art therapy photography
Artist Jaskirt Dhaliwal-Boora. Photo by Emma Lewis

For many of us, walking is an activity that we do daily, without really thinking about it. However, a new ‘Green Spaces’ project in Birmingham is inviting people to join in with local photo-walks to embrace a more mindful approach and become artists along the route.

From this week, people living in Erdington and the surrounding area are being invited to join Birmingham-born artist Jaskirt Dhaliwal-Boora for a series of free photo-walks and workshops in and around Erdington, which has an abundance of green spaces and nature reserves.

art therapy photography
Jaskirt Dhaliwal-Boora, Runners Path, Sutton Coldfield, 2022

Over the last few years, Dhaliwal-Boora has been working on socially-engaged projects with community groups in the creative health realm. These stem, in part, from her own need to “get and out take some pictures!”. As she says: “a photo-walk is an opportunity to observe what’s around you and lose yourself in meandering. It slows you down and helps you process what going on.”

Backing up her own experiences is a growing body of research that proves the effectiveness of being in nature – not simply for physical health but mental health, too. However, it’s when we engage with a landscape, rather than simply treating it as scenery, that we most fully connect with a place, as well as ourselves.

Creative therapies have also been shown to help with a variety of mental health problems, from relieving anxiety and stress to processing trauma. Behind the project is Ikon Gallery, who do wider work with local communities to use the arts as a tool to improve health and wellbeing.

Amelia Hawk, who is an Ikon Producer and artist working across the intersection of art and counselling strategies explains, “We are hoping that the project can open up conversations around mental health and creativity, and explore how access to green spaces can bring about positive change within peoples wellbeing.”

Collaborating with Ikon on the photo-walks is the mental health charity Living Well Consortium. For the past 15 years, it has offered people talking therapies through grassroots organisations, and will be sending two of their walking therapists on the routes.

A Living Well Project Manager, Leila Zafar says she has previously “led on innovative projects such as this to raise awareness of free mental health provision offered by the charity”. However, this is the “first of its kind”, as it will combine three things proven to be beneficial to those suffering from mental health problems – art, nature, and talking therapies.

art therapy photography
Erdington Library. Image courtesy of Birmingham City Council

An important initiative, it is targeting Erdington as the area has the lowest number of people accessing talking therapies and mental health care across the whole of the Midlands. But this shouldn’t be the case. As Zafar comments, one of the project’s aims is to raise awareness about the charity’s existence, through which individuals can access therapists and appropriate mental health support within weeks of self-referring”.

With a talking therapy element to the photo-walks, participants will be encouraged to explore their personal stories and experiences of mental health in green spaces.

While improving their wellbeing, participants, who need no previous art experience, will also gain new photography skills from Dhaliwal-Boora. A photographer interested in exploring visual representations of gender, ethnicity and place, she will be sharing her advice on observation, composition and lighting.

She is also keen that people continue to spend time in the landscape, engaging with it through photography, putting their new skills into further practice, while experiencing the healing benefits of art in nature beyond the project’s end.

The images taken will be given a platform, too, thanks to Ikon, who will be staging an exhibition, titled ‘Green Spaces’ which will run from 12-23 June of this year. Accompanying photographs of Erdington will be portraits of the participants in green spaces of importance to them, taken by Dhaliwal-Boora.

art therapy photography
Jaskirt Dhalial-Boora. Image courtesy of the artist

Long interested in celebrating untold stories Dhaliwal-Boora has typically exhibited her work in non-traditional spaces, from a women’s refuge to community centres. She says it’s “meaningful” that Ikon will now exhibit her work alongside that of the photo-walk participants in a major city centre gallery:

“For me being a Brummie and having my work shown at Ikon is a big thing. I’m really excited about the combination of storytelling with participants’ work at the forefront of this exhibition which is about putting Erdington on the map. It will be about a celebration of green spaces in that area and its people”.

The artwork will later go on permanent display at one of Living Well Consortium’s own Birmingham centres, carrying an empowering message: that creativity, nature and talking can help improve mental wellbeing. To live better is not about the destination but the journey, and that’s what will be mapped out on in the Green Spaces workshops, exhibitions and, most importantly, their legacy. .

Workshops will take place at Erdington Library (main space), Orphanage Road, Birmingham B24 9HP on Monday 11 March, 10.30am–12pm, and Monday 25 March, 10.30am–12pm. For more information and to book a place, please email Amelia Hawk, Green Spaces producer, at [email protected]

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