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April 18, 2021

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More than just pretty pictures: Learning new ways we can harness art for healing

Spending six weeks inside her apartment during a complete lockdown when the coronavirus pandemic swept Kuala Lumpur in 2020, Swedish artist Ingela Johansson found her usual approach of painting did not work anymore.

“I started to use black ink, and it really helped me,” Johansson recalled.

In late February, she launched an online exhibition “Contrast,” showcasing 28 pieces from a collection of more than 200 black-ink paintings.

A productive artist, Johansson has exhibited her artworks in eight countries. In 2015, she started to combine art and meditation, and developed her own practice “Creative Meditation.” She has written two books on her creative self-discovery journey, and has been offering art meditation courses on her website Zenart.

For the starting issue, Shanghai Daily talks to Johansson on her virtual exhibition, an ongoing project and her ideas on the healing power of art.

Tell us about the virtual exhibition. What did you learn?

The thing I am mostly happy about in this exhibition is that people shared. People shared which of these pieces they connected to with their stories.

I think that’s the most successful thing with this exhibition, bringing the shared experience.

And that I could do something global, I could invite everyone, no matter where they were in the world. I loved that sense of coming together, discussing this through art, using emotions.

Why is this collection in black and white?

I tried several times using color, but it wouldn’t work. When I used black ink, it really opened up. I did some very simple black-ink paintings that are really emotional, that talk about the anxiety, the fear, the hope, the rainbow … all the feelings but in black and white. To me, it was working through the emotions as well, not neglecting that, but also went through all these emotions during this time.

And I think it’s super important to healing through art, daring to paint all your emotions. That’s how we grow, not to bottle up how we feel, but ... sit down and feel through your brush, and express that.

Black and white is beautiful and strong. I’m Swedish, and I like to simplify things. Simplicity is our design language in Scandinavia.

What are the projects you are currently involved in?

I am planning a much larger online event “Harvest Moon” with curators from TED Talk Malaysia. We had companies in Singapore, Malaysia and Sweden together working for this project.

We had TED Talk speakers that have collected my art, and will be talking about art, well-being and innovation. So again we will be connecting through art, light music and dance.

Art is the main feature in the event, which is now all colored, because we start feeling the hope of a new beginning.

We will start with the sun going down, and it will be the night when we are quite anxious, then comes the full moon starting to go up, and we will end with the sunrise, talking about how will life start to become after this period. The whole thing will last for one and a half hours.

How can art benefit our life, apart from the aesthetics value we normally think of?

If you just look at the color ... the color you put on, the color you have in your house, it largely influences how you feel. There’s even research today that shows that color yellow — particularly, sun yellow — has the same benefit as anti-depressant to many people.

So if you surround yourself with warm yellow when feeling blue, or having a lot of anxiety, that will actually help you. I think colors overall are super important for our well-being. So color is one of these aspects.

And I suggest also playing with colors because when we are doing the creative meditation we are really trying to reach our curiosity and the playfulness we used to have when we were children. Innovation comes from that, and that we can use in other work we do. We have to allow us to be playful. Not to focus too much on this aesthetics value and being perfect, and when we can let go of that, things do become perfect.

What’s the healing power of art? How can we use that?

I think all creative forms, arts, music, movies … they can connect you straight to emotions. They can make you laugh, cry and understand something about yourself, to why you are reacting the way you are.

Take time to really look at an art piece, not just slide by on the screen, but really sit and look for a while.

Especially when you sit down and look, put on music and spend one song’s time with an art piece, it can really start to open up your emotions, connect to your intuition, and you can really write down something about how you feel about the art piece.

You don’t have to create yourself, you can just use art pieces that you see to start this healing journey. Find the art that really connects to you on an emotional level. Art is really the food for the soul.



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