Artists, Abuse Survivors Collaborate on ‘A to Z of Trauma Recovery’ Art Project

The Roys Report [Chicago IL]

January 16, 2023

By Josh Shepherd

An award-winning designer and illustrator is bringing together diverse artists and abuse survivors to foster recovery from trauma through experiencing art.

“Healing comes from the arts,” said artist and survivor advocate Erin Hung, interviewed on a video call from Hong Kong. “The church can tend to elevate the mind and the intellect above things like creative expression. Maybe these things all have to come together.”

The online art project titled “The A to Z of Trauma Recovery,” curated by Hung, seeks to reverse this trend—with prominent survivors and advocates contributing. They include survivor-storyteller Lori Anne Thompson, author-artist K.J. Ramsey, former Ravi Zacharias PR spokesperson Ruth Malhotra, and licensed therapist Krispin Mayfield, among others

One contributor, trauma-informed writer and artist Jenai Auman, explains how the arts can be therapeutic. “The ability to delight and dream is often shut down whenever you’re not doing mentally well or emotionally well or spiritually well,” she told The Roys Report. “Art takes your focus away from what’s broken to what could be whole, beautiful, and good.”

This project features 26 original art pieces by Hung, each paired with a person’s honest account of processing painful abuse or aspects of their own recovery process. Some are stream-of-consciousness, others are carefully worded poems, still others devotional in nature. 

It’s rolling out during January, which has been recognized as Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month. The primary art posts are on Hung’s Instagram account (@erinhung_studio), with additional art created and posted by U.K.-based artist and survivor Teri Muncey (@thelovelydrawer) as well as photographer Jessica Fadel (@jessicalfadel).

In a post describing the project, Hung quoted her friend, Lori Anne Thompson. “(She) once said, ‘suffering, born well, not only alters us in unimaginable ways, [but] it also illuminates.’” Hung continued: “Our invitation is extended in the hopes that you too will bravely step forward in sharing a snippet of the storm you have been through, to illuminate a way forward for others.”

Influential designer steps back to learn and listen

Globe-trotting Hung has seen faith and art intersect in many chapters of her life. 

Growing up in the 1990s living in New York City and Hong Kong, her family attended a Chinese-speaking Evangelical Free church. “I struggled with the church not making space for the arts,” she said. “There wasn’t much besides flag waving to ‘Shine Jesus Shine,’ which isn’t very artistic.” 

Feeling wired to create with purpose, Hung moved to London to study at two prestigious art schools. She earned her Fine Arts degree from Byam Shaw School of Art, then went on to world-renowned Sotheby’s Institute of Art for her master’s in contemporary art.

Hung and her husband, Ben, ran an award-winning design firm in the UK, and she got a book deal at age 30.

Today, living in Hong Kong, Hung says those years working in partnership with Condé Nast magazines and other top clients “feel like another lifetime ago.” Choosing to focus on children, she became a stay-at-home mother for a season. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hung became more aware of abuse and trauma even in the “beautiful Christian faith tradition” she called her own. She says K.J. Ramsey’s books on finding grace in suffering helped inform her; Hung reached out and became friends with the author.

The artist also took time to “sit with friends I grew up with—sometimes via Zoom—to talk about the difficult things occurring within religious spaces.” 

She adds: “Witnessing everything that’s been going on in the global church and pandemic, we have all been through trauma, individually or collectively.”

Creativity with connection

Desiring to reengage with art last summer, Hung took an illustration course. A central assignment was to choose a topic and go through it, A to Z, one piece per day. Hung chose trauma recovery. “It was like a guided journal,” she said. “I began to draw and was so enriched.” 

She considered releasing those 26 illustrations but stopped short. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do it together, offering each other comfort or insight?” she asked. “That connection is healing where we find common language.” It became “The A to Z of Trauma Recovery.”

Auman, among the wide array of voices Hung tapped as contributors, finds it unique how “Erin is making art therapy accessible for everyone” through this project.

Having studied trauma recovery and the theology of art, Auman sees many ways they intersect. “Abuse bulldozes your hope,” she said. “If you are in a safe place, creativity is a way to tell your body it’s okay to move from survival mode to a place of thriving, dreams, and joy.”

She recounts her own block when attempting to write an account of a past incident and feeling pressure to write down every detail. “That’s a trauma response,” said Auman.

Instead, she turned to poetry, writing her own psalms. “There’s a lot of hurt, abuse, and trauma the psalmists are actually working out and bringing before God,” she said. “I could just express my grief and lament with imagery, and trust that God didn’t need to hear every single word.”

Empathy and embrace

As Hung has become more aware of abuse and trauma in evangelical circles, recent events that rocked Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) loom large for her.

Ministry founder Zacharias, who died in 2020,  sexually abused women, misappropriated funds, and used nonprofit resources to cover up his misdeeds. Legal battles are ongoing

“It brought to light just how much of our religious organizational systems are in dire need of reform,” said Hung. “Independent artists are among those calling for accountability.” 

So, the artist said she was “blown away” to have Ruth Malhotra, former RZIM public relations manager, share about friendship for one of the most recent project entries. 

Malhotra writes of a key figure who bolstered her courage to become a whistleblower within the global ministry . . . and new people she’s come to know since the unfolding scandal. “One of the most surprising gifts I’ve received has been my friendships with survivors. To be embraced by them is a vivid example of grace—deeply comforting and beautiful.” 

A companion post by fellow artist Teri Muncey, who encountered spiritual abuse in an Acts 29 Network church, elevates the experiences of a survivor. 

“I’m so thankful that God has brought a number of people into my life who exude compassion, aren’t uncomfortable with my grief, and hold the pieces of my story they know with care,” writes Muncey.

While not every “A to Z of Trauma Recovery” post has an explicit faith angle, participants view it as sacred and spiritual work. Hung says that the parable of the Good Samaritan, recounted by Christ in Luke 10, undergirds her perspective. 

“You have to stop and sit there on the side of the road, in the dirt and muck,” she said. “It’s coming to terms with: Why did this person end up here? Do I have anything to do with it? Coming down to someone’s level is essentially why God incarnate is central to our faith.” 

Editor’s note: New posts in “The A to Z of Trauma Recovery” project will release daily through Jan. 29. At the upcoming Restore Conference on June 9-10, Jenai Auman will guide participants through several art therapy practices.