To me, disability and art goes hand in hand. When I struggled to communicate what I needed or wanted as a young child, I would draw pictures of it and then show my mum. When I felt isolated or misunderstood at school, I would walk around the playground, daydreaming about the different artworks and stories I could create. I had trouble understanding faces and emotions, so I drew them over and over to understand them better. I would go to the library and draw with my peers as a way of relating to them in ways I couldn’t with speech. I use my voice through art and I always have, because for me, art is about communication, from vague to complex ideas, for others and for myself.
Art has taught me things that I used to find hard to grasp and it bridged that gap between myself and others. My autism has informed my art in ways that I hope other neuro-divergent people would also understand. I used to be ashamed of my condition and how I believed it limited me, but now I’m proud of the unique insight of the world, its living inhabitants and complex topics that it has given me. Art has helped me to tackle the problems and trauma in my life that I hope makes others feel understood and validated too.
About a year and a half ago I went through my first psychosis episode that hospitalised me for nearly two months. A while later I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder which is a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. It completely changed my life and this new disability has brought so many new trials. But art, like always, has helped me. During those days in the psychiatric ward, I would spend my time painting and therefore processing my reality and emotions. At that time I found it hard to communicate what was happening for me, even to myself, so I would dump my thoughts, hallucinations, fears, questions and feelings onto a canvas. Just like when I was a kid, art helped me connect to others and myself in ways I couldn’t without it.
Art has the power to let us process emotions and become more brave with each stroke, which can be difficult to accomplish with those unable to voice their truth in other ways. Everyone who picks up a paint brush or a pencil or anything else to make a mark is a leader. It means having the courage to convey your being to others, communicating feelings and thoughts that can change the world and the way people think and act. People with disabilities often are incredibly insightful and wise and so their art is vital in our society that goes against emotional intelligence. We are needed.
Those four words embody the massive project that I am creating called The heART Project – an experience that is a wholesome and honest blend of art and mental health. It will be expressed through many different mediums, creating a whole experience that you can hear, read, watch and play. It’s a love letter to art, a hand that reaches out to support people with mental illnesses and an experience that I am putting my whole heart into.
It will be an art book, show, game and soundtrack.
The book is filled with words, comics, poetry, short stories, art, puzzles, mindful and grounding exercises and more.
The show has episodes featuring animated stories, drag performances, short films, artwork tutorials, original theatre productions, etc.
The project will have a game that involves different kinds of gameplay such as a 2D adventure game, 3D puzzles, a RPG, therapeutic point and click, real choices that influence the story and more.
And lastly, the soundtrack will have songs about mental health and art, a podcast featuring different kinds of artists and activists, an audio book of The heART Book, grounding exercises, spoken word, meditative music and the list goes on.
This is not a tiny task. This is going to be worked on and created over many years as I grow as a person and artist. It will face scary walls, bumps on the road and many obstacles, but that will make it all the more valuable – at least to me. I really hope that someone will get something out of this project – my goal is to give my heart to those who need it, because two years ago I really needed someone to do that for me.
I want you to be part of this process, so I have put up the current first-draft version of my book here. You can read it, give me some feedback or just look at the pictures and layout concepts that I will gradually add more of over time. On The heART Project page you can see all updates about the project’s progress. After some thinking, I’ve also decided that I will create mini magazines that will feature the growth of the project, including things like concept sketches and journal notes. I am not sure if anyone would actually be interested in reading the magazine, but it will serve as an in-depth art journal for me and will be published digitally. (I might make physical copies one day) I think it would be really valuable to see how the heART project progresses from the ground up! If you’d like to actually read these mini magazines, email me and I’ll let you know when a new magazine issue is out.
There is so much to say about this project and how much it means to me. I want to make it as spectacular as possible, but I also have to be realistic. This is going to be a fuck load amount of work and an incredibly massive challenge, but I need to do it. I hope you want to join me in the making of The heART Project, because I truly believe that one day it will be something important.