University City

Using art to help domestic violence survivors

Pearls for Creative Healing, a nonprofit organization based in Charlotte, uses art to help end domestic violence, while empowering survivors and providing an outlet for telling their stories through expressive arts.

Founded in 2012, Pearls was started as a photography project by Sandra Guynes and her husband as a way to tell the stories of domestic violence survivors through photographs. Since then, the organization has added monthly workshops and an annual photography exhibit.

“Art creates a universal platform for survivors to tell their stories, share messages of survival and create a platform from which to educate the community and end domestic violence,” said Guynes.

Even the imagery suggested by the group’s name was chosen to inspire and encourage women.

“The name Pearls is used because it symbolizes wisdom, beauty, femininity and strength,” said Guynes. “The strand represents the link (and) network formed by the women of Pearls.”

In addition to victims of domestic violence, Pearls’ programs are open to friends and relatives of victims as well as those with a passion for ending domestic violence.

Workshops are held each month at Syngergie of Wellness, at 5700 Executive Center Drive, Suite 100 in Charlotte, on topics that include painting, mixed media arts, songwriting, photography and dance. Each workshop also has a theme such as forgiveness, storytelling or creating messages of hope for other survivors.

“During the art workshops, survivors get to engage with other women who have had similar experiences and create support systems that help to promote their healing process,” said Guynes, who lives in the University City area with her husband, Odell.

Fees for the workshops range from $10 to $30 and scholarships are available for those with financial hardship.

Workshop participant and survivor, Alceen Ford-Meggett said, “Pearls for Creative Healing has helped to give me new ways to heal from my abuse even though it has been 33 years since the abuse. The workshops provide a way to let go of the trauma and pain that I thought I had finished with. Even after all this time I am still recovering, but in a safe atmosphere of the wonderful women of Pearls.”

Each year, Pearls also hosts a photography exhibit that tells the stories of 20 domestic abuse survivors. Women who are not currently in crisis or at risk can apply online at to have their story included in the exhibit. The deadline for submissions is midnight June 1.

Participants in the exhibit can choose to protect their identity by having their faces obscured or being photographed in a manner that hides their face.

Guynes said art gives survivors an outlet and a way to express their stories.

“It can be hard to verbalize one’s story over and over,” said Guynes. “Art creates a voice that these women have not had in the past.”

Guynes herself was a victim of emotional, verbal and physical abuse and used art to help her once she got out of the relationship.

“I immersed myself in dance, photography and visual arts, not to escape my past but to understand it and help others,” said Guynes.

She said most people today will look at her and find it hard to see someone who has been abused.

“I am successful, educated and very independent but at one time, I loved someone and felt confused about right, wrong and which way to turn,” Guynes said. “I can still relate to the experiences that victims of abuse go through.”