People sitting in the newly opened Art Loft in Bandra are all engrossed in painting. I sit down and am handed an A3 piece of paper on a board. Leila Tayebaly, an Indo-French art therapist, tells me to choose from two shades of blue paint: one very dark and the other pale.
I’m not sure if it’s a trick question to see how morose I am feeling. I pick the darkest shade. “Now using that, paint the cosmos and your soul in it,” she says, as though she has simply asked me to paint a house.
I get to work. No one speaks, but I’m relieved to see the two men behind me also painting in blue, so I am not the only one.
I paint a huge white gap in a sea of blue splotches and stripes. “For the first four weeks, I observe you. The therapy doesn’t start until you’ve completed eight sessions, though painting automatically makes you feel better,” Tayebaly says.
People come here for therapy, self-development and enhancing creativity. “These people are perfectly balanced in life, but just want to improve certain areas,” she explains. She helps them overcome obstacles through painting, rather than words.
I look at my blue picture. From a distance, I can see weird shapes, people and symbols connected to my life. I accentuate the outlines, but when I hold it up, the symbols have changed.
Now I can see my darkest secrets in the paint. I feel relieved, but secretly amazed at how the paint has let my subconscious speak.
Tayebaly (34) moved to Mumbai in November 2007 with her husband Greg. Born in the USA, she became an art therapist, certified by the Ecole Belliard-Staikovsky in Paris, based on the works of Margarethe Hauschka. “I had to do 40 paintings a month and study subjects like medicine and psychoanalysis. You have to master one art tool, so I mastered water colours. Different mediums in art therapy suit different illnesses,” she explains
After eight sessions, Tayebaly analyses your art, discusses your obstacles and explains what deep-rooted issues are causing them. According to her, we express our subconscious mind and dreams through art without realising it. She also prescribes art exercises to overcome obstacles. “If someone is depressed, they don’t need to tell me. I can see it in their art,” Tayebaly reveals.
“Whatever you can overcome on paper, you can overcome in life,” she promises. “If you can’t change it, you can’t change it on paper either.”
Tayebaly specialises in helping people with depression, lack of direction and anxiety. “There seems to be a great need for this service in Mumbai. Patients tell me that some psychiatrists prescribe medicines without any counselling,” she says.
While admitting that she’s not a qualified doctor, Tayebaly says that they work together with doctors to achieve results. “We can communicate with doctors as we understand the physical system and mental structures,” she explains. “I work with my mother, who is a psychoanalyst in France. I treat my patient as a person with a unique set of problems.”
Illnesses such as asthma, skin problems, diabetes, obesity and digestive problems can also be helped through art therapy, she claims.
The only problem being, you won’t even be diagnosed until after shelling out Rs 8,000 for eight sessions. “It depends on the stage of the illness. If it’s the beginning of cancer, we can do a lot. We see an illness in germination before it manifests itself… but we can’t replace a doctor,” she explains.
A 33-year-old media professional, who has done the art therapy privately for two years, says, “It’s helped me understand myself, become less self-critical and negative. But I don’t think it could cure depression alone, you’d need a doctor as well.”
Other courses the Art Loft offers
Mixed medium arts for children
Water colour painting for children