Arts & Literature
Mosaic Art Therapy – Interview with Saad R. Mikhaiel
by Michell Spoden
Healing from traumatic experiences is one of those difficult things many of us must face in life and, considering that we are such complex beings, we need to be able to embrace the true meaning of love in order to heal. Some folks find it hard to receive love because they struggle with feeling unworthy and yet others don’t even know what sources are available to them. For myself, I had to combine things such as my spiritual, physical and creative senses to grow into healing.
I remember when I first got divorced, I took a drawing and design class in college, but never knew a thing about drawing; in the end I created such a beautiful piece of artwork and to me, it was like a miracle. Many art forms are used to help heal the self and most recently, I was introduced to the idea that Mosaic Art can be used as a form of psychotherapy. Mosaic Art as a form of psychotherapy, can it be done? According to Saad R Mikhaiel, it can be. So let’s find out what he has to say.
Michell: Saad, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Saad: My name is Saad Romany Mikhaiel. I am 55 years old and am Egyptian. I’m a graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts (1982), and essentially, I’m an Interior Design Consultant. I also worked as a jewelry designer for two years. Currently, I am a full-time mosaic artist and mosaic art master. I’ve held many mosaic courses in Egypt, England, and Holland. I’m planning to have more courses in other countries, such as Belgium, Germany, and maybe in Canada next year.
Michell: Please explain to us a bit about your work and how you have developed it to reach where you are today.
Saad: After graduation, I worked as an interior designer and then as jewelry designer. This period provided good experience for my mosaic works later on. I continued my work as a consultant interior designer to provide a source of income; meanwhile, I dedicated my free time to the art of mosaics. In 2011, I obtained a full-time art grant from the Egyptian government and was able to hold the first micro mosaic exhibition in the world that same year. It took 18 years of preparation and hard work, which may seem a bit strange but I did this with a passion and I believed in what I was doing.
Michell: Was your culture an influence on choosing this type of art form?
Saad: The choice of art form of the artist is result of a combination of ideas and feelings combined with cultural and social experiences as well as goals and experiences. These accumulations are also a mix of history, philosophy, and the surrounding environment. It is natural that the artist is influenced by his/her surroundings; he/she deals with these combined elements with the same level of interest, sympathy and interaction. Egypt is a very inspiring and fertile place and arts have always been an important part of its ancient history.
Michell: Can you please explain to us some of the roots of Mosaic Arts?
Saad: Briefly, to explain some of the origins of mosaic art, we have to begin with a concise history of mosaic art or “the immortal art”, as I like to call it. It is an ancient human art form, dating back to perhaps 4000 BC according to relics that have been discovered. It started as a form of human artistic expression; it was part of the early concepts of primitive architecture, and it went through several developmental stages until it eventually reached what it is today.
The essential and general idea of mosaics, as most believe, lies in the choice of the type material used – the color, size, and shape of the constituent units – and the way of placing or positioning the pieces to achieve a satisfactory visual image. I believe we can say that mosaic art is an integral part of all of mankind’s work and life achievements. In fact, I would venture to say that we as human beings are different races, come in different shapes, and have different beliefs and paths in order to form, together, a huge mosaic which is this world in which we live, and that everything we do in our lives is a kind of mosaic in one way or another.
This art form began as a simple and completely spontaneous means of expression and then gradually evolved with the appearance of decorative borders and different styles of geometric and plant decorations. It was used to decorate the floors of buildings and then to cover walls – to decorate and protect them from decay. Later on, it was used to commemorate the images of the old gods, to record scenes from daily life, such as hunting and wars victories, to show images of animals, etc.
The raw materials used at the time were solid, natural materials, such as pieces of marble, stone and gravel, to ensure that these materials were resistant to climate changes and erosion for mosaics on walls, and resistant to friction and corrosion in the case of floors.
Michell: Do you believe that mosaic arts have always been a healing source one way or another for all who have learned it?
Saad: We cannot really say that the idea of using mosaic as a method of helping in trauma recovery began in early history. Mosaic art was traditionally considered as one of the finer arts that required special professional skill and the art was limited to the groups working in this field.
But, after the spread of the art of mosaic, and after it became available to larger groups of people, and with the availability of many forms of raw materials, tools, there has been a rise in the number of people and students wanting to learn the art of mosaics, whether to study it academically, or as an art form, or even as a hobby. From my personal experience, my long years as an artist and teacher of mosaic art, I have noticed the positive effect mosaic art has in significantly improving overall mood. This has suggested to me that we need to follow-up these positive effects and, possibly, to take advantage of them both at the level of those who suffer from stress and tension, and up to the more extreme cases, of physical abuse, harassment, and rape, etc. In practice, I can certainly say yes, I believe mosaic art can be a quite effective and important factor in assisting in the recovery from post-traumatic situations.
Michell: Recently you told me that Mosaic Arts could be used as a form of psychotherapy to help those who have been through trauma and abuse. Please explain how.
Saad: In the beginning, I had a number of experiences with some traumatized people who came to the mosaic courses by mere coincidence. There were people with depression, others who felt marginalized, and some children from orphanages who suffered from their inability to adapt.
Because I always stress student satisfaction and pleasure, besides acquiring knowledge during a course, I have been able to notice and closely follow the positive changes that developed during my mosaic courses. In fact, this positive energy was very obvious. Day after day, this was clearly and concretely observable in the improved psychological balance, mood, and sociability, and not only in the case of traumatized people. As the sessions were attended by other people as well, I noticed that they too were expressing a combination of extraordinary self-happiness and enjoyment of learning. You may see it in the comments by students at the link. I must also confess that, as a teacher, I am delighted with such results.
At first, it was a cause for surprise, prompting greater scrutiny and follow-up. As someone who has spent a large part of his life in the field of mosaic art, I was able to come to a sort of logical explanation or theory that justifies this improvement which I named “Reloading”. I would like to explain this theory in simple terms here, to provide some effective solutions that help to overcome post-traumatic problems and recovery, or even just to get rid of the stresses of daily life.
It is known that physical abuse is always accompanied by psychological abuse which causes a lot of negative emotions. The most painful of these feelings is a sense of oppression, humiliation, and a sense of inferiority and frustration. During treatment, the physical abuse, which is clearly visible, is dealt with more easily, but the more complex psychological part remains hidden and needs longer and more integrated treatment. An important part in the success of this regimen is the willingness of the patient and his/her desire to recover.
There is no doubt that the human body is both fascinating and puzzling: from the simplest things that may not draw our attention, such as the ability to heal wounds, through the ability of our bodies to adapt to difficult tasks, and also the body’s self-defense mechanisms, and up to the amazing creativity and capacity for unfathomable forces of the mind of this unique being: the human.
Given that Art is one of those creative abilities to which humans have exclusive rights, and which carry some of the attributes that are peculiar to them only, let us agree, at the outset, that what people who practice art do in their artworks is a reflection of what is going on inside themselves, their feelings, and emotions. Likewise, all our actions have a direct impact on our inner selves too.
Because the art of mosaic is one of the first arts known to man, a question may come to mind about the secret attraction and link between this art and mankind. I think that the answer lies in that this correlation is embedded deep in human history because the art of mosaic embodies the philosophy of “re-creation”: small, neglected, or scattered pieces – which may be similar or different, or a part of a spontaneous or deliberate wreckage – are reclassified and rearranged so that each tiny piece has a new role and becomes an influential part of a matrix, which creates an overall image bearing special meaning, form, and concept, stressing in the end, the positive, complementary role of each piece with respect to its adjacent pieces.
Therein lies one of the secret abilities of mosaic art in helping to heal and restore balance. The ability to organize and order mosaic pieces is reflected inwardly into the ability to restore order and harmony within the self. The ability to create, or re-create, a physical, concrete object is capable in itself of giving emotional and psychological satisfaction.
For a survivor of abuse doing mosaics, it is not important that the resultant is a work of art according to technical, artistic standards, especially in the early stages. What is more important is that the survivor interacts spontaneously with the shapes, sizes, and colors of the pieces of the mosaic, to reflect correctly their innermost feelings.
In fact, the cut-up pieces of materials, mixed up and scattered, prior to starting a mosaic panel seem to represent a state of chaos which reflects the psychological state of the survivor who is in turmoil and unrest. With the placing of each piece in its right place, he/she is, in fact, not only restoring a part of a visual image he/she would like to see it, but at the same time rebuilding a shattered inner self-image.
So, regardless of the technical or artistic value of the resultant work of mosaic, it gives a sense of satisfaction and balance to the survivor of abuse. On the one hand, it emphasizes the ability to rearrange those scattered pieces into a more organized form, while on the other hand, which is more important, it reflects their ability to self-heal their shattered, scattered inner self and re-create it again!! It is amazing, really.
What is more surprising is that another therapeutic capability represented in mosaic art, the use of color, is an integral part of the composition of the mosaic work. This type of treatment is called “color therapy” or “chromotherapy”. Briefly, this kind of treatment is based on the theory that each color holds a different, positive therapeutic energy, especially so in the case of the primary colors of the rainbow. Every color has its own unique energy characteristics that are emitted by those colors in the field of our bodies. We may suffer from a lack of vitality, physical, emotional, spiritual, or moral, and this energy is able to give us a measure of balance. It is another interesting subject to add to the secrets of the art of mosaics and its ability to assist in recovery. Finally, it is important when you begin to learn the art of mosaics that this is done with the help of a qualified person who is well-experienced to help improve the results at the visual as well as at the psychological level.
The art of mosaic still hides many secrets and anecdotes, as experienced from the energy inherent in the many natural raw materials that are used in the making of the mosaic image. It evokes a unique sense of passion as an outstanding Finer Art.
Michell: Have you personally ever worked with persons who have been abused? If yes, please explain. If not, would you like to and why?
Saad: Yes, I’ve worked during my courses with a number of those who have been abused to varying degrees. Recently, I had a student who had been violently traumatized and, after a private mosaic session she attended with me, she was overwhelmed with gratitude for the combination of knowledge and inner peace. I respect and appreciate the right of these people to privacy, and their right to keep these painful parts of their lives private, especially for those who are abused in the Arab region with its often overly-strict culture where, unfortunately, the victim is usually blamed, one way or another, for the abuse.
Michell: Do medical insurances cover this type of treatment for the abused or are there special types of finances for those who may be in a different income bracket in order to afford the classes?
Saad: In very few cases, the financial cost is covered for regular mosaic courses at some institutions for the mentally-handicapped in Europe. As for the Middle East, I do not think that there is any real support, even for normal treatment in general for most people.
Michell: Do you teach the courses online? Or how does it work?
Saad: Online courses may be more useful in explaining the theoretical material, but for Mosaics, I prefer to hold practical, hands-on courses which I believe are more beneficial and allow for good communication and more immediate feedback. Also, I usually follow the progress of my students after online courses through the different means of communication.
Michell: What is the best advice you could give someone who wants to enroll in a mosaic art course for this purpose?
Saad: The first piece of advice I always give, the best magic word for success of all work we do in our lives, including engaging in a mosaic art course, the only thing capable of changing all things around us for the better: it is to make use of the freely-available and infinite positive energy, which is Love.
People from all over the world have taken Mr. Romany’s courses and seem to have really loved it. Please take a look at their comments and feedback on his website: www.saad-mosaic.com. For any questions, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acknowledgement: Thanks are due to Dr. Sophia El Sharkawy for translating the interviewee’s answers from Arabic into English.
About the Author
Michell Spoden is the author of Stricken Yet Crowned and is also pursuing a transitional housing project for woman with an agricultural aspect. She has a degree in Business Science Administration and is finishing her bachelor’s in Project Management.