Cultural icon Heather Doram celebrates the role of art in boosting mental health

Artist Heather Doram designed the country’s national dress (Photo contributed)
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By Kadeem Joseph

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For cultural icon and renowned Antiguan and Barbudan artist, Heather Doram, the rigours and anxieties accompanying the Covid-19 pandemic served as a remarkable reminder that art provides therapy and sometimes a necessary escape, a testimony to the power of creative expression.

“Panicked and overwhelmed” is how she describes her mental state, much like many others, as she was bombarded with news surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in 2020.

“I was stressed all the time, and I think it’s simply because it was something so new and I am not saying there haven’t been other pandemics in history, but during our lifetime I don’t think we have experienced something so drastic as this,” she said.

Faced with the tremendous uncertainties surrounding the pandemic at the time, she recalled the many conversations with her sister in London on the latest happenings surrounding the Covid-19 virus and the deleterious effects of absorbing too many negative news stories.

That’s when she suggested not only taking a break from social media, but turning to art as a form of therapy.

“I stopped checking Facebook and Instagram… I just had to shut down and I went into my studio and began to paint and that just did it for me… that just clicked,” she explained, describing the catharsis she experienced making the shift.

Her deep dive back into art since then has produced an entire collection of work inclusive of multiple series, all of which were displayed in dynamic form at the weekend for close friends and prospective clients, with many calling the work “captivating,” “dynamic,” and “empowering”.

Among the collection of paintings is a series dubbed ‘My Caribbean Aesthetic,’ a focus on the vibrancy of life in the region.

“Lo and behold, quite soon after the pandemic hit, I heard what was happening in the United States of America with the killing of George Floyd, and that just sent me spiralling again,” she explained.

“Sometimes I try to have this hope that we have reached a stage where black people are not being treated unfairly and [this news] just dropped me into a rabbit hole again.”

Doram’s answer to the news that sent shockwaves across the globe, was to shift focus and develop a series of paintings celebrating her pride in not only being of African heritage, but also being proud of hailing from Antigua and Barbuda, a paradise that she said she would not exchange for any place else.

Using that sense of pride, and reflecting upon memories of her father reinforcing her value as a black woman throughout her upbringing, she developed another series she calls ‘Tribute to Melanin’.

“I didn’t paint the women brown, I made their skin jet black, some were even blue-black, because I wanted to show that I am proud of who we are and it was also rejecting skin bleaching,” she explained.

She describes the women as “regal queens” with “confronting eyes” crowned with garlands of flowers and even head ties, drawing from her memory of women from her childhood in Freemans Village where women on the plantation would often have their head tied in madras and other fabrics in varying ways on plantations. 

In reflecting on her productivity throughout the pandemic, the cultural icon is encouraging all to engage in some form of creative activity to help improve their mental health.

“Even just sitting and sewing and painting and taking up something like that is great for your mental health; it has done it for me and I know it can do it for other persons,” she added, encouraging all to take a break from the depressing news and the challenges of life.

“I think the best way for us to just breathe and release all that stress is to involve ourselves in some sort of creative activity, whether it be dancing, making pots, being in our gardens… it is important to bring balance to life.”

Other series in the collection include ‘Life is a Carnival’ featuring women adorned in masks, which Doram revealed is a play on the realities of many who hide behind a happy façade but need to show their vulnerabilities as well.

Also included in the vibrant collection is a series called ‘Women of Colour’ celebrating black women of all colours, shapes and sizes which the gender activist believes reinforces the need for women to celebrate their uniqueness.

Individuals interested in viewing the collection can call 720-5119 to book an appointment.

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