Brilliant Darkness, A Conversation with Artists on Mental Health
A’Driane Nieves, aka addyeB, multidisciplinary artist
Caits Meissner, poet, artist, cultural worker
Loubna Mrie, writer and photojournalist
Sydney Magruder Washington, professional ballerina, mental health advocate, and singer
Moderated by Dior Vargas, Latina feminist mental health activist
Curated by Brian Tate
The stigma that surrounds our mental and emotional health is astonishing when you consider how many of us are grappling with heightened bouts of anxiety, depression, mania, and fear. Those conditions can spring from an array of factors, including our genetic wiring, which may contain data from historic traumas; the blunt impact of present-day racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, greed, and other forms of inhumanity; and the kinds of sudden, devastating losses that can arrive for anyone at any time.
Then there is the psychological harm that is done for the sake of spectacle. The tearing apart of immigrant families, the criminalization of asylum seekers, the relentless policing of black and brown people, the unsubtle endorsement of White Nationalism, the travel bans and mass deportations, the threats of nuclear war, all meant to rattle the nerves of marginalized communities and people of conscience.
These issues impact artists in a particular way. Artists have a unique ability to challenge society and advance the culture, but those who acknowledge darkness alongside joy can find themselves put at social and professional risk: in an age of aggression, vulnerability is easily mistaken for weakness. But some artists are empowering us to consider our mental and emotional health as parts of our whole selves, and to accept any gloom that may exist there as inseparable from the qualities that also make us luminous and powerful. What new potential comes revealed with that kind of embrace?
Caits Meissner is a New York City-based poet, artist and cultural worker, and the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016). The recipient of multiple residencies and fellowships including the BOAAT Writers Retreat and The Pan-African Literary Forum, Caits’ work is published in journals and anthologies including The Literary Review, Narrative, Adroit, Drunken Boat, VIDA Literary Review, The Feminist Wire and The Offing. Caits holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York where she where she was awarded The Jerome Lowell DeJur Prize in Creative Writing, an Educational Enrichment Award and The Teacher-Writer Award. Caits was an integral team member in developing and implementing programs for organizations such as Tribeca Film Institute, The Bronx Academy of Letters, Urban Arts Partnership, The Facing History School and The Lower Eastside Girls Club. She has facilitated, consulted, and co-created for 15 years across a vast spectrum of communities, with a special focus on imprisoned people, women and youth. At the university level, she has taught at The New School, The City College of New York, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She currently serves as the Program Director of Prison and Justice Writing at PEN America.
Loubna Mrie is a Syrian photographer, journalist, and writer. She covered the Syrian war as a photojournalist for Reuters from 2012-2014. Currently based in Oakland, California, she is a frequent commentator and researcher on Syrian and Middle Eastern affairs. Her work has been published in major news outlets and publications such as The Nation, Time Magazine, Vice, and New Republic, to name a few. Most recently, she graduated from New York University receiving a MA in Near Eastern Studies. She is currently writing her first book.
A’Driane Nieves is a USAF veteran, artist, activist, and speaker with a heart for serving others and social good. She’s also a mental health advocate living with bipolar disorder, and runs an online platform and mental health support group for women of color called Tessera Collective. She empowers women to transform brokenness in their lives into power and beauty, and works to amplify the voices and experiences of those marked as Other in society. As a writer, she has been honored as a BlogHer Voice of the year and invited to speak at several writers conferences including BlogHer and Mom 2.0. From 2013-2015 she was a contributing editor to Postpartum Progress, the most widely read blog on maternal mental health. She has spoken at the Austin ensemble of Listen to Your Mother, and in 2015, received an Iris Award nomination for Most Thought-Provoking Content. In 2016, A’Driane received two Iris award nominations in the categories of both Influencer of the Year and Most Thought-Provoking Content. As a visual artist, she has exhibited at Saatchi Art’s The Other Art Fair (Brooklyn, NY), Nasty Women Oakland, Rare Device in San Francisco, The Dibden Center for the Arts, and participated in an exhibition & Q&A on social justice at the 2015 Wild Goose Festival. Most recently she was featured alongside Bono as a ONE Campaign activist and volunteer for Glamour Magazine’s “Woman of the Year” issue, where Bono was awarded their first ever “Man of the Year’ award for his work on gender equity and extreme poverty. She believes creating and viewing visual art that addresses difficult topics can serve as a catalyst for personal growth and social change. Her work has been featured on BlogHer, Everyday Feminism, Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Mashable, and MISC Magazine. She lives in California with her robotics loving husband and three boys.
Dior Vargas is a Latina Feminist Mental Health Activist. She is the creator of the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project, a response to the invisibility of people of color in the media representation of mental illness. She is also the editor of The Color of My Mind, a photo essay book based on the photo project. Dior tours the country giving keynotes, hosting workshops, and speaking on panels. Her work and insight have been covered in media outlets such as Forbes, Newsweek, NBC News Latino, and The Guardian. Dior is the recipient of numerous awards including, The White House Champion of Change for Disability Advocacy Across Generations. She is also a Susan M. Daniels Disability Mentoring Hall of Fame Inductee. Dior has a B.A. in the Study of Women and Gender from Smith College and has an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. She is a Master of Public Health Candidate at NYU’s College of Global Public Health. She is a native New Yorker and currently lives in New York City.