The idea behind "Mens Artium"
The name “Mens Artium” comes from Latin and loosely translated refers to the intention or the reason of the arts, but where did the idea for the project come from?
To kick off our new blog, we thought we would start at the beginning and ask our founder a few questions. We wanted to figure out where the idea for Mens Artium came from and what inspired Christine to embark on the adventure of starting the project.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and Mens Artium?
I am Christine Nikander – a lawyer and an artist. I started Mens Artium in July 2022, after graduating from Columbia Law School. Mens Artium is a restorative justice project. Our aim is to use art workshops and mentoring to create safe spaces to help survivors of human rights violations process the long-term effects of their trauma.
What was the starting point for Mens Artium?
“I have often asked myself what could be done to alleviate the long-term effects of human rights abuses. The law alone does not seem to offer a good answer here.”
Having studied human rights and worked with survivors, I have often asked myself what could be done to alleviate the long-term effects of human rights abuses. The law alone does not seem to offer a good answer here. Afterall, a court judgment (even with well-thought-out victim participation) does not erase what happened nor does it nullify the trauma that resulted from an abuse. At the same time, the mental health care system often seems to be fully stretched to capacity. As a lawyer, there did not seem to be a good answer here. Yet, just leaving the survivors of human rights abuses to fend for themselves also never felt right. This left me with the question of how we can approach this issue differently.
What inspired you to start Mens Artium?
During my time in New York, I was lucky enough to get to take a course at the Columbia Entrepreneurship Design Studio and in many ways that taught me to think in a new way. If there were so many creative non-legal ways to potentially improve women's access to sexual reproductive healthcare services, couldn’t the same be true when it comes to alleviating the long-term effects of human rights abuses?
Do you think art could be a way forward?
“I have also witnessed firsthand how art can be used to deal with both primary and secondary trauma.”
Yes, I do! Throughout university, I read several papers on the role of art as a tool for restorative justice in post-conflict settings. I have also witnessed firsthand how art can be used to deal with both primary and secondary trauma. It just seems that there is currently no considerable push to try to scale this approach.
What drove you to dive in and really start the project?
A few years ago, a good friend told me that she thought that the day I realized that I could no longer use the law to create a positive social impact would also be the day that I would quit being a lawyer. I think she was right – but luckily that day has not come yet. Instead, I have learned that if the intention is to create an impact, then combining the law with other disciplines can prove to be incredibly valuable. I have often asked myself how being a lawyer and an artist fit together. With Mens Artium, I think I finally have a good answer to that question now!
Thanks for reading this interview with our founder! We will be continuing with a series of posts on the nexus between human rights and the arts, so stay tuned!