Akuji XXV, is an artist and mental health advocate based in Hyattsville, Maryland. With piece-titles such as "Recovery," "Night at Home," "Nature-Worship," and "Self-Preservation," themes of self-care and inner-reflection run deep.
BGBLUE: Often, your art emphasizes Black Women engaging in self-care practices, which is really important & helpful for me to see as a Black Woman. What are some coping mechanisms that you personally find helpful?
AKUJI: Creating, writing, and interacting with supportive people.
BG BLUE: Yeah, I think being able to be transparent with those I'm close to is something that has helped me a lot too. So, you recently did a project that aimed to open up dialogue around mental illness in your community. What did you take away and what do you think it says about how we talk about mental illness in communities of color?
AKUJI: I started my project on mental illness in 2015 as a way to open up discussion. Growing up, mental illness was either ignored or dismissed. I wanted to see if any of these views had changed in recent years. So I went walking around my neighborhood with a journal and asked anyone who would stop for me one question: "How do you feel about mental illness?" From that question came a lot of stories, some about personal dealings with mental illness and others about how they didn't really believe in mental illness. And that was my goal, to get people talking and discourage ignorance regarding mental illness and the mentally ill.
“You said we could talk” ©Akujixxv 2015
What I took from the project was a deeper understanding of how misinformed a lot of people in my community are when it comes to mental illness and those who are mentally ill. I think this says there is a definite need for discussion on mental illness and the mentally ill that needs to take place in our communities. We need to start listening to those who are dealing with mental illness and provide them with genuine support instead of rejection and abuse.
BGBLUE: How do you think art can add to the conversation regarding black mental health? What mental health topics would you like to see talked about more often?
AKUJI: I think art contributes an alternative approach to learning and healing in conversations about mental health. I definitely want 'management' and 'proper ways to engage with and care for those who are mentally ill' to be centered in these conversations.
BGBLUE: What is the most important aspect to collective healing in your opinion?
AKUJI: We first need to stop encouraging those who exploit the mentally ill for laughs and 'internet fame.' We are never going to be able to have a real, beneficial conversation regarding mental illness and those who are mentally ill if we are also 'enjoying' videos and memes where they are the 'joke!?'. So i don't believe we are at the point where we can collectively heal or even begin the process.
BGBLUE: Personally, what do you want your art to contribute to the conversation?
AKUJI: I aim to present an alternative path, one where mental illness is more accepted and help is encouraged. More than anything I want my people to stop viewing mental illness and treatment as 'White people shit'. This ignorance is killing too many people.
To support Akuji's art-work: http://theartistakuji.tumblr.com/
Interview by Sydnee Monday