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A New Haven Artist's Approach to Self-Care

Stephanie Held
March 1, 2018
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Kwadwo Adae doesn’t have a television. He has never had cable. When he lived with roommates, he asked them kindly to not set their TV in the living room. “When I come home from work, what I want to do most is to talk to you. And I want you to want to talk to me. It just seems unnatural to have a television in a space where people come together to communicate,” he said. It is one of the reasons he decided to become a member here—no TVs in the fitness area, no blaring music, news or sports.

This deliberate desire to connect and foster community is what drives Kwadwo as an artist. It colors his work at Adae Fine Art Academy, as a meditation teacher at The Breathing Room, and now at mActivity. Intended to bring people together to communicate, his art will be on display and available for purchase at our March Member Social today, March 1 from 6-8 p.m. During a recent interview, we discussed art, manifesting desires and how not to spill your cup of suffering.

Photo courtesy of Kwadwo Adae: Number XXXIII, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 36 inches, 2010

Stephanie: What kind of artwork do you like to create?

Kwadwo: Abstracts. Non-objective art pieces. They don’t look like anything familiar, but they look like something. They’re infused with a lot of color rules and arches instead of straight lines. I love color. Color has always ruled my world, so my goal for these pieces is to have someone look at it and not see anything from the natural world.

At my art school, the Adae Fine Art Academy, the student sets the curriculum. If you want to come in and paint sunflowers with watercolor, that’s what we’ll do. I support what you want to bring it into the world. If you’re drawing a figure or a face and part of the anatomy is not correct, I can help you with that. Or help you look at it differently. But, teaching art is more about getting people to create what they see, not what they think. The mind can get in the way sometimes.

Photo courtesy of Kwadwo Adae: Joy, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 72 inches, (122 x 183 cm)

Stephanie: Do you feel like you’re also always pushing your own boundaries mentally and physically?

Kwadwo: I’m not in a perpetual state of pushing boundaries. First I push the boundary and then I assess the impact. You have to give yourself time to reflect. See what manifests. Being a visual artist, I have had help with planning things into fruition since I was a child. I know very well that nothing exists before we create it. If we put the time in and try, suddenly there is this square or rectangle that is the image of something that didn’t exist before the decision to create it. Painting is good practice for manifesting things in the world. Having the courage to dream, then focusing your energy on the vision makes things happen.

Stephanie: I never thought about it that way—practicing art to manifest what you want to see in your own life, in the world, or your community.

Kwadwo: Well, it is the same here at mActivity. Everyone who walks through these doors is manifesting themselves to become the best, strongest, most enduring self that they can be. Everyone is striving to reach an ideal. And the more you come, the closer you get to that ideal. Fitness is a different type of manifestation than painting—it is the manifestation of the body instead of the mind—but by nature its the same.

Photo courtesy of Kwadwo Adae: Farmington Canal Greenway mural, Elm City Footrace

Stephanie: What have you manifested in the New Haven community?

Kwadwo: I have installed nine murals in New Haven. There is mural I did on the Farmington Canal Greenway called Elm City Footrace that has people with no specific ethnicities. It has the New Haven skyline in the back, eight people, and everyone has three legs. Each person has a purple, green or yellow skin tone so anyone can look and identify with them as person. In order to create that, I needed community support.  We installed that mural with 40 volunteers of all ages and varying levels of artistic experience.

I also go out in the community and do mobile art classes. I teach art in the Alzheimer's and Dementia ward of Brookdale Senior Living in Woodbridge. I run the young adult art group at the West Haven Mental Health clinic. I do after school art programs through Arte, Inc. and I have partnered to teach with the Parents Foundation a transitional living facility for people with schizophrenia. It’s not an Ivory tower type of thing. I will go out into the community and do what I can because the best way to deflate the ego is to give.

Drawing courtesy of Kwadwo Adae

Stephanie: What about giving to ourselves... Is self-care selfish? What advice do you have?

Kwadwo: We are all coming from wildly diverse and vast places and we all carry a cup of suffering. Maybe your cup is an espresso sized cup, or maybe your cup is a kiddie sized pool that you have to carry around. Either way, if you’re caring for yourself adequately, you’re not going to spill your cup of suffering on other people as easily.

The world wasn’t designed to be a fair world, so you play with the cards that you have in the best way that you can. When I was little, my mom worked for Xerox, so she would bring home copier paper—big stacks of it—and hand me a pencil. I would spend the day drawing. That was my outlet. Find your outlet that will help you get to a point where you’re able to say—OK, I’m not going to spill this, I’m just going to take the time to notice it. If you’re able to do that, it counts as self-care. All of your interactions will start to get better and that is not selfish.

Stephanie: Why did you choose mActivity?

Kwadwo: Last March I took my sons Kwasi & Kwabena to a gym for the first time. It was on this floor of my sister's high rise apartment building while we were visiting her in Chicago. Kwasi was pumping the free weights pretty hard when he said, "Dad, are there gyms in Connecticut?" and I was like, "yeah, Kwasi, gyms are everywhere." "Can we go? Can we go to one when we get home?" We checked out mActivity and he loved it. Because my son was so young when we started here, we had to come together, which motivated me to start lifting weights again. In two months it'll be a year since we joined. We try to come 2-3 times per week and I like all of the familiar faces. We do an hour, I listen to my Radiolab, TED talks, Love and Radio, or Moth podcasts. In 2018 I'm committed to another year of strength.

Kwadwo’s art will be on display and available for purchase at our March Member Social, March 1 from 6-8 p.m.

The #mActivityPeople interview series focuses on the mindful lives and health routines of mActivity’s inspiring community. Submit your own on Instagram—post your mindful mActivity (tag us @mactivitynh!) and include the hashtag #mActivityPeople for a chance to be featured on our blog.

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