Powerful art can catalyze discussions around untouchable topics, allowing us to express difficult thoughts and ideas.
That power takes on particular importance in black communities, where artists are challenging the fact that they’ve long been overlooked in conversations around mental health.
According to the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, black Americans are about 10 percent more likely to experience serious mental health issues like major depression or PTSD than white Americans.
Black Americans are about 10 percent more likely to experience serious mental health issues.
Many experts point to high rates of poverty, due to historical racism and income inequality, as a major contributor to mental illness and distress in black communities.
But stigma and health care barriers often result in missed opportunities for care. Only about 25 percent of black Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of white people, according to the National Association on Mental Illness.
Behind these statistics, however, are resilient communities fighting to be heard and recognized and many artists are taking part in that battle.
These five black artists are using their craft as a form of activism, starting an essential conversation about the intersection of race and mental health.
1. Kirsty Latoya
South London-based digital artist Kirsty Latoya also known as KirzArt is using her work to unpack the complexities of mental health. To create her art, the 25-year-old uses her finger as a stylus to draw on an iPad a technique that creates compelling, contemporary work.
Her art focuses on the inspiration and empowerment of black communities, with many pieces (like her Emotion Series) shedding light on the mental health issues the community endures.
She has previously said that she channels her own hurt and sadness into her work to create art people can relate to on an emotional level, while working out her own feelings at the same time.
2. Tsoku Maela
Tsoku Maela a photographer from Cape Town, South Africa has been extensively recognized for his work documenting what it’s like to live with mental illness through complex imagery. His recent photographic series, titled Abstract Peaces, documents Maela’s own experience with depression.
“Depression isn’t all doom and gloom,” Maela writes in an artist statement. “It’s an opportunity to face oneself and this is a result of going to places you hate the most about yourself and finding beauty.”
Maela tells Mashable he hopes his work will help viewers understand there is “nothing inherently wrong with you as a person” if you live with mental illness. He’s seen Abstract Peaces inspire young people to open up about their experiences with mental health, which he names the most crucial step after realizing you may need help or support.
“It’s important to start the process of unlearning and re-educating the African community on topics such as mental health,” Maela tells Mashable. “Many outlets have branded the community as ignorant, but that’s far from the truth. Ignorance is knowing the truth and choosing to look away. What we are dealing with here is a lack of knowledge on the subject.”
3. Gloria Swain
The work of Canadian artist Gloria Swain covers harrowing topics like institutionalization, forced medication, domestic abuse, sexual abuse and depression through photographs, paintings and installations. For Swain, these topics are deeply personal. Much of her work focuses on her own experiences as a black woman navigating mental health care systems.
Swain tells Mashable she has always found comfort in art. But, until recently, her work was put on hold due to her physical and mental health. Now, she uses art as a form of self-care, while also raising awareness and starting conversations.
“When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness a few years ago and after the side effects of the medication took a toll on my body and mental state I realized I needed to find an alternative to medication when dealing with anxiety and chronic pain,” she says.
“Art has a way of relaxing you and putting your mind to rest. It also made my chronic pain manageable. Its very therapeutic.”
4. Alison Saar
Creating work at the intersection of culture, history and identity, noted sculptor Alison Saar tackles mental health in black communities by exploring the related issues of heritage, history and gender.
The Los Angeles-based artist tackles the root causes of mental health disparities in black communities, taking a deep look at institutionalized racism and economic inequality, especially post-Hurricane Katrina.
Her materials reflect the weighty and heavy inspiration of her work, using wood, tar, metal and lead to create her figures. Saar has said dualities play a key role in her work, telling the Los Angeles Times in 2011 that her work is reflective of “strength and vulnerability, freedom and oppression, sanity and madness, humor and despair.”
“I think being biracial definitely has a big play in my interest in that or my experience with that never belonging in either world, always being considered some sort of other,” Saar told the Times.
Saar’s work is currently featured in the traveling U.S.-based art exhibit Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art. To learn more about Saar and her art, visit her page via the National Museum of Women in the Arts here.
5. Heather Agyepong
London-based artist Heather Agyepong uses visual art to powerfully document life as a black woman. With degrees in both photography and psychology, Agyepong channels her expertise in both areas into her work with many of her pieces reflecting on mental and physical well-being.
In her 2015 series Too Many Blackamoors, Agyepong explores the intersection of 19th-century black history and her own experiences as a young black woman, dealing with traumas of racism she experienced while traveling around Europe.
Agyepong says she created the work to challenge the “’strong, independent, black female’ narrative that can burden and often entrap black women.”
Her work will be on display at the Unmasked Women exhibit’s new Identity subseries at the Victoria & Albert museum on Oct. 28 in South Kensington, London. To see more of Agyepong’s work, visit her website and Instagram.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For international resources, this list is a good place to start.
Originally found athttp://mashable.com/
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