How we heal: What art and self-care mean as acts of resistance for the Black community right now
For Tanya Turton, self-care is revolutionary — and she wants all Black women and femmes to share in that
What does it mean to be a Black woman in Canada at this time?
Tanya Turton has been asking herself this very question, and she has found a few answers by turning inward and calling on her arts and wellness practice, her commitment to self-love and her dedication to her community.
Tanya's work centres around creating community spaces to enable Black women and femmes to discover themselves, commit to self-love and live authentically. In addition to being an award-winning entrepreneur, social worker, mental health advocate and wellness educator, she is the founder and executive director of Adornment Stories, a 24-week digital arts education program for Black women/femme youth artists, educators and leaders seeking to create community spaces and places for other Black femme artists to tell their stories. In 2015, she also founded and became the creative director of NiaZamar, a membership-based beauty and wellness social enterprise that takes a holistic approach to makeup and hair through private sessions and community classes.
"For Black women and femmes, success is to feel it is okay to stand in their full authenticity," she tells me. "Success is seeing folks enter Adornment Stories in a space of curiosity about themselves and seeing someone who moves from a place of not feeling affirmed to a place that they can be their whole self — grounded and confident in telling their stories and using their voices, but also offering that love, care, witnessing and healing to other people. That impact is far beyond myself."
Tanya recalls a young woman who, through Adornment Stories, found her voice as an artist and storyteller by exploring levels of her vulnerability, recalling that she had the opportunity to engage in deep self-reflection and figure out which parts of her story she was ready for the world to hear. Another young woman began the program feeling unsure of herself and shy, and by the end she was able to conquer one of her greatest fears: public speaking. Through Tanya's facilitation, she gained skills that helped her navigate her anxiety and mental health with confidence.
As a facilitator and educator, Tanya is known for sharing her wealth of knowledge in a way that is accessible to her students and clients. She encourages her students to tell the stories of who they are right now and who they are becoming. Tanya teaches that one's spirit is an essential guiding force in their art and work, and the care, authenticity and thoughtfulness she brings to those lessons is felt deeply by those who work with her.
When I asked Tanya how she was really doing right now, we talked about the importance of healing and wellness spaces for Black bodies, notions of resistance and grappling with the relentless capitalistic expectation to constantly produce amidst an ongoing pandemic while also navigating personal, community and global grief. The conversation in the Black community right now is not just about the loss of life and trauma but also about healing and cultivating joy. As Teneshia Samuel, host of the Afrobibliotherapy podcast, puts it: "The antidote for the use of excessive force is the use of excessive care."
As Black folks right now, many of us are seeking to find our place of psychological peace within a society that is so adamant on defining our identities for us that navigating spaces with authenticity can sometimes feel impossible. For Tanya, it starts with self-love — the kind rooted not in vanity or selfishness but necessity. As we seek to continuously unlearn the pernicious stereotypes associated with our bodies and our identities, Tanya emphasizes the need to dismantle the idea that as Black women, we always have to be strong.
"It is important that we feel entitled to grace," she says. "I think about my mother and my grandmother; strength for them has often been about survival, a form of coping. That was a time where folks were finding empowerment through that. People say, 'Oh, you are so strong,' but for many of us now, that is no longer empowerment. It is suppressing our humanity and our need to be other things aside from strong. Healing and working through generational trauma means that we are able to come to other ways of being."
So where does the conversation go from here? For Tanya, it is important that we determine for ourselves how we want to contribute to the movements that are happening right now.
"I provide care. I am invested in creating space for our community — that is what I do really well. Some will be the historians that document this journey, but it is for us to be self-reflective and decide with authenticity how we want to show up. There are so many different identities within the Black community, and it is time that we are prioritizing our love for ourselves and our community."
"This revolution is not this faraway place in the past or in the future but right now."