What It’s Like To: Create Art to Heal Trauma

Photo credit: Emily J. Davis


Artist Andrea Moni of Irvine began collaborating with other trauma victims after a serious burn accident.

Ido design and art installations in private homes. I was in a home (in 2015), and they were showing my work to other couples. There was an ethanol fireplace. The fire was going down. Someone was trying to refuel it, but the fuel container became like a flamethrower. I was across the table, and it was just swoosh. I was lit on fire. I was screaming and fighting with it. I ended up with third-degree burns on nearly 10 percent of my body.

You don’t ever want to move a burn victim. You want a paramedic who knows how to treat a burn victim because you’re an open wound and there’s risk of infection everywhere. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in my case. I got put in my car, and we ended up at a hospital that didn’t have a burn facility. They gave me morphine and put me in a room, but I waited for five hours until they got a room at UCI Medical.

There’s an organization called the Phoenix Society, and they help people who’ve been through burns. I had people come in from the organization when I was in the hospital, and they would talk to me and listen to me and answer questions. A burn is an unusual sort of an injury. They call it a marathon instead of a sprint because it develops over time and what happens is long lasting.

When I was in treatment, I was thinking, “I have to do something positive with this. How can I take this and make it into something positive?” I’m an artist; that’s what I do. While I was lying there, 24 hours a day for 20 days, I started saying that art is a therapy. I can take people who have gone through trauma down to the ocean to make art.

So far, I’ve had more than 10 collaborators. During the process of making the pieces, we talk about their situation and the trauma they’ve gone through. It’s all about them. There are so many stories of strength and survival. One woman has lung cancer, and she’s fighting it. There’s a woman who had strokes at a very young age and is partially paralyzed.

They select the colors. They play in the ocean, and we move the nontoxic, environmentally friendly paint on the canvas. They all do something different, depending on their personality. Some people are shy. One guy was grabbing sticks and throwing all kinds of crazy colors onto it.

At one moment, we decide we’re done. We let the piece dry in the sun. We roll it up and take it home. Then my work starts. I hose it off to get rid of the salt. I stick it on the wall and then I look. I’m more like a sculptor. I go in and bring out images that are there in the piece.

My dream is to have these pieces in museums all over the world with the title and the story next to them. When somebody sees this piece, they like it for what it is, and then they read the title, (for example) “And This Too Shall Pass.”

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