When you think of wellness, the first thing that comes to mind is usually yoga and meditation. Conversations around wellness have been amplified due to the ongoing, global health pandemic. As a result, there’s been an influx of BIPOC creatives, collectives and organizations working to expand notions of care and make the industries around this active pursuit more equitable and inclusive.
For visual artist and storyteller Deun Ivory, the mission is very clear. Her nonprofit, The Body: A Home for Love provides women in underserved communities grappling with sexual trauma with a destination for restoration, wellness resources and clinical/trauma-informed care. After several years of living across Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, Ivory and her organization are growing roots in the Bayou City. “Wellness is not a luxury, it’s something everyone should experience,” Ivory tells Houstonia.
What began as a photography project evolved into a living extension of her artistic mission to “document Black women in a way that feels ethereal, raw and regal.” Ivory’s own experience as a sexual trauma survivor has galvanized her to advocate for other Black women without the same type of access to artistic outlets, a practice she calls “creative wellness.”
“I think creative wellness is using art as a restorative practice for your healing. I am using art to journey towards self-love, to understand my value as a Black woman, as a human being. To understand and affirm my worthiness; to release, reflect and reclaim things that I feel were robbed from me due to my trauma. For me, I am able to tap into my power through making things, repurposing pain.”
While living in Chicago in 2016, Ivory found her passion for photography by being in a community with other Black women artists. She was moved by the work of legendary photographer Carrie Mae Weems, and Houston’s own Solange. A portrait session with Ghanaian entrepreneur and mental health advocate, Abena Boamah, affirmed Ivory’s passion for image-making and solidified her calling. “I was able to reflect the magnitude of her beauty back to her. It made me realize there’s something restorative about my photography and that was the spark that led to everything else,” she says.
Since then, Ivory’s garnered much attention for her earthy, minimalist aesthetic and her dedication to “making the world a better place for Black women.” She was the art director for Lauren Ash’s Black Girl in Om and has shot a series of campaigns and collaborations, including Issa Rae for CRWN Mag, Summer Walker’s second album cover and much more. She recently directed her first short film, black women are worthy, (2021) which was on view in downtown Houston earlier this summer.
The University of Houston alum has big plans for The Body and the women of H-Town. Ivory and her team recently celebrated their relocation with an intimate kickoff dinner last week. Next year, they are launching a six-month program and half-day retreat series during Sexual Assault Awareness month in April. Fifty women are welcome to partake in the free monthly creative wellness day for an experience that allows for relaxation, relation, and release. The Body is currently seeking other mission-aligned organizations and brands for partnerships and funding.
“I’m just a vessel, I’m an artist. I am, by no means a therapist. It’s important for me to partner with trauma-informed therapists who know what they're talking about. But on the other hand, as a survivor and someone who has been using art to create sustainable joy, I can also offer my perspective on the creative aspect of therapy.”
From the resources to the programs, and its calming visual identity, Ivory is here to provide space for reclamation and let survivors of all ages know that trauma is not definitive. “We’re naturally attracting millennials, but one thing we’ve been trying to do is spread the word,” Ivory concludes. “You can’t be passive when you’re trying to serve. You have to tell people, ‘This is for you.’”
For more information on The Body: A Home for Love, to access free resources or donate, visit here.