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Painting through the pandemic: How art helped me through grief and loss – CBC.ca

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When COVID-19 began to shut down the world in February 2020, I was startling awake every night in a panic about my future as my parents’ only remaining child.

My sister Tej had died the previous year, when she was 52, and I was 50 years old. She was the person I loved most in the world.

Though we rarely lived in the same city as adults, we spoke most days, she calling me from her home in The Hague, where she lived with her daughter, or I calling her from my home in Toronto, where I live with my Canadian partner. 

Her death was not my family’s first experience of grief.

Childhood photo of Manjushree Thapa, middle, with her brother Bhaskar and sister Tej in their Ottawa home in the 1970s. (Rita Thapa)

Six years previously, my brother Bhaskar had died of a heart attack, leaving behind his wife and their two sons in California. He was 49 years old — the eldest of our parents’ three children.

At that time, I had channelled my energies into ensuring that our parents, who had retired in our home country, Nepal, would survive the loss. 

This time around, I knew I was in trouble. I might not survive my sister’s loss. 

I concentrated on holding my broken self together so that I might eventually mend.– Manjushree Thapa

It is customary in Nepal to take a year off to mourn for our loved ones. I let myself put aside my novel-in-progress and turn down new professional commitments.

In between organizing my sister’s memorial and settling her estate, I concentrated on holding my broken self together so that I might eventually mend.

Seeking solace

I sought help through therapy, Buddhist meditation, yoga, journaling — but mainly, I spent time with family in the Netherlands, Nepal, the United States, and of course Canada.

En route, I splurged on trips to Lisbon, Naples, and London in search of relief. My partner and I camped often, and trekked through the foothills of Mount Everest.

Thapa says she dabbled in a few ‘pandemic projects’ to steady her nerves, before settling on one she’d put off for decades: reacquiring her lost art skills. (Daniel Lak)

Along the way, I resumed writing in fits and starts, and had tentatively completed a draft of my novel. My partner and I were in the United Kingdom then, housesitting for friends in Oxford in order to spend time with my niece, who had started her first year of college shortly after losing her mother.  

We returned to Toronto and settled into our new reality of quarantine, isolation, and heightened anxiety about ourselves and our scattered family.  

I dabbled in a few “pandemic projects” to steady my nerves, listening to classical music, cooking tofu, trying out mocktail recipes, and reading Proust, before settling on one I’d put off for decades: to reacquire my lost art skills. 

Returning to art

I had attended the Rhode Island School of Design in my youth, but had switched to writing afterwards, finding this discursive form of expression more suited to social and political subjects.

I’d always wanted to return to art — for love, not money — and had been stockpiling art supplies for years. But it took the pandemic for me to pick up a paintbrush. 

I began by sketching simple household objects. The results were mixed, so I abandoned all hope of making “good” art and focused, instead, on keeping a visual journal of whatever was in front of me, or on my mind. 

Thapa kept a visual journal of whatever was in front of her — or on her mind. (Manjushree Thapa)

I played around with pencils and acrylics and gouache watercolour through our springtime isolation, painting the mundane: our last precious container of disinfectant; a houseplant; my shaggy, overgrown hair. I regained my grasp of colour theory over safe, socially-distanced summertime outings, painting on camping trips and a road trip to Lake of the Woods, where my partner gave me a crash course in sailing.

I could sit with my emotions, dark and light, as I painted.– Manjushree Thapa

Something powerful happened when I painted: my discursive mind — the overactive thinking mind — gave way to image, sensation, free-association, and feeling. I could sit with my emotions, dark and light, as I painted.

And I could reconnect with my younger self: the person I had been before my brother drifted away, in adulthood, into science and engineering, and my sister into philosophy and law.

I could appreciate how I — the impressionable youngest — had been formed by my siblings. I could feel their presence in my life.

I also experienced serenity while painting, and something else besides: joy. 

“I love painting. I’m not sure why I ever stopped,” I wrote under a sketch of a dragonfly. 

Thapa’s sketch of a dragonfly accompanied by a note: ‘I love painting. I’m not sure why I ever stopped.’ (Manjushree Thapa)

When I said as much to my mother, she replied, “Even as a child, you’d stop crying as soon as I handed you crayons.” 

Painting through the pandemic has reminded me, mid-life, who I’ve always been. It has brought joy back into my days. 

And that joy is mending me now. I would even venture to say I’m happy. I miss my siblings keenly, of course, but I’m grateful that I ever had their love. 


Manjushree Thapa is a Canadian essayist, fiction writer (All Of Us in Our Own Lives), translator and editor of Nepali descent. She lives in Toronto.

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Victoria art centre offers free therapeutic art sessions – Saanich News – Saanich News

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The Bateman Foundation hopes to harness the healing power of creativity with a series of free therapeutic art sessions.

Materials are provided for the free drop-in sessions, and an on-site art therapist will be available for assistance or mental wellness insight.

“It’s learning about art and nature and using those as tools for wellness,” says Lauren Ball, spokesperson for the Bateman Foundation. “We (wanted) to help people to feel a bit more powerful in their daily lives.”

In the summer of 2020 the foundation launched the Wellness Project, adapting its annual Nature Sketch program for the pandemic and providing it free of charge to small groups in the community.

The new drop-in therapeutic art sessions are an extension of that program, says Bell, and a direct response to the effects of the ongoing pandemic.

READ ALSO: Nature Sketch program returns in Victoria with COVID-19 safety protocols

“Knowing that anxiety and depression are on the rise on this mass scale because of social isolation, we wanted to help in some way,” she said.

“It’s not about being a really great artist, it’s not necessarily about the final result of what you create, it’s about tapping into the creative potential and creative energy that exists within all of us, and using that to find some sense of joy, some sense of peace.”

Art therapist Kaitlin McManus will be on site to help participants who want to discover meaning in their artwork while they are creating.

All ages and experience level are welcome. Four people can participate simultaneously for 30 minutes each, unless there is no one waiting to join, in which case artists can stay longer.

Sessions run twice a week at the Bateman Gallery at 300-470 Belleville St. on Tuesday evenings from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Appointments are not necessary.

READ ALSO: Renowned photographer’s work captured at the Bateman Gallery


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
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Victoria art centre offers free therapeutic art sessions – Victoria News – Victoria News

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The Bateman Foundation hopes to harness the healing power of creativity with a series of free therapeutic art sessions.

Materials are provided for the free drop-in sessions, and an on-site art therapist will be available for assistance or mental wellness insight.

“It’s learning about art and nature and using those as tools for wellness,” says Lauren Ball, spokesperson for the Bateman Foundation. “We (wanted) to help people to feel a bit more powerful in their daily lives.”

In the summer of 2020 the foundation launched the Wellness Project, adapting its annual Nature Sketch program for the pandemic and providing it free of charge to small groups in the community.

The new drop-in therapeutic art sessions are an extension of that program, says Bell, and a direct response to the effects of the ongoing pandemic.

READ ALSO: Nature Sketch program returns in Victoria with COVID-19 safety protocols

“Knowing that anxiety and depression are on the rise on this mass scale because of social isolation, we wanted to help in some way,” she said.

“It’s not about being a really great artist, it’s not necessarily about the final result of what you create, it’s about tapping into the creative potential and creative energy that exists within all of us, and using that to find some sense of joy, some sense of peace.”

Art therapist Kaitlin McManus will be on site to help participants who want to discover meaning in their artwork while they are creating.

All ages and experience level are welcome. Four people can participate simultaneously for 30 minutes each, unless there is no one waiting to join, in which case artists can stay longer.

Sessions run twice a week at the Bateman Gallery at 300-470 Belleville St. on Tuesday evenings from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Appointments are not necessary.

READ ALSO: Renowned photographer’s work captured at the Bateman Gallery


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Fredericton group hopes to connect people with street art and horse barns – CBC.ca

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Artists, get out your spray cans. 

The Fredericton Trails Coalition wants to revitalize part of the city trail between Rookwood Avenue and Smythe Street, near the New Brunswick Exhibition horse barns. 

“It’s nothing but a big canvas,” said Stephen Marr, vice-president of the Fredericton Trails Coalition. 

So, the group hopes to turn it into a huge mural and is looking for proposals.

The idea came about last year, when organizers were trying to come up with ways to celebrate the community trails — while following physical distancing rules because of COVID-19.

Bringing history and art together 

“It’s something that’s happening all over Canada,” he said. 

For years, the horse barns have been spray painted with bubble letters or funny looking smiley faces.

“Why not beautify it and put something meaningful on there that would actually become a destination for people on the trail?” he said.

The canvas is about 100 metres long and art applications are pretty open-ended.

“If you pigeonhole them you’re not going to allow them their creativity,” he said

There are a lot of people who pass by the area while cycling to work or out for a stroll with kids. So the group is hoping for something that focuses on community and its history.

“The topics are just too numerous to count.”

‘It’s about community’

A call for artists was sent out in the middle of February.

The group has received about 28 applications so far. People have until the end of March to apply.

Then, the proposals will be evaluated by Fredericton’s art community, including gallery owners and art instructors. 

Five artists will be selected in June. Then, they will be asked to do a mockup of the canvas.

The finalist will be announced on June 15, and will get to work after Canada Day. The artist will receive about $20,000 for the project and potential grants.

The artwork is expected to be finished by September. The paint is expected to last five to six years.

Marr said he isn’t worried about taggers destroying the artwork. He said there’s an unwritten rule between taggers that once a mural goes up, it’s off limits. 

“It’s about community involvement and appreciation and inclusiveness on the trails.”

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