By Stephen Grigelevich
September 24, 2021
This Sunday from 5p-7:30p, artist-activist and BCN contributor Amaranthia Sepia will curate an interdisciplinary virtual art show, titled "Art & Mind: Reflections of Women, Femmes and Our Mental Health During COVID." Featuring poetry, graphic design and other visual arts media, the event will provide audience with guided meditation, discussion facilitated by licensed therapists, as well as a look at art with the value of uplifting and supporting women, femmes, and people of marginalized identities. Amarinthia spoke with us about the virtual gallery event, her work with disability and mental health awareness, and her own art, including her character, Emo Bunny. Go to the event page to donate, get your free ticket, and find out more about the featured artists!
Amaranthia, you are curating an upcoming show titled "Art & Mind: Reflections of Women, Femmes and Our Mental Health During COVID." Are there special meanings or values that you want the audience to take from this series?
Our motto is "Activism - Art - Authorship."
I feel that the values in the show that I want people to take home with them are feeling a sense of healing and a sense of empathy and care.
If a woman/femme who has a disability or has dealt with trauma or some kind of discrimination - some kind of marginalization - comes into this event, I want them to feel cared for and loved. I want them to think that this platform can give them a space to be creative without limitation.
The origin of this project is that I faced discrimination multiple times, going into galleries, submitting to competitions, or working with artists in the fields of gallery representation because my art is raising awareness about race, ableism, mental illness, and trauma. Art like this is seen as too much or too difficult to show because of stigma. There are times where I've dealt with ableist language and ageism because I was seen as too ambitious and young to be in a gallery sometimes, or I was rejected because my art was digital and inspired by comic art. These galleries always were filled with majority white artists. I wanted to have that space for myself, and I realized that other women, femmes, and marginalized artists can't access that space either.
We just want people to come in and say, 'wow I feel encouraged - I feel more comfortable now telling my own experience.' I want to inspire them to feel comfortable communicating their own stories and their traumatic experiences and be able to step up and say, "You know what? I can tell my story too!"
Amaranthia with her emotional support animal Meena
The poster for the show describes a few different parts, including a documentary and some guidance from a licensed therapist and disability rights activists. Can you tell us a little bit about either or both of those?
The show is very spiritual and incorporates meditation and breathing practices led by our two featured therapists Tsu-Yin Chang, and Dulce Orozco, who'll be speaking about art, women's mental health, and healing. You'll hear Tibetan bells and see nature incorporated into the event, which ties back to the poster. Roxy Murray, our disability advocacy speaker, is a fashionista with MS, and they use their work to talk about accessibility in fashion and of people of color with disabilities.
The documentary represents each artist that has submitted to "Art & Mind." I did a scouting process back in May where I searched for and found multiple artists. My Mom and I curated and selected eight artists, and from there, they had to go through a process where they developed a video to tell their story in a way that would be accessible to people with disabilities.
The videos allowed the artists to be open about their experiences. These artists have dealt with mental illness, chronic illness, disability or have families who have struggled with mental illness. We have really creative videos, which you'll see in our trailer.
The documentary has a range of creative mediums like a short film, speed drawings, choreo-poems, and original graphic designs/characters. It discusses sexual assault in the workplace, chronic depression, severe OCD, racial trauma, genocide, discrimination in mental health care, misogynoir, and immigrant families. We have so many dynamic pieces just going deep into these topics. These pieces - some of them are very raw, but at the same time, they come from a place of empowerment. The artists demonstrate how they've overcome and how they are working towards their healing. So even though some of these topics can be heavy, the approach is to have these stories told from a place of empowerment and optimism. Art is healing each of these creatives.
You are primarily a visual artist, and yet you share many of your thoughts and much your own story on your website. Your upcoming show will involve storytelling, as well. Can you say something about your relationship with storytelling and how you came to learn of its importance?
I use storytelling for recovery.
When I create characters, I build their stories based on my life experience. I use my original characters to communicate and inform others about GAD, PTSD, agoraphobia, misogynoir, and racism. I would say my relationship with storytelling began when I created my anti-bullying project, "Do You Know Who I Am," which I used to address racism in my middle school and as a way to stand up for and advocate for myself. In the end, I had to leave the school due to pushback caused by my touching upon the hidden rampant racism in school, leading to me being homeschooled online. Due to this project and the anti-bullying moving art shows born out of it titled "I'm Proud of Who I Am," I learned how storytelling combined with narrative illustration and activism is a form of art therapy.
You have collaborated with your mother, who is also an artist. Can you say anything about your experience collaborating creatively with family?
Since I was a little girl, I've been creating art, and my Mom, being an artist, writer, and playwright, noticed how making art really helped me as an introverted kid. So because of her experience from being in the Arts Students League of NY+Mt. Holyoke, being a nude art model, and writing her play, Shaduhs Uh Voodoo, based on her experience as a Barbadian woman and survivor of domestic violence, she was able to nurture my creativity. She always let me do whatever I wanted with my art by encouraging me to mess with various mediums, art forms, and approaches and taught me the importance of learning the human figure to strengthen my art. She's always been supportive of anything I do with my artwork.
My Mom took the initiative to turn "Do You Know Who I Am" into "I'm Proud of Who I Am" and worked with me to make it into a moving art show project with the help of a local artist. The efforts of my Mom and this local artist allowed me to bring the project into the community. The name was created to reinforce a positive message every time someone said it. The art shows traveled to various local communities in NH. So these shows were the foundation of "Art & Mind." I proposed "Art & Mind" to different creatives and organizations, but they weren't quite the right collaborators. Then I realized, 'wait – I can just work with my Mom again!' Once I did that, the project started really moving. We were always meant to work together to create healing art and advocate for ourselves and other marginalized creatives like us.
Your work, including your character, "Emo Bunny," is playful and vibrant and also emotionally intense at times. Is there something you think your style is particularly good at conveying and reflecting, something you couldn't communicate as well if you were doing oil painting or photography?
For Emo Bunny, I realize telling my story of dealing with GAD and PTSD would be best told through a narrative art form like comics. I can always see storyboards and these character concepts in my head due to my experience living in Japan and being exposed to manga, comics, and anime while living there. So it's always been natural for me to gravitate towards that art style to tell stories. When I made the character at 17, the original concept was to make it accessible to older teens and young adults because there was a significant increase in mental health issues like anxiety occurring in teenagers. Unfortunately, it's gotten worse due to COVID. I always sought comfort in fantasy and cartoon characters, and I knew a ton of Gen-Z kids felt the same, so comic art is the perfect way to reach that audience. The anxiety monster she copes with is inspired by the various Japanese monsters I saw in mythology and just anime in general. Using pitch-black ink helps me to show the intensity of the monster.
See the virtual show trailer below, featuring words from the show’s artists!