Avantika Mathur certainly knows art. With a Masters in Fine Arts (Creative Painting) from SNDT Women's University in Mumbai, her wall art has a recurring motif - the eyes; her palette often spilling with purple, lavender, pink and turquoise. Since childhood, art has been her constant companion - in good times and bad. She drew when the greys cluttered her sky; she painted when she rage lurked round the corner; she tiptoed around the canvas to unlock her own subconscious mind; she picked motifs to find her own emotional status. For Avantika, art is beyond the artistry - it is a formidable mechanism for better mental health.
Avantika Mathur certainly knows art. She also knows pain. Immeasurable, unpredictable agony at close quarters. Mental health issues are never far from her, they are palpable within the four walls of her home in CBD Belapur (Navi Mumbai). “My husband is clinically diagnosed bipolar. Mental health issues affect my life every day, I live through it constantly,” says Avantika.
It is in this fracas with the volatile mind that art returns to Avantika as a powerful tool to help others explore their emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stress, release pain, and boost self-esteem. She not only uses art to deal with her own disquiet, but she has been using this tool in various ways for others in need. She collaborates with non-government organisations (NGOs) and orphanages to teach art to the resident children; she worked with ONCO happy, an NGO dedicated to the betterment of cancer patients. Avantika has carried crayons and colours to Tata Hospital to paint with kids who are suffering from cancer and are terminally ill, and held a day-long workshop with 40 children from Salaam Baalak Trust (Mumbai).
When the drawing paper was not enough to express doubts and find answers, Avantika took to painting bodies to encourage storytelling and sharing of experiences between people as part of an initiative called the SplatterSpeak project.
In the SplatterSpeak project, people narrated the torment of battling their inner demons and the soreness of their hearts and she painted their bodies as an act of self-expression.
“I have also painted on (an) acid attack survivor to empower her to be comfortable in her own skin. I use body painting as a positive tool for acceptance as well,” says Avantika, who once donated all her hair to make wigs for children living with cancer.
The more Avantika painted with others, the more she realised that art brought about a substantial change in people. It helped them heal. Encouraged by the impact on people’s lives, she took the next big step to become a certified therapeutic art life coach.
As a therapeutic art life coach, Avantika prompts people to dig into the inner recesses of their heart, self reflect and depict their current mental status on drawing paper. The therapy sessions’ module includes 1. Self-discovery (self-portrait), 2. Colour of the day (colour psychology), 3. Manifestation, 4. Affirmations created into art, 5. Maintaining a daily art diary, 6. Mandala painting, 7. Representation of self through objects, 8. How others see you, how you see yourself.
'My Mental Baggage' by Avantika Mathur.
“For self-portrait, I ask the individual to create a past, present and future self-portrait. This drawing or painting should reflect where you have been, who you are today, and how see yourself in the future. Or how you see yourself, how others see you and how you want to be seen?” explains Avantika who deciphers the individual’s mental health through the use of lines, colours as well as proportion and context.
“Art is a safe space, it is a healing device. I want to use art to help others heal,” Avantika says, adding that her dream is to do a doctoral degree in colour psychology, to understand the mind better and to heal more. For now, Avantika has just finished painting a 30x7 ft wall in Belapur and is currently working on commercial and digital art.
Avantika Mathur’s tips to deal with stress
• Speak to someone about it, especially a person not in your personal circle. Can be a therapist.
• Do something alone which gives you complete joy.
• Everyone should have one kind of art in their life, can be drawing, DIY, music, playing musical instruments. Any art that makes you happy.
• Find a non-judgmental space where you can be yourself.
• Write. Writing has tremendous power. Write of your feelings and burn it - get that feeling/pain out of your system.
• Help other people who suffer like you because there is no better therapy than giving, it gives you purpose and joy.
• People who contemplate suicide should definitely talk more to people openly about their feelings.• Mental health is a serious issue and we have to normalise it by talking more and more about it.