‘Collective Feeling’… Ananya on Artwork and Mental Health

Bruner once said, “Stories become transformative only in their performance”

This week, we are in conversation with Ananya Broker Parekh who calls herself a “freelance illustrator, a picture-maker and a storyteller.” In this conversation, she lets us into some of her profound, yet accessible storytelling through her artwork around mental health and what moves her to do it.

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Can you tell me a bit about what inspires you to do art work around mental health and diversity? How did it all begin? 

My mother is a therapist. When I call her, furious, or frustrated, I am shown two sides to every story. And what I have learned is each story is equally real, and I don’t have to pick one. When I was little , I had so many fears, and my school counselor said “Every time fear comes, don’t feed it. It’ll go away.” Giving fear a tummy that occasionally rumbles, like my own made it easier to encounter it. And now, my therapist always shows me the many possibilities of navigating a problem through “I wonder’s” and “I think’s” instead of telling me what to do. I frequently visit my growing collection of picture books , especially when I feel a bit low, to pull out  Heart in The Bottle, The Rabbit Listens, Julian is a Mermaid, Paper Dolls, and Ish, to name a few. And, when I read a story, that’s what I want. I want to be able to take from it, without it telling me what to do. I want to navigate my way through it, on my own. And when I sit down to draw, I think I let all of this feed in to tell my story.

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What are some of the things you particularly do to create these artwork? Why do you choose to do these things in particular? 

Except for Jugaad, all the work that I’ve done that might connect with mental health are based on thoughts and feelings I felt that may have sprouted ideas instantly, or over time. I like to call them thought threads. And, I don’t have one set way of creating anything – I just go with what I’m feeling!

Since these are all just personal explorations, I dabble with different mediums and see what emerges! One of my recent thought threads came about simply because I wanted to draw over photographs, and as I played around, a story emerged. An older one, was about how badly I wanted to go outside, and looking back, I see that the quick, blurry drawings mock that restlessness. Since feelings are inanimate, I often wonder what they would look life if I breathed life into them, in some way. So, I experiment with that in different ways.

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And, I think one thing I have done for each piece I have created, is I’ve slept over it- from a 10 minute nap to a few nights in a row! For, letting the thought dance around in my head and taking a break from it, both help me see it with a fresh set of eyes. With my letter to worry, I first drew it out in many tiny boxes, and the next morning, just made wool into photographs that reflected what I was talking about!

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The art that you create and some of the other illustrators create can influence important conversations around mental health, particularly in these times. And can serve as practices of collective healing. What are your thoughts on this? 

I don’t know about healing, but I’m certain about collective feeling! One of the many things I love most about stories is when I can point at a line, or a picture, or book and say “This is exactly how I feel but I didn’t know how to say it” In a changing world, presently especially uncertain, it can help to be assured that there is some one or many out there who might be feeling the same way. I draw from experience, quite literally, and I share it to tell you how I’m feeling, , some times to be heard, and some times to tell you , that this both, what I see and what I’d like to see. And if you feel this way, to let you know, that we’re in this together.

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Ananya is a visual storyteller and illustrator with a big appetite for books snacks. She is always exploring newer ways to tell a story, and newer ways to hide from the camera. With every project she takes on, she gets herself a picture book to add to her growing collection.  You can find more of her work on Instagram @ananyabrokerparekh or contact her at parekhananya98@gmail.com.

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