Journey to healing through the arts

One of Apanaki's works, Temple of the Goddess Eye Vol. 3, a colourful work depicting a woman's back using swirls of beads, feathers and fabric.

One of Apanaki’s works, Temple of the Goddess Eye Vol. 3

Words are not always the best tools for conveying our past traumas, present struggles and future aspirations. Sometimes swirls of paint, fabric, beads and feathers do a much more vivid job of expressing and healing our innermost selves.

Apanaki Temitayo M. is a Trinidadian-Canadian single mother who found both her calling and her salvation in textile art (see her work here). Through YWCA Toronto’s Breakthrough expressive arts program for survivors of violence, Apanaki discovered new ways to channel and transform her pain, fear and shame into serenity, joy and liberation. After exhibiting her art at venues including the Gladstone Hotel, the Black Artists Network and Dialogue Gallery, and Hart House at the University of Toronto, Apanaki is ready to share the gifts she derived from Breakthrough with some of Trinidad’s most marginalized communities.

Apanaki is crowd-funding a trip to Trinidad, during which she will build on self-taught skills by studying with textile artists, painters, and Orisha elders in the North African Yorùbá religion that serves as her spiritual inspiration. She will also lead workshops on using textile art for emotional expression with Arts Insight, a groundbreaking non-profit organization that offers free support for differently abled people in Trinidad and Tobago, where such services are typically very expensive.

She plans to channel her learning as both student and teacher into Touched Artworks, a collection already in progress. In Trinidad, children with mental and physical challenges are sometimes called “touched children”. Touched Artworks will draw on Apanaki’s experiences as a single black mother in Canada living with mental illness, as well as her love of colourful African textiles and the Yorùbán lore derived from her ancestors. Her message is that touched children, “by virtue of falling outside the norm of society, are capable of extraordinary things.”

Apanaki credits Breakthrough with providing a safe and healthy space for her to work through her own trauma and mental health challenges in collaboration with other Breakthrough participants. She found great strength in the group dynamic instilled by Breakthrough facilitators, characterized by mutual support, love and responsibility.

While sometimes the artistic process is difficult, she believes facing discomfort head-on is crucial to healing. She says her Breakthrough facilitators “gently nudged me into a space that was safe, but in which I was so uncomfortable that I had to create. If you’re uncomfortable, you have to change – and once you do, you can amaze yourself.”

Apanaki explains that the most important thing she hopes to share with differently abled people on her voyage to Trinidad is the message that “your story doesn’t end with you. I want to give the gift of seeing beyond yourself: not letting your trauma define you, but using that same trauma as a vehicle in order to elevate yourself and become the person you want to be in life. I am not the same person I was four years ago. And who I am now is a great place to be.”

Apanaki’s opportunities to learn and teach in Trinidad are confirmed, but as a single mother she faces economic barriers to covering her airfare and accommodation in Trinidad. You can help her share the gifts of the YWCA Toronto Breakthrough program by contributing to her IndieGogo crowd-funding campaign before September 30, 2013. Meet her and make your contribution in person on Saturday, September 21 at the Queen West Art Crawl, where she’ll be exhibiting with Creative on Queen at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) at 1001 Queen St. W. Follow Apanaki on Twitter at @ApanakiDesigns.