• Sahmia Parks

Art is the Soul's Therapy | World Art Day

Updated: Apr 26

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

― Aristotle

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

― Aristotle

Art is the soul's communication, the expression of our innermost thoughts manifested into a specific medium. Art has been the vehicle to spark inspiration, a tool to process pain into power, and a voice for the unspoken. Art is as old as mankind itself, spanning an influence over many centuries. Many modern black artists have pioneered historic movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights movement, and countless other time periods that have influenced the way in which we see and experience the world around us.

April 15th was World Art Day. It was organized by the International Association of Art (IAA/AIAP) and UNESCO in 2012 as a way to help reinforce the links between artistic creations and society, encourage greater awareness of the diversity of artistic expressions, and to highlight the contribution of artists to sustainable development. They chose the date of April 15th as it coincided with the birthday of one of the most famous artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci. His strong influence in Fine Arts and other branches of study is why his work is so well-respected and inspiring to generations of artists worldwide.

Art has in more ways than one saved my life and has been my biggest inspiration. I chose Photography as my art medium, my own personal safe haven. I was heavily influenced by my uncle, who was the family photographer, and finally picked up a camera of my own in 2011. I loved the process of setting up the scene and lighting the subjects.

I took up photography in college and met a photographer who used art as activism. His imagery made people talk at art shows, it was a beautiful depiction of the political backdrop and our time in history through his view. I became inspired by his body of work and decided to give photography as art a try. In one of my very first photography classes, we explored lesser-known photographers whose work had made lasting impacts on the world such as Margaret Bourke-White known for “the Last photograph of Gandhi”. We had weekly photo challenges to build onto our portfolios and find our niche.

“I will be able to tell who you are as a photographer based on your photographs'' my professor said during one of our class lectures. Shooting portraits was out of my comfort zone, so I stuck to landscapes and still-life photographs.

“You know Ms. Parks, you are a great photographer but I can tell you are shy,” he told me after my class critique, “you should shoot more people”. This sparked a series of fine art nude photographs called Project Bare. In a matter of 4 years, this art series that started out as nudes in nature became my own voice of advocacy for women's rights. It provided a space for women to find beauty in their physical bodies, while also giving them a platform to share their testimonies of triumph, after overcoming insurmountable pain and other challenges.

In 2016, I was sexually assaulted by someone a friend of mine knew. I felt hurt, betrayed, and damn unpretty in the words of TLC. I felt outside of my body, stripped of the identity I had prior to this incident. I threw myself into therapy to save my mental health but I found the only way I knew how to cope with this silent pain was to bury myself into “work”. I worked tirelessly until I came crashing down into my emotions. I learned a lot of tools in therapy but they were just a temporary fix to what would be an ongoing process, and I needed something more substantial to help me to cope.

Through various photography gigs, I found myself connected to a group of women who shared my same story and were on an upward path to healing. Their stories inspired a photo book of interpersonal relationships and vulnerability. Our sessions normally began with me asking a simple question of "how are you feeling? "And the images we were able to create were full of raw expression and a view into the many faces of a healing woman. Sisterhood lived in this space, as we created art and bonded over a mutual desire to heal and elevate. Photography became my own visual diary; it was an outlet for me to express myself when I could not put my feelings into words.

Hosting art exhibits and sharing stories showed me just how therapeutic art can be. There is a story behind every sculpture, every painting, every poem, every photograph, and every drawing ever created. Art has this way of displaying the signs of the times as well as giving you an intimate view into the artist's thoughts, hopes, and dreams. In light of World Art Day, I encourage you to tap into your inner artist; draw a picture, write a poem, or shoot a photograph and let art be your medicine or just a beautiful escape from your day-to-day activities.

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