Milton-bred artist Jill Valle wants to get into your head. The photographer, painter and psychotherapist will bring her movement, “I Am a Woman Who,” to the Boston Center for Adult Education on Saturday for a day of intimate portrait sessions. Valle, who now lives in the South End, talks each student through a introspective stream of conscious writing exercise, before scrawling the phrases onto canvas backdrops with India ink. Participants are then photographed against their own words by Valle.
“The beauty of the process is that people try to plan out to say, but it’s meant to be organic and in the moment,” explains Valle. “When they finally write, it ends up being full of contradictions — words that are powerful, celebratory, then full of hurt. That speaks to the nature of being human; we’re a whole host of contradictions and that’s OK.”
Valle, who graduated from Boston College and Lesley University before heading to L.A. to teach, dreamed up the project from the journaling exercises she would do with her students. She would give them the prompt, “I Am a Girl Who...” and have them record their stream of consciousness. “I was so moved by what they wrote that I started doing it with my friends,” she explains. The words were then incorporated with Valle’s love for photography, initially appearing on her participants’ bodies, before transferring to canvas.
The movement brought Valle to perform the exercise with various support and community programs across the country — ranging from the LGBTQ outreach groups to the TEDx OlympicBlvd Women conference in 2015 — switching up the prompts as needed, while keeping the end result visually similar. While every experience is unique and insightful, Valle says there are recurring themes that connect all of her clients.
“There are so many commonalities,” she adds. “I originally started doing this project, I wanted to see a visual and heart-centered way that explains what connects us as women, despite our differences — I think women can look at their scrawled papers of affirmation and say, ‘These words aren’t just mine, they’re every woman’s.” Valle also does the project herself every year (“I have to talk myself into it, so I know how it can be scary or feel strange”) and hopes to expand her efforts abroad.
“I want to do this [project] all over the world,” she says. “This could be totally different in a culture that’s not as navel-gazing or narcissistic. I spent a lot of time in India, and the women I was working with would tell me what they wanted for themselves and their children. There are commonalities there, and there are things we don’t express on a daily basis that go unnoticed. This is a heart-opening experience; it allows people to visualize and that can cultivate compassion and understanding.”
If you go:
Oct. 1 at 9 am to 5 p.m. (each session is one hour)
Boston Center for Adult Education
122 Arlington St., Boston
$100 tuition, $35 materials, bcae.org, 617-267-4430