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Empowering Minorities and Improving Mental Health through Art

We caught up with Shola, our Wellness Centre Artist in Residence, to chat about diversity and mental health.

What is your background? How did you start creating your pieces?

I’ve enjoyed art throughout my life. I have always been creative. I decided to start Handmade By Shola during lockdown. During the Black Lives Matter protests, I felt powerless in what I could do, so I decided to help by fundraising for 3 charities by creating art. The charities I chose were Black Minds Matter UK, Amnesty International and UK Black Pride. The fundraising went well and so I decided to continue and make it into a business while giving back to those charities.

At the beginning, I was doing handmade greeting cards with fabric, paints and fine liners. As I developed my technique, that’s when I branched out into creating more designs and having them printed so I could have a higher volume of artwork. I started to sell A4 prints along with my greeting cards, and this summer I decided to create some portraits using watercolours.

What inspires your art? Who are your biggest influences?

My general inspiration comes from Black people. I try to portray positive images of Black people and showcase their strengths, their beauty, their power. I feel like there is a lack of positive images in the media, and I wanted to change that rhetoric. The greeting card industry is quite whitewashed, so when I created my cards I wanted to ensure that people had more choice. I think it’s important that Black families can send cards that represent them.

There are many activists that have inspired the messages behind my work, such as Angela Davis and Maya Angelou. During my time studying art I learned about an artist called Minjae Lee who uses mixed media, which inspired how I create my own art.

Does your artwork represent something about you?

The charities that I chose to support through my business are working towards the empowerment of minorities and improving mental health. I have personally struggled with my mental health and dealt with discrimination and racism, and that has inspired me to produce my artwork in a way that produces positive images and messages to empower others, as well as allowing me to donate to causes that I am really passionate about.

What is your process?

I’ll initially brainstorm my ideas about the image I want to create. I draw on inspiration from activists and what their work and words mean to me. I use Pinterest to help me think of different ideas. I used photographs of Black people from Pinterest to create my latest sketches. Once I’ve created my initial sketch, I think about what medium I would like to use; fabrics, acrylic paint or watercolours, depending on the effect I would like to create.

What inspired your art pieces for The Wellness Centre?

My mum! My mum works for The Wellness Centre and I had used the counselling service previously. The Wellness Centre has an amazing impact on women in Liverpool. I was honoured to be asked to create artwork for that space because of the work they do and how much it has helped me. I hope that my artwork can bring joy to people who are in that space. The location felt right for my pieces as it is close to Toxteth, which has a very diverse community. Lots of people of minorities come to Blackburne House, and so art that is diverse is very important.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m planning on creating some new Christmas card designs ready for December. I’ll be working at a lot of Christmas markets in Liverpool at the end of the year to sell my artwork and my cards!

How do you prioritise mental health?

For me, mindfulness is a big part of maintaining my mental health. I try and do yoga a few times a week to ground myself. I also joined the football club at university – exercise really helps me. I’m meeting a lot of new people and socialising which helps me to worry less. I enjoy getting to know people and relating to them.

What does the Wellness Centre mean to you?

It’s a place that I feel like I can go to seek support, whether that’s for physical or mental health, with all the different programmes that are offered. It’s an important space for people to get support and connect with others. The counselling service was really helpful for me. Privatised counselling is not affordable to everyone, and having a free and accessible service is extremely important. When I hear about new plans for the Wellness Centre, I think it’s really exciting – to be able to offer people so many different things that can improve their wellbeing.

What would you recommend to other women who would like to improve their wellbeing?

If you do have a support network, reach out – it’s really important to not feel alone and to lean on those people who care about you and want to be there for you. If you don’t have a support network, look into what communities you can join where you can feel more comfortable and safe. You can also try and make sure you have balance. Life can be very overwhelming, but I try to make sure that I’m not spending all of my time working – going out, seeing friends and exercising are all activities that energise me and this in turn helps me to work. Balance makes a huge difference.

You can buy cards and artwork from Shola at her Etsy store handmadebyshola and see more of her pieces on Instagram. For Wellness information and support, get in touch with The Wellness Centre.

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