Why Patricia is combining art therapy and activism

“I’ve been in recovery from addiction for 19 years… I never thought I’d be able to get 19 seconds of anything.”

Patricia first came to Harlem United a year into her recovery, hoping to not just survive but thrive, and one of the first programs that she connected with was art therapy.

“Some things that I did were self-destructive and I’m not going to be able to cure that right away. Working on yourself doesn’t happen overnight.” Addiction led to risky sex and other behaviors with results that Patricia is not happy about, including an HIV diagnosis. Which is why some of her art takes an activist stance.

One of her earlier pieces is a pop art – activist mashup, juxtaposing the then- (and still now) megahit musical Wicked with safer sex messages. “I want to catch the attention of young people. I learned that the numbers for new HIV infections among teenagers and young adults is staggering. I’ve been there too, so let me put something out here, maybe people will pay attention.”

Patricia’s aunt introduced her to art early in life, teaching her how to make paper mache roses, but she fell away from it over the years. Now, she can’t get enough. Patricia is in the studio nearly every day now — she doesn’t come quite as often recently because she has started working again — and through art therapy, along with other programs at Harlem United, she’s been able to work through issues standing in the way of health and happiness.

In the same way that Patricia’s aunt connected with her, Patricia connects with her son through comics. They’re planning a trip to Comic-Con together where she’ll transform into a superhero of her own creation: GLOW (Gama Laser Office Woman), a character she created in paintings during art therapy.

“There’s not enough black women superheros. Yeah, we got Michelle Obama and Rosa Parks and all those ladies… but in comics and science fiction, there’s not enough. I want to inspire people to create women superheros. If a writer/artist/producer wants to collaborate on bringing GLOW to life, that would be amazing.“

She recently completed a series of comic paintings, including one with Spider-Man clad in red, green, and black. “You always see him in red, white, and blue, but I want Spider-Man to be a soul brotha in this one.”

From safer sex messages, to a badass black woman superhero and a soul brotha Spider-Man, to a nativity featuring a black Jesus, Patricia makes sure to infuse herself and her vision for a safer, more just world into what she creates.

Right now, though, Patricia has her hands full (literally) painting portraits of her friends. For her, it’s a way to foster connection and being of service. She works with her friends-turned-subjects on what they want to capture, favorite colors to include, and even the decor in the room where the painting will be displayed. There’s currently a waiting list for her work, but she’s not stressed at all. “Art is relaxing for me. When I can’t get in, I get a little anxious. This is the most relaxing thing for me in my day, besides sleep. I’m glad that I can make art for friends, too.”

Check out some of Patricia’s work below:

Activism Meets Art
Escape to Up There
Soul Brotha Spider-Man
GLOW

Harlem United’s art therapy program is just one component of our Adult Day Health Care program that combines individual and group therapy, medical and dental care, hot meals, nutritional counseling, peer support groups, and social activities for low-income New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are also dealing with other health concerns. The goals of Adult Day Health Care are to remove barriers that stand in the way of clients getting the care they need, make it easier for clients to start and continue treatment, and reduce the need for hospital visits. This holistic approach to healthcare is client-led and focuses on supporting the participants in their health—and life—goals.

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