Making art with eyes closed may sound like a daunting task — but for some, it could be the perfect approach to accessing creativity and expression. Founded by Social Innovation Fellow Queen Nefertiti Shabazz ’17, the student group Radical Artists aims to provide workshops that use art as a tool for therapy.
Shabazz attempted to launch the program at the University last October, but the events drew poor attendance, she said. This semester, the currently developing club has seen greater participation from both Brown students and local youths, she added.
These art-as-therapy sessions ideally eliminate participants’ inhibitions in the creative process, taking place in settings such as darkrooms. “It was freeing because it removes the analytical part of art-making,” said Dora Mugerwa ’15, a member of Radical Artists, describing one of the activities.
Shabazz originally started the initiative in her hometown of Berkeley, California in 2011. At the time, the initiative focused on providing a safe and relaxing space to engage in slam poetry.
“Slam poetry can be very competitive and as a result detrimental to youth’s creativity,” Shabazz said. “There’s nothing wrong with competition, but when it comes to expressing yourself, sometimes you need to not think about how you did it in comparison to the other person.”
At Brown, Radical Artists’ activities encompass a variety of art forms, including creative writing, painting and drawing. These freer forms provide means of expression “without an emphasis on the product of the art but on the process of creating,” Shabazz said.
As a Brown-RISD Dual Degree student, Mugerwa said RA’s art-as-therapy sessions helped her apply art in a different manner than her work at RISD, which has been geared more toward critique and end product.
RISD’s system is a “more stressful way than the way the club approaches art,” she said, explaining how she was drawn to the organization.
In another RA session, Shabazz sprawled out her collection of manuals for art-as-therapy exercises onto a table. She had participants choose a book, pick a page with instructions for an exercise and either adapt it or use it to create a personal work of art, Mugerwa said.
“I really felt akin to that activity,” said Khanittha Wang ’17, an RA member, adding that the process of personalizing the exercise brought out inner conflicts about her own self that she had previously repressed.
“It’s been an experience of reflection — that’s really the key to being part of that club,” Mugerwa said.
Shabazz said she hopes to expand the group’s mission to encourage community members and other RA members to hold the workshops themselves.
“I’m now creating a manual of workshops so that youths themselves can facilitate” them, she said. As part of her fellowship, Shabazz is “working on creating innovative ways to develop communities using their artwork and finding ways to connect these communities, eventually creating a global support network,” she said.
Shabazz has previously facilitated workshops with youths in the emergency room and the behavior unit at Hasbro and Rhode Island hospitals independent of the RA program. Looking ahead, she said she hopes the students who currently undergo RA therapy on campus can join in her work with local communities in the future.