She understood that these voices deserved to be heard on their own terms, without others speaking for them. When the Science Gallery team put her in touch with the Grady Trauma Project, inviting her to partner with clinicians on an installation exploring addiction, she was excited to integrate trauma-informed approaches into the film. She didn’t know she would wind up confronting her own story through a new lens.
But that’s what good artistic collaboration does: it changes everyone it touches.
Kahn met with investigators at the Grady Trauma Project, an NIH-funded research group studying civilian trauma at Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University School of Medicine. As they began planning their joint exhibit, Kahn began to view her own story from a different vantage point.
“I was diagnosed with complex PTSD shortly before starting on this project,” she says. “Working with the team at Grady and learning from the people we interviewed—who have endured decades of struggle—helped me to approach my own circumstances from a more compassionate and hopeful viewpoint.”
Together with Abigail Lott, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory and co-director of the Grady Trauma Project, and Emma Lathan-Powell, a postdoctoral fellow in clinical psychology, Kahn set about creating mini-documentaries of three metro Atlanta residents who have grappled with trauma and addiction and are now pursuing recovery. Lott and Lathan-Powell were surprised by how eager some Grady participants were to share their stories with a larger audience. “They wanted to give back,” says Lott. “This was a chance for those who wanted to tell that story, to do it.”
Lathan-Powell, who served as interviewer, helped make sure that participants stayed involved at every stage of the creative process. “They stated their preference for final edits,” she says. “They watched raw cuts of the footage. They made sure that this was their story being told. They were able to share it the way they wanted.”
The end result? “Addictive Stories,” on exhibit beginning May 14, 2022 at Science Gallery Atlanta in Pullman Yards, is a kind of video triptych: three short films, five minutes each, separate yet linked. Each film has its own distinct area for viewing, partitioned by curtains. Gallery visitors can listen to the audio over headphones, immersing themselves in the personal accounts of three individuals sharing their life stories. The exhibit puts a human face on addiction and trauma, effectively combatting the stigma that still surrounds those who suffer from substance abuse. “This exhibit humanizes addiction,” Lott says. “And it serves as a reminder that there are ways out. There is recovery.”
The installation also serves as a reminder of how dynamic ideas can spring from creative collisions between science and art. Lathan-Powell says she enjoyed learning about lighting, sound, set, and editing from a media and film studies expert. And Kahn, who graduates this May, came away awed by the resilience and strength of the individuals she was privileged to record on camera.