Healing in Colour: Stories of Race, Faith, and Mental Health

by Lizzy Ojo Martens

The temptation to cry is strong. In a year full of stillness, isolation, and too much time to reflect, last summer’s global spotlight on racial injustice was wincing, almost too bright. There has been little reprieve since. To show up every day for work, for relationships, for protests, demanded an energy that I was quickly running out of—all during a time where I couldn’t take solace in my church congregation or a worship service the way I might have done in the past.

Allowance is Holy Water, Carole Rogers

As a black woman, I relate strongly to artist Carole Rogers sentiment that “sometimes, all I have in me is tears.” In her statement about her piece Allowance is Holy Water, she writes that “[she doesn’t] think grief goes away—especially as a Black woman.” That has felt especially true this year—grief over racial injustice faced by Black communities is compounded in solidarity with our AAPI brothers and sisters, and worn thin by the draining reality of social distancing. 

But the presence of growth and new life in Carole’s piece also calls out to me. This hope welling up in pools of tears signifies that perhaps a new day is coming. A day of inclusion and open dialogue, where we can more freely discuss the intersecting experiences of race, faith, and mental health.

Healing in Colour aims to do just that. This art exhibit is organized by Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries and hosted at the Dal Schindell Gallery from May 3, 2021 – June 11, 2021. 

Sanctuary’s mission is to equip the Church to support mental health and wellbeing. Our team creates resources that engage the topic of mental health and faith, with content developed in collaboration with theologians, mental health professionals, and people with lived experiences of mental health challenges. Our commitment is to mental health and wellbeing for all people, and we hope Healing in Colour will inspire conversations that raise awareness and reduce stigma.

The show features Black, Indigenous, and other artists of colour and highlights their experiences, wounds, and journeys of healing. There are fifteen artists from ten countries including New Zealand, Brazil, Australia, and Guatemala. The artists’ diverse backgrounds are reflected in the myriad ways they have responded to the themes of the show: mental illness, recovery, companionship, self-care, and stigma. 

Both Carole Rogers and Daniel Bota responded to the theme of recovery. Carole’s piece focuses on Black women’s experience of crying as recovery, when resilience is usually expected of us. How can we care for ourselves when we are always expected to be strong? What does it look like when we can’t find recovery in our faith communities? When our experiences and humanity are neglected?

Recovery, Daniel Bota

In Daniel’s piece, he celebrates recovery as a metaphor for “divine love as it undoes all evil.” As he mentions in his statement, the hands of others represent “divine vehicles of grace” reintroducing life and colour into the subject. In both works, other people aid in recovery. They are the hands of Jesus—uplifting, uncovering, and unflinching in the face of deep wounds. 

Each artist in their own way illustrates beauty and grief woven into the lived experience of faith and mental health as a person of colour. Mediums presented in the show include linocut, dance, acrylic, mixed media, and digital illustration. 

Healing in Colour is the fruit of a year of conversation about the intersection of race, faith, and mental health, and how art can help us process our experiences and be more compassionate towards others. It is a space to acknowledge the need for reflection, for healing, and to explore the untold stories within our faith communities. Often, the experiences of people of colour are overlooked in conversations surrounding mental health and faith. This negligence ignores and sometimes perpetuates marginalized groups’ disparate access to quality mental health care. The Church is a diverse and colourful body; Healing in Colour is an invitation to the table, to the conversation, for all of its members to come as they are. 

The exhibit will be hosted in-person and online at the Dal Schindell Gallery at Regent College, in Vancouver, BC. Viewings and curator conversations will be available by appointment, following government guidelines for COVID-19 safety. You can check here for more updates. View the exhibit online.

Lizzy Ojo Martens is the Communications Coordinator at Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries. Prior to entering communications in the non-profit sphere, she worked in sales and marketing. Lizzy credits her Christian faith and her belief in the power of a diverse church body to her colourful Nigerian and Pentecostal upbringing. She is excited to contribute to making the church a more inclusive and loving place in whatever way possible, including her work with Sanctuary. Lizzy attends Tenth Church with her husband Kenneth. When she’s not working, you’ll likely find her salsa dancing, skiing the North Shore mountains, or curled up with a good book.

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