A series of embroidered portraits, created by service users from Recovery Pathways during a Black Arts Project, is currently being shown in an exhibition in Manchester for Black History Month.

The ‘Inspired, Uplifted and Proud’ exhibition showcases a collection of bold and colourful textile portraits of Black icons. The subject of each piece was chosen, researched, and hand-sewn by service users from Recovery Pathways, a mental health and wellbeing service which is part of Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH).

The work on show is a powerful testimony from those who have lived experience of mental ill-health and recovery.

The Black Arts project was designed and delivered by Michelle Ayavoro, a textile artist and Wellbeing Arts Tutor at GMMH’s Recovery Pathways, who also runs the social enterprise HerArt. Taking place during the pandemic and national lockdown, the course was delivered online, through a series of virtual sessions on Microsoft Teams.

Inspired by The Black Lives Matter movement, the project aimed to promote and celebrate positive images of Black people, and share information and knowledge of Black Arts, History and Culture; whilst providing service users with a safe and comfortable space to connect with others, to improve their mental health and reduce feelings of isolation at a time of significantly reduced social contact.

Over the course of 12 weeks, service users were asked to choose a Black icon that they found inspiring or interesting. They first gathered and shared facts about this person. Then – with very little to no previous sewing experience – they were guided, step-by-step to design and create a striking, hand-sewn portrait.

To assist them, packs containing everything they would need – including a variety of materials and worksheets – were delivered to their homes. They were also provided with tech support, and training on how to use Microsoft Teams.

The result was a series of bold, textured portraits; and a set of friendships which lasted the length of the project and beyond.

Michelle Ayavoro said: “My passion is using my creativity and ideas to design and create workshops that make a difference in people’s lives and enable them to recognise and express their creativity”.

“Through the Black Arts project, I was able to introduce our service users to new artists and arts organisations, broadening their creative networks, and to teach them new creative processes, methods and techniques. The project also provided a routine and structure during lockdown, and a distraction from other difficulties in their lives. It also gave like-minded individuals a chance to meet, connect, and go on a new journey together. Overall, our service users reported an improved confidence and self-esteem, alongside a more positive outlook and motivation.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved together, and I am delighted to see their powerful artwork recognised in the ‘Inspired, Uplifted and Proud’ exhibition.”

One service user who would like to remain anonymous said:

“Through the project, I learned so much about inspiring Black women, both contemporary and historical. I also learned lots of new skills – I haven’t done anything like this before! I’ve particularly enjoyed learning about colour theory – I’ve found myself more aware of colour in my surroundings and the effect different colours and combinations of colours have on my mood.

“It’s been good for my recovery to engage with other people and to concentrate for two hours a week on a creative project. The COVID-19 pandemic made me feel isolated and bored, and the lack of structure or stimulation in the day really challenged me. Having the course to look forward to every week has been brilliant and has given me something to focus on in between sessions.

“I loved working with other people – the companionship in working towards a shared goal was brilliant, and learning about how other people approached their creative brief was inspiring.”

The ‘Inspired, Uplifted and Proud’ exhibition is showing from 01 October 2021 until 05 January 2022, as part of Black History Month 2021 at HOME. It is free entry for all, at the Inspire Gallery, 2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN. Further information can be found here: https://homemcr.org/exhibition/michelle-ayavoro-inspired-uplifted-and-proud/.


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