees say they feel as if they either came from outer space or a file drawer. To allow themselves the memory of being born, even a feeling sense of it, would mean also having to remember and feel what happened next. And that they most certainly do not want to do.

Many adoptees are adopted as infants. For years there has been a preconceived notion that babies could not possibly retain the emotional trauma of separation – after all, they’re “just babies.” However, scientific research in the field and countless testimonies of adoptees is proving that this early separation (perceived as the ultimate abandonment) leaves an indelible imprint on the infant. Since the experience is not consciously remembered, it floats in the background of the adoptee’s psyche, as a feeling of emptiness, loss, and confusion. As adults, we may feel an underlying sense that something is missing, even though we cannot come up with a single concrete reason for this feeling. Many adoptees struggle with depression, anxiety, and some with acting out inclinations. Often this behavior confounds the adoptive parents and health professionals, who can find no obvious reasons for this behavior in the adoptee’s external life.

As an artist, I am beginning to realize just how much of my work has been a searching for her face. In my depictions of floating figures and faceless apparitions, I have struggled to form an identity and a likeness for her. I look into my own face and features, and can only partially reconstruct what she may look like.

It is easy to take for granted the fact that most people know exactly who their biological parents are, and are therefore directly in touch with their lineage and their origins. For the adoptee, this basic and vital piece of information has been cut off and sealed away. And so the searching for her True Self begins…

Are you my mother?

This was one of my favorite books as a child. It was a very popular children’s book for many. However, when it was read to me – many deeper issues welled up in my young mind, and still do to this day – as an adult adoptee. The young bird in the story has been separated from his mother and goes on a quest to find her again. He meets all sorts of animals from different species and repeatedly asks “are you my mother?” Although he makes friends on his journey, each animal must reply that “no, they are not his mother.” Finally he is reunited with his mother and she folds him up in her protective wings. For me this ending was bittersweet because it did not mirror my own experiences, as one who is still searching for her birth mother.

Now, entering my second year in art therapy school, I am exploring ideas for my graduate thesis. My experience as an adoptee and my natural inclination to explore my feelings through art and writing seem fertile ground for a more in depth exploration of this topic. Questions that I am interested in asking are ~ how does an adopted child develop a sense of self, when they are unable to bond with the woman who gave birth to them? Has my own search for a “face” in my phantom-like painted figures been a symbolic search for my birth mother’s face and identity? How can art be used to heal the “primal wound” as it is often called in reference to adoptees?

I hope to make contact with other adult adoptees who have also been adopted through a closed adoption (one that closes off adoption records, rather than keeping them open). This is an exciting, sensitive, and large exploration that I know will take me in many unforeseen and creative directions.