Gloria Swain: Art as Healing Space

Art galleries are calming, reflective spaces. They’re peaceful and quiet, a sanctuary from all the noise in the outer world. They’re a safe space.

Tangled Art Gallery at Suite S-122, 401 Richmond St.

For Gloria Swain, art itself is refuge, her healing space. As the 2016 artist-in-residence at Tangled Gallery, she shares works she has created in her process of healing, a process she says is ongoing.

Tangled Art Gallery is dedicated to promoting the work of artists with disabilities. In Gloria Swain’s case, her challenge – as with so many of us – is with mental health. Mental illness can be debilitating, but unlike physical disabilities, it’s hard to see, and even when we do see it, we turn our eyes away.

Swain uses visual art to make mental pain visible, and to draw the link between the experience of black women in our society and mental health issues. As she says, her art is political.

In a talk with students at Tangled Art Gallery this week, she shared the thoughts and inspirations behind the exhibit *Mad Room.

“We carry the memories of our ancestors in our bodies,” she narrates in a video.

In one corner of the gallery, paintings and sculptures are awash in blood red. There are references to abuse and secrets. A scroll depicts the names of black women who have been killed by police and anti-black violence, as part of the #SayHerName project.

Nearby is the installation Invisible. A wall of whitewashed art, a white hospital bed, white dressing gown and white mask depict her experience of hospitalization – and a sense of being invisible. Feeling invisible doesn’t stop someone with mental illness see and feel pain.

Pill bottles on a tray are labelled to reveal side effects of medications. Among them, pain, anxiety, hallucinations.

For the viewer, and for Swain herself, it is art that brings relief. The rest of the room is vital, vibrant, shimmering with colour.

Gloria Swain uses art as a form of healing, and encourages others to do the same.

She describes it as her healing space. In her video (which is audio-described as well), she encourages people to identify their own healing space. To get in touch with their feelings, and with her art.img_0788

There is a blue hand painted on the wall encouraging gallery visitors to touch many of the paintings.img_0711

“When you touch my art, you touch me,” says Swain.

For more on Tangled Art Gallery and upcoming exhibits, visit their website.

*Sean Lee, the gallery’s acting gallery manager, explained that Swain chooses to own the word ‘Mad’ as an empowering act. Lee says the word ‘Crip’ is used in the same way by some members of the disabled community.