The Resilient Souls Project, a powerful exhibit of portraits and writing which celebrates women’s perseverance through life’s challenges, inspired visitors to the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis this spring. The exhibit ran through early March in the garden level of Goldfarb Hall.
Cathy Lander-Goldberg, MSW ’03, began the project in the 1990s, when she was a freelance photographer. Now a licensed clinical social worker in the St. Louis area, she merges her professional interests as photographer and curator of this exhibit.
“Research shows that although there are protective factors which foster resilience, we all have the ability to build more resilience in each of our lives,” she said.
Following approximately 20 women from their teens and twenties into middle age, Lander-Goldberg has created a collection of black-and-white past portraits and current color images. The photographs are accompanied by text that reflects the subjects’ struggles, losses and mistakes, as well as their successes, strength and triumphs as they navigate their lives.
The updated exhibition opened at Maryville University in 2016 and has continued to tour.
The original stories come from “Resilient Souls: Young Women’s Portraits and Words,” Lander-Goldberg’s exhibition that opened in 1996 in St. Louis and traveled in the U.S. during the late 1990s. The topics include disabilities, illness, adoption, mental health issues, violence, school problems, unhealthy relationships, immigration, teen pregnancy and grief.
Two decades later, Lander-Goldberg revisited the subjects to learn about the trajectories of their lives and careers. They spoke of setbacks and profound loss, as well as achievements, surprises and strong family ties. In those intervening years, three of the women became Washington University alumnae, including Roeshelle Roby Mu’mun, MSW ’02.
During the first phase of the project, Mu’mun wrote about overcoming learning issues and said, “School feels like a shelter to me, a place to get away from the gunshots and babies crying.” Mu’mun went on to become salutatorian of her high school class, then obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and her MSW at the Brown School.
For several years, Mu’mun worked as a licensed clinical social worker and had her own private practice. She now uses her social work background to run her own business, Layaway Housing, LLC, in north St. Louis, which helps low-income families rent and purchase homes.
Lander-Goldberg facilitates workshops using expressive arts, in addition to her work as a photographer and clinical social worker. She often utilizes expressive techniques in her practice—though she is clear that the subjects of her photography are not her clients.
Lander-Goldberg is also the author of “Photo Explorations: A Girl’s Guide to Self-Discovery Through Photography, Writing and Drawing” (2015).