How Artist Jasmine Nyende Processes Grief Through Creativity

After losing their father to COVID-19 complications on Christmas Eve, artist Jasmine Nyende spent months wading through grief. The experience completely disconnected them from their creativity. But once they devoted time to self care and allowed themself to feel joy, the creativity returned and helped them further process their grief.

Nyende is a musician, fiber artist, and performance artist, who at the moment is focused on making clothing like sweaters, dresses, but also wall rugs out of mostly recycled materials. Their most recent work is a performance workshop that teaches how to heal from grief through creativity. It's live from March 31 through April 4 as part of The Other Art Fair (TOAF)’s free virtual Los Angeles festival. TOAF typically hosts in-person art shows to connect talented emerging artists with art lovers and buyers in cities around the world. But during the pandemic, it began hosting virtual events for people to join from anywhere.

This grief-processing performance workshop is one of many wellness experiences available during the TOAF LA festival. Tune in to see everything from sound baths to a spoken word performance by formerly incarcerated poet Ra Avis. And keep scrolling, because I spoke to Nyende over the phone to learn more about their performance and what they hope others will take from it.

Well+Good: What is your connection between grief and creativity?

Jasmine Nyende: After my father's passing, I had a good two months of just having no motivation to work. I couldn't get myself to my studio. I was making this huge rug piece that was all about self care, but after my father's passing, I couldn't even look at the piece. I couldn't even think about making something nice for myself because my grief just separated me so fully from my body. Around that time, I also went sober, and I also did a lot of therapy, I started working out more, I started eating better, I started to just take care of myself in different ways. And that's when the creativity started to come back—that's when I started to see my magic in my hands.

That's what this performance is about. It's about how grief is one of those things that shocks you to your core. Who am I without my father now? Who am I without this person in my life who I love? I took my father's old T-shirts and a pair of my old jeans that I wore the last time I saw my father and I cut them to make a long, beautiful skirt for myself that I can wear when I need a little strength. That I could wear and think about his shirt touching his skin that is now touching mine. When someone dies and leaves so much behind, that's what becomes the most overwhelming. The clothes he left, letters, voicemails, all these things he left behind that I was overwhelmed at the prospect of. But that little bit of taking back control, that little bit of honoring his spirit by honoring myself is where the work happened.

What was it like for you emotionally to cut up his old shirts? Did you feel any hesitation?

Emotionally, it felt good, but it was also hard. When you rip up clothes, the smell comes out. I smelled him again. It was simple things like that, that got me really emotional as I was making it. I was like, "Yeah, I forgot that's the kind of cologne he wears." Or even the smell of smoke in my own jeans. I was like, "Wow, this is from before I was sober. Why do these jeans still smell like weed?" It was like all these pasts coming in through all these different senses. But there's also something cathartic about the ripping. In the video, you'll see me ripping the clothes, and that sound, it reminded me of how I felt: ripped open. Those seams coming apart, but having to rebuild.

It was also kind of nerve-wracking because I didn't have a pattern in mind. All I knew was I wanted to create something new from what I had. Grief has no pattern, and healing is lead through intuition. To me, the skirt holds the idea that you don't always have to go into a project knowing exactly what's it's going to look like. Your body, your hands, your mind, your fit will know how to come together when you allow it to have space to.

Given that this performance is, in part, a workshop how do people balance leaning into their intuition while also being honest with themselves, with their skill set, and not biting off more than they can chew?

I do have to admit that I've had years of practice with making clothing. I make dresses, I knit, I do all these things, but at the same time, I hadn't even touched my machine in months when I made this skirt. What I had to realize is that, in the messiness, we get overwhelmed. I had to let myself breathe in the mess, knowing that I can put something down and pick it up later. And know that sometimes time is one of the best materials we can have when it comes to trying something new.

If someone is confused or doesn't know what they're doing, sometimes letting people in is the best thing you can do. Ask a friend who can sew, or maybe you have a dry cleaner, who you love who also sews. In those times when we feel overwhelmed by our lack of knowledge, that's the time when we can reach out. Know that you don't have to make it alone.

There are so many people right now that can fully relate to your experience. What is the biggest thing you're hoping they're able to take away from your performance workshop?

One of my favorite lines from the piece is "I had to learn how to find the joy in my own hands again." And what I meant by that is: I had to learn how to see myself as a creative being again, because grief definitely separates you from creativity. In loss, we're not thinking about what we can do. We're thinking about how we can get through. Even in the performance workshop, it's not so much about teaching you how to make it. You do watch me make it, and you have a good idea of how to make it yourself, but it's more about watching someone take something that is overwhelming and create something new from it to make it something warm for themselves, to make it something that's beautiful for themselves, from the grief, from the loss, from the trauma.

And that's what I hope they take: That the healing is possible and it's real. And it's waiting inside of you to just express itself. It's something that definitely is so personal. Even in this piece, I never had a play-by-play. There is no pattern on how to get over someone. You have to feel your way through it.

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