The Monthly talks with multi-genre community artist, Juanita Rea – Part 2

Part one of this interview is here

When do you start producing your own art?

I have been creating and producing my own art all my life. I did this alongside channelling my creative energies into community arts and wellbeing programmes which motivated me to design a range of illustrated resources to create and nurture spaces in which children and adults can explore the creative arts, contemplative approaches and community activism.

How does that change?

The change happened in stages. I took up a teaching job in Sudan. While there I got very sick and needed major surgery. During my long recovery I realised that despite all the years I had spent supporting others, I had neglected to fully apply the contemplative and creative approaches to myself. I came to Northern Ireland in December 2018 with the hope of reconnecting with the woman and artist I felt I had lost.

You travelled to Northern Ireland on your own?

I came here on my own with very little, a guitar and my material. I didn’t know anyone here. I was just determined to reconnect with parts of myself I felt I had buried and did this by visiting places I had been to ten years prior with my ex-husband, who is from here.

I felt a huge re-connection during that short trip and wrote many new poems and songs. I knew as I was leaving to visit my sister in London, that I needed to come back and that were was so much inspiration and much to discover here.

What happens then?

I returned in the summer of 2019 and I visited the Oh Yeah Music Centre which led me to the OTH Music Collective and to meeting local musicians, Paul Kane and Chip Bailey who have been incredibly supportive of my artistic development.

After that meeting I started working alongside Chip Bailey. He brings the instruments and structure as well as organising contributions from many musicians from the OTH collective and beyond.

In 2020 Paul Kane invited me to be the international artist on the upcoming ‘Isobars’ album with one of my tracks ‘The Earth Spins’ and my Spoken word piece ‘The Tree That Hugged me.’

Working on my songs with Chip, the OTH Collective, and other musicians, has been very transformative as I have people around me who are confident in the work I am creating musically which helps me move forward in other areas.

What happened during the pandemic?

.During this time I wrote a memoir and it was while I was doing this that Chip Bailey sent me an article on CAP which led me to connect with poet and poetry therapist, Shelley Tracey. I reached out to her and she has been a great support to my memoir writing process.

I eventually made it over here in October last year and in November had my first ever experience of recording vocals for ‘Isobars’ in a recording studio! I formed wonderful friendships with musician, Peter Wilson AKA Duke Special and his partner, Trina Hobson, a painter, who have provided immense inspiration through their artistic expertise and have been extremely supportive of my work.

What else have you been part of?

In January I went along to Lit Up and this opened the door to me becoming part of the poetry scene in Northern Ireland and the UK with regular performances at Crafty Crows, Like A Blot From the Blue, Oooh Beehive, Live Poets, Say it Louder and many others. I entered my first poetry slam contest and was placed as a joint runner up in the Stanza  International Festival Slam.

I began to send my poetry out, and one of my first submissions was included in Northern Ireland Mental Health Festival. I also had some visual art included in the Bluebell Arts Derry online gallery as well as with other UK based organisations.

I met Winnie M Li, a rape survivor, author and activist whose work through Clear Lines and with the SHaME Project at Birkbeck University helped me to realise my role as an artist activist. These are organisations who work on addressing sexual violence and who use the arts as a medium for victims and survivors to find their voices.

I have also been involved as a volunteer on the Beyond Skin ‘Peace in Mind’ project by facilitating online and in-person ‘Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Creativity’ workshops. I also did some online Mindfulness workshops for Barnado’s. Alongside this I still actively lead and coordinate with youth leaders in South Africa and Sudan, particularly regarding our youth empowerment programmes there.

A major highlight for me was my recent live appearance at the Accidental Theatre as a guest performer joining Peter and Chip on the Duke Special Gramophone Club!

Where to now?

I am looking forward to the ‘Isobar’s album launch and will continue working towards my debut album. It is taking shape nicely and the difficulty will be deciding what songs to leave out!

My poetry is available on my website and thanks to the mentorship of Mervyn Seivwright, I have two edited poetry and art collections that I am seeking to publish. I have also started sending out my memoir manuscript and looking for suitable educational publishers for the materials that my eduSOIL team and I created.

I am learning how to use digital technology to design and construct interactive online and physical spaces that facilitate mindful, contemplative and explorative healing journeys, through the arts.

To fine out more about Juanita’s work see the link below

www.juanita.uk/

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.