Every day, thousands pen their thoughts down in the form of poetry, feelings are expressed through vibrant strokes of yellow and sometimes blotches of blue, high notes are hit to get past the low points and hundreds of people lose themselves in swaying to deafening beats of music only to get away from the storm within. For artists, their chosen field of art is a way to express to the world who they are, it is an outlet of all things they don’t say and all emotions they can’t express, but what happens when artists are no longer in touch with what they feel and cease to create? Is there more to what is callously referred to as a ‘creative block’?
Kripi Malviya, co-creator of Tatva, is a poet as well as a mental health professional and recognises the importance of speaking up about mental health in both, the art community and society at large. At the same time, she recognises the power of art in sparking conversations and dialogue.
“Mental health professionals have a responsibility to go and seek out communities so that we can be the bridge in the conversation between art and community. We don’t need to be talking about poor mental health, we need to talk about mental health in general,” she said while discussing how mental health professionals can interact with artists to bring about a much-needed change. Tatva is based out of Goa and is one of the few international residential psychotherapy and recovery centers in the world. While working towards the change mentioned above, it caters to both ends of the spectrum by helping creatives address their personal mental health by participating in therapeutic residencies as well as using forms of art to create awareness pertaining to mental health.
Tatva’s Therapeutic Residency for Multidisciplinary Artists is an initiative aimed at empowering creatives by helping them connect with their feelings and express themselves through creative genres of their choice. The residency program is a balanced mix of psychotherapy, collaborative creation of art, group sessions and events promoting peer support. “There is a lot of ideology, love and thought that has gone into the process. I, being a poet, have attended retreats and have felt that artists do not have any specific services catering to their mental health. What we really wanted to do was provide a space for artists to be able to combine their creativity with their self-exploration. To really look at the relationship between who they are, how they feel, where they come from and what they create. It’s an excavation process as well for the willing artist and I think that is very powerful. It doesn’t matter what the mode of the artist is and it doesn’t matter if they’re professional artists or not, as long as they’re creating and in turn expressing themselves,” said Malviya explaining the thought process behind creating the residency program for artists.
The number of people in a residency can vary from a minimum of one person to a maximum of six people. This ensures that the setup is intimate and private. “These numbers are very important. If there were any more people, it (the experience) would become very diluted. Having few people makes it all the more impactful,” says Malviya. Also, the decision for the residency to be catering to multidisciplinary artists as opposed to being more focused was taken after having conducted focused residencies in the past and subsequently realising that “the best way to move forward is for different genres of artists to come together.” The healing and exploratory process are dynamic and its aim is not to “fix you or change you. There is no agenda other than you get to know yourself better.”
David Stanton, co-creator of and consultant at Tatva, while talking about the residencies explained how fulfilling it is to see residents feel comfortable enough in Tatva to confront feelings they have bottled up for years on end. “A client that really sticks out was an older lady from South Africa
and lived through the Apartheid era. Even though she was a well-known artist, she didn’t feel that she could actually explore feelings around Apartheid. She went with her parents as a very young woman, and when she came to us she felt that freedom and safety to do that. She worked with Kripi and the art that came from her when she explored her feelings around racism was just incredible and amazing,” recalled Stanton with a hint of pride.
Even though the residency’s sole purpose is to help improve the mental health of creatives, the fear of artists losing the ability to create post therapy is something that presents a roadblock in Tatva’s journey towards healing and self-exploration. “Artists wonder if therapy is going to take away my ability to create, but that is a conversation with every person ever because every person holds onto something that they think therapy might take away,” said Malviya while trying to explain how the healing process and the subsequent apprehensions follow a similar trajectory for everybody regardless of whether they are creatives or not.
Malviya also talks about how artists are usually considered to be people who romanticise sadness and mental illness. “I think there is more danger in the people who don’t create and romanticise or who ostracise artists than there is a danger of artists romanticising their poor mental health. There are more dangers of actually struggling but not having the resources or spaces to talk about what is happening to them. The more that people understand what is going on for creatives and artists internally and individually, philosophically, the less will be the idea that artists need to be tortured to be great,” said Malviya as she emphasised the importance of identifying and working towards the problem rather than making it a point of debate or a basis of forming stereotypes.
Tatva provides a safe space for artists to become more aware of their feelings and concentrate on their respective art forms. All residents or those looking to enrol are encouraged to ask as many questions as they want and are given a clear picture of what lies ahead. “We are as human as therapists. We will make mistakes, we will live in the same space as you are and we are willing to meet you as equals which can be both difficult and rewarding. The constant is that we are committed to not hurting each other and committed to connecting with you,” said Malviya.
When asked about what is the next step for Tatva and the residencies, both Stanton and Malviya laugh nervously and shrug their shoulders. “If it blows up, it blows up in eight different directions. All we want is to find more people to connect with. The idea is to do a lot of firsts and do it well,” signs off Malviya.
This article is part of Homegrown’s month-long campaign called #HGHeadspace leading up to Mental Health Awareness Week. If you’d like to share your mental health journey with us, write in to firstname.lastname@example.org
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