Interview: Art Therapist Jaspal Kaur Shares How Art Can Transform Mental Illness

By Sumit Singh Rehal

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Last month saw the cultivation of many of London’s most inspiring artistic talents to tribute 2Pac and his song Changes at Highlight Nation’s exhibition in Croydon.

One of those that willingly contributed  was Jaspal Kaur of East London. Jaspal is an open minded art therapist who uses her creativity to help those with psychological issues around the world. She has worked locally with the NHS and international in war torn locations such as Iraq.

We have been in close contact with Jaspal over the last few weeks, talking about her artistic inspirations, music and her day to day life as an art therapist. After understanding more of each other, the artist chose to create a moving piece depicting Tupac Shakur during his Juice days.

Despite talking back and forth constantly over the last month, we’ve put together an interview that highlight’s Jaspal’s artistic motives and the inspiration behind her work.

You have a lot of Sikhi influence in your art, how important is your faith to your work?

My faith feels very much a part of me in my daily life and contributes towards maintaining a state of gratitude. As the work is an extension of me and my thoughts I feel the faith is present at times in a quite literal way and at times subconsciously within the work.

Is there any Sikh heritage when it comes to art?

Art is something which permeates all religions. Within Sikhi history has been communicated through art; whether that be through paintings and visual arts, calligraphy, Shabad and poetry or adornment of Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

Art has reinforced our past in accounts of the lives led and enabled me to relate in a more profound way.

Although it has very much existed and appreciated in some forms, I do believe that the richness of art has not always been valued culturally or systemically until more recently.

I believe art is intrinsic to Sikhi.

How did you get into art therapy?

Having experienced early trauma in domestic violence and abuse, art lent itself to a way of release and enjoyment. I used to paint and draw at home and at school and it gave me a sense of identity and accomplishment in a confusing time. I believe children are innately creative and as children we were all able to create in some form or another.

I continued to see art as being therapeutic and healing and used creativity at every opportunity. I came across a poster for an art therapy course whilst doing my psychology degree and felt art and the psychological thought was a perfect union.

I had it in my mind for the next 15 years whilst I completed my psychology degree, went into psychiatric nursing and never forgot about the Art therapy.  I felt that creativity and mental health were even more prominent when working with severe mental illness.

I finally took a leap of faith and signed up for the course and now am almost finishing my training. It feels well-earned and therefore has a deeper respect within me; never taken for granted in the beauty of how helpful it can be to myself and others.

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What is it about art that has helped your patients particularly?

It is so natural and freeing, the patients I have had the honour of working with are often very creative and art remains functional within dysfunction – the desire to create seems to go beyond boundaries of ill health and with gentle encouragement can be a source of normality and calm. It can also act as a catalyst towards understanding meaning of self.

The patients that I speak to have felt a host of changes when creative which may range from an increase in confidence to lessening the intensity of hallucinations.

What does 2Pac’s legacy mean to you?

Words cannot do justice to how great I feel he is in what he stood for and how much charisma and energy surrounded him.

The legacy is inspirational in feeling that we are all capable – that we can all individually seek to help one another and not feel led or clouded by seemingly higher systems in place.

It gives power and a sense of courage to mere mortals in feeling that they have a combined responsibility not to be idle and not to be quiet in the faces of suppression and hatred.

There was a lot of unbridled energy ,which I feel fuelled the passion he evoked, to me personally I feel empowered by his legacy.

Are there any changes in the last 20 years that have directly impacts your life?

That’s a huge question and I believe that bigger change filters down politically and socially but as far as I can speak of changes have been immense.

The continued empowerment of women, the accessibility of resource to learn and the openness of conversation has revolutionised the way we are able to excel.

The fact that I can stand up in my workshops and speak about mental health demonstrates that our predecessors have opened up paths with pockets of lessening stigma.

What is your artistic process?

My artistic process is not limited to visual arts and extends to all aspects of my life; namely practicing acceptance, self betterment and love.

In painting, my process involves using my whole self whether conscious or not in putting paint on a surface and allowing a flow to occur.

Over the last few years I have also been working on body image which may involve painting parts of me and working through subconscious themes that may arise as I paint. I am paying attention to what I feel during and afterwards.

I am not as concerned with the outcome as to the emotion and learning evoked in me through the process.

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Also, I would like to know what your artistic mission is!

My artistic mission is something that excites me tremendously and is beyond me but leaving a legacy amalgamating mental health, art, nursing and psychotherapy. The rest is top secret and shall all be revealed very soon.

Keep in touch with Jaspal on @jaspallotay_art.

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