Taking care of yourself through art and culture

Curator Sundus Abdul Hadi presents Take Care of Yourself, a pop-up event on The Main that asks us to turn to art and culture to help ourselves heal.

Week-long art event on The Main is a creative space where self-care is not a privilege, it's an essential

Curator Sundus Abdul Hadi created Take Care of Yourself, a pop-up event on The Main that asks us to turn to art and culture to help ourselves heal. ( Yassin Alsalman)

There's something to be said when, at least five of your work colleagues, 10 of your closest friends and the vast majority of your 300-plus Facebook friends, your 70-year-old aunt — and even your toddler — all express, in their own ways, and with varying degrees of aggression, that what's happening south of the border is driving them crazy.

Your aunt has a strong case because she lives in the belly of that beast.

It's taught me that things that don't necessarily directly impact my day to day life can cause stress and anxiety.

And that stress is amplified when I look at acts of violence or other trauma around the world and close to home.

Compound that with just trying to get through the obstacles of my daily life, I see how I and others around me could be setting ourselves up for depression and burn-out without realizing it.

Sundus Abdul Hadi realizes it.

Pop-up event

The artist is curating a new pop-up event in Montreal which asks us to take the time to notice — and use art and culture to help heal and turn those negative stressors in our lives into positive experiences.

Artist and curator, Sundus Abdul Hadi (center in white) speaking with the first visitors to Take Care of Yourself. (Photo Samira Idroos )

Take Care of Yourself, or #TCOY, is an artistic take on the notion (and necessity) of self-care.

"I'm really trying to take the approach of self care becoming equivalent to community care," Abdul Hadi explains, "and not just a privilege we are awarded but something we have to strive for within our own communities and our own selves; especially within communities of colour and especially communities coming from struggle and trauma."

There's no shortage of sources of inspiration at #TCOY.

Curator Sundus Abdul Hadi has created a pop-up event in Montreal that encourages people to use art and culture to heal from the challenges and stressors of daily life. (photo Samira Idroos)

Until July 14, you can visit the  gallery exhibit, at 3845 Blvd. St-Laurent, showcasing 28 artists from Montreal, other parts of Canada and abroad who've intentionally created works of art that reflect their questioning of various themes of trauma and struggle.

Some of the work touches on their own personal experiences or looks at larger issues and communities.

As part of #TCOY, there will also be breathing interventions, a live tattooing ceremony, artists workshops and panel discussions, poetry and live painting  — even a flash performance.  

Act of creating is healing

The act of creating has been healing for the artists, and by extending their creations to broader audiences, they aim to help others heal. As part of that goal, Abdul Hadi has published a booklet of mental health resources in Montreal, with the help of Montreal's Monster Academy, an online mental health resource centre for youth.

One of the artists taking part in #TCOY is April Banks from Los Angeles. She's hosting a tea ceremony at Le Marché des Éclusiers in the Old Port.

Tea Afar is a new project inspired by the kind of hospitality that Banks received while on residency in various countries around the world.

The tea ceremony represents a shift for Banks from her previous work.

Her visual installations focused on agricultural production in the developing world and the trauma created by the reliance of industrialized societies on those commodities.

Banks never pretended to have all the answers. For her, her work was about raising awareness. Still, many people confronted her about the messages she was trying to convey.

Banks said she knew when she started to feel stressed from the pushback she was getting that it was time for her to take care of herself.

Installation artist, April Banks, presents her new project 'Tea Afar' in Montreal as an opportunity to share stories, tea food and humanity. (April Banks)

Syrian tradition

"The project that I'm doing here in Montreal is more about celebrating how we come together and how we extend welcome to each other," Banks said.

In celebration of the new community of Syrians here in Montreal, the tea ceremony will be in the Syrian tradition, with tea courtesy of Camellia Sinensis and food from Damas restaurant. There will be photography and music while 40 Montrealers, three of whom have prepared stories about their relationship to Syria, will simply meet and break bread.

"It's really a conversation about culture and not even meant to be super heavy and deep. We might talk about the soup your grandmother makes — just, you know, everyday life," Banks said.

Banks blogs about the tea experience on her new site, where she shares her own photos from her travels, as well as articles from other writers about different countries and cultures.

Bringing Tea Afar to Montreal's #TCOY where self-care is the focus made sense to Banks since she, too, recognizes the value taking care of herself brought to her own work.

"I reached a point of fatigue. 'Is this effective? Why am I doing it, am I actually making a difference?'" she explained.

"For me, sometimes self-care is about stepping away, turning it off, changing your focus, and, yeah, you just see things differently, experience things differently. Time slows down, and I think we have to find that balance."

Take Care of Yourself  takes place at 3845 St-Laurent Boulevard until July 14.

Tea Afar is a one-day event at Marché des Éclusiers at the Old Port on July 18.

About the Author

Nantali Indongo

Nantali Indongo is CBC's Arts & Culture contributor and host of The Bridge. Follow her on Twitter @taliindongo.