Whenever I pick up a brush and begin to mix watercolor pigment on a palette, any stress I had prior to sitting down at my art table subside almost immediately. I benefit directly from what I perceive to be the therapeutic nature of painting. Simply put, I paint for me.
Then there are those who use art in a more selfless manner by helping others realize the many benefits of creative expression. Sharing in artistic experiences can have a positive affect on an individual’s psychological outlook and sense of well being. Simple acts of creativity may even provide a brief respite from physical or emotional difficulties.
In this edition of From The Blue Chair: Interviews With Local Artists, artist and social justice activist Malena Magnolia talks about mud stencils and how the very nature of this art form is a metaphor for healing. Give a listen (above).
On a sunny mid-morning in late April, I visited with Malena at Lift Coffee Shop and Café on Broad Street. It was a good day to take our coffee to the back patio. As the city sounds from the busy street mixed with classic rock playing through the patio speakers, Malena shared with me how she uses art in a collaborative manner to bring attention to social issues affecting women.
Early on, mud stenciling was mentioned. I asked Malena to tell me more about this art form. In a nutshell, designs are hand cut into clear Dura-Lar sheets, a waterproof and durable plastic which can accommodate multiple stenciling applications. A muddy mixture of red clay and water is applied to the stencil using a sponge. Melana noted that the abundant Virginia red clay makes a beautifully smooth stenciling medium, perfect to bring out the details of a design.
For Malena, working in a studio environment was not enough. She felt that her art needed to go beyond the confines of studio walls--to help others create through collaborative experiences. To that end, Malena uses mud stenciling to bring attention to social justice issues, in particular the many challenges women face revolving around gender and sexuality--issues that affected her on a very personal level at an early age.
As a survivor of sexual violence, Melana took on an opportunity in 2015 to facilitate mud stencil workshops with The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative in Charlottesville. Anyone in the community was welcome to participate in creating evanescent works of art to combat a history of sexual violence in the area. The workshops were part of the interactive exhibition “No More Violence: A Community In Recovery And The Struggle For Safety” and was open to the public for two months at The Bridge PAI. The collaborative effort not only brought focus to sexual violence in the area, but also promoted healing through artistic expression. Melana feels that--unlike traditional spray painted stencils--the ephemeral nature of this art form is a good way to think about healing in general.
Malena’s involvement with The Bridge PAI lead to interactions with Art 180 and their efforts in working with Performing Statistics, a social justice group that connects incarcerated teens with artists, educators, and Virginia’s leading policy advocates to transform the juvenile justice system. This summer (2016), Malena plans to introduce more incarcerated youth to this expressive art form.
Malena will also lead mud stenciling workshops at Girls Rock! RVA, a free week-long musical camp which aims to empower girls, gender non-conforming, and trans youth through music, art and activism.
Malena freely states that she is an open book. This allowed me to understand why she possess a strong desire to advocate on the behalf of women, especially those who have experienced sexual violence. By constantly asking how she can use art to help promote healing or to facilitate a discussion, Malena strives to bring social justice issues into the public space through shared art experiences and community activism.
For the Community Idea Stations, I’m Marshall Lloyd.