The Art of Black, Queer, Neurodivergent Survival.

Updated: Aug 12

Prioritising wellbeing is extremely difficult in a world built on prejudiced hierarchies. Living at the intersection of Blackness, Queerness, Womanhood and Neurodivergence, our guest writer Almah La Von Rice uses Artmaking as an empowering tool for self care; to manage her anxiety, understand her trauma and explore the dynamics of her identities through a blank canvas.


A purple and blue duotone photograph of Almah working on a screenprint. The screen is up and she is adjusting a sheet of paper on the printing bed. Almah is a black woman with dark, buzzed hair, wearing glasses and a t-shirt with an abstract print on it. In the background we can see the rest of a print studio, with exposed screens on the floor and prints pinned to the wall.

The Art of Black, Queer, Neurodivergent Survival.

Artmaking as a tool for Self-Care

by Almah LaVon Rice (she/her)


It is the only time, reliably, that I am free of Them. Not when I log on to social media and am greeted with the latest mass shooting, plague, or fascist ruling. Not when I get on my laptop to start the day’s work only to be stalled by performance anxiety. Not even when the day is done and I am waiting for sleep (cue the parade of “what ifs”). And definitely not when I sleep (hello, nightmares).


Who are “Them”?


They are the anxiety gremlins that are always with me, in my face or in the background, prowling. I have the bona fides, the diagnoses: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Not to mention living in a society hostile to what is Queer, Black, woman, fat, poor, neurodivergent, and survivor in me.


''I find abstract mixed media to be the ideal vehicle for all my intersections. With its emphasis on the non-figurative, I am released from the reductive demands of “representation.”

But I get a respite from those anxiety ghouls when I make art. Mixed media collages and assemblages. Paintings. Monoprints. Hand bound journals. Embroidery. Whimsical drawings on envelopes that I send to my friends, mostly queer. And soon my studio wall will be jungled, lush with a monstera mural that I have made with my own hands. If I was in charge, the entire unjust world would be painted-over, just like this: a fantasia of color, pleasure, and peace.


''Black neuroqueer womanhood is not a curse but a whole universe - and the indeterminacy and expansiveness of abstract art point to how I am various, irreducible, and free. In a society dead-set on putting me in its demographic cages, art gives me a way to slip through the bars, if only for a moment.''

An abstract canvas painting with layered colour and texture. It is mainly purple. with patches of white, green, yellow and blue

Making art tends to be the only time the anxiety ghastlies fall silent, as if fascinated as I cut, stitch, glue, and paint. They are quieted as we enter the cathedral of process and presence together. This is my favorite church, big enough for my Black queer neurotic multitudes.


I find abstract mixed media to be the ideal vehicle for all my intersections. With its emphasis on the non-figurative, I am released from the reductive demands of “representation.” Indeed, I can represent myself and my vision in bold strokes of color and gesture rather than readily recognizable objects and scenes. Black neuroqueer womanhood is not a curse but a whole universe–and the indeterminacy and expansiveness of abstract art point to how I am various, irreducible, and free. In a society dead-set on putting me in its demographic cages, art gives me a way to slip through the bars, if only for a moment. Per the songbird in Black poet Rita Dove’s poem, “Canary,” If you can’t be free, be a mystery. Art is a place I can explore the unknowns in myself, even if the wider culture has determined it has me and my intersections all mapped and figured out.


''I am recovering my queer girlhood by playfully crafting the life I want–which, incidentally enough, happens to include sketching out a series of wobbly line drawings of vulvas.''

Mainstream science even supports my art-making madness. Ilan H. Meyer’s minority stress model asserts that stigmatized minority groups face adverse health outcomes due to oppression. Sexual and gender minority people, according to research findings recently published in The Annals of Behavorial Medicine, must deal with “structural stigma, including both community policies and community attitudes, [which] has been shown to be related to cortisol function, a biochemical measurement of stress.” And what has been shown to help lower cortisol, the body’s chief stress hormone? Artmaking. Various studies indicate that making art is salutary, no matter your experience or skill level.


''There is something incredibly grounding about working in my preferred mode of mixed media. Instead of getting lost in my sometimes catastrophic thoughts, I lose myself in materials.''

Studies are great but my own experiential knowledge has already convinced me of the sa(l)ving power of making things. As a recovering perfectionist–and as someone who has to be at least twice as good, according to oppressive structures–visual art is where I get to revel in my messes, my “mistakes.” I get to fail, exuberantly. Don’t like that painting? I can gesso it with a new layer and start again. Don’t like that drawing? I can remix it, cut it up and rebirth it as collage. When I was a little girl, I drew voluptuous women in pencil and with abandon. One day a little boy at church pointed to the curvy girls traipsing across my notebook, and pointing to their breasts, asked, “Where did you learn to draw those?” I knew, without him saying another word, that there was something untoward about a girl drawing other girls that way. So I stopped. But now, decades later, I am recovering my queer girlhood by playfully crafting the life I want–which, incidentally enough, happens to include sketching out a series of wobbly line drawings of vulvas.


''When the world feels like it’s ending, I can try beginning with a blank piece of paper or canvas.''

There is something incredibly grounding about working in my preferred mode of mixed media. Instead of getting lost in my sometimes catastrophic thoughts, I lose myself in materials. A rusty scrap found in a parking lot. Sun-blanched bird bones on the beach. A crab claw, a feather–so many found objects, so many chance gifts of place. I’ll pick wildflowers and use a hammer to pound their pigment into fabric: an art therapy textile and tactile. When the world feels like it’s ending, I can try beginning with a blank piece of paper or canvas. I spill acrylic ink on cotton rag and I stain muslin with tea, coffee, beet juice; I make my mark and I let materials remind me that life is more than dire and disaster. What anchors me as much as closing my eyes and breathing deeply? The stream of emerald ink from my fountain pen, the weight of watercolor paper.


''I smiled conspiratorially as I pressed my carving in the printing ink and then on to a hanky square, remembering all of the people and systems that have told me that my desires were against nature.''

So many of us have been called “unnatural,” avatars of deviance. I know I have been. Over and over again–like that hammer pounding flowers–it has been impressed upon me that I don’t belong here. Queer in too many ways, too many directions. Yet this year I was invited to participate in the Queer Ecology Hanky Project, a traveling exhibition of wearable art dedicated to exploding cisheteronormative notions of the natural world. In my case, I carved a block print depicting desert grassland whiptail lizards, the all-female reptile species of the North American desert. Dubbed “lesbian lizards,” they reproduce via parthenogenesis–without males–and are known for their female-female courtship and mating rituals. I smiled conspiratorially as I pressed my carving in the printing ink and then on to a hanky square, remembering all of the people and systems that have told me that my desires were against nature. These lizards–and my own artmaking practice–say otherwise. What could be more natural than the countless ways we create?


The injustices are legion. This is no defense of a single, individual response to the forces arrayed against us. Personal artmaking may not be able to account for all of the losses, all of the structural subtractions, but I’m grateful for what this restorative practice gives to me so that I may survive this world.


A close-up photo of Almah from the shoulders up. She is wearing a black top with a white pattern printed on it. Multiple colourful beaded necklaces hang around her neck, and dark beaded earrings hang from her ears. She is wearing glasses and smiling into the camera. She has a shaved head. In the background, plants hang from bookshelves, and there is a painting of a love heart with a yellow and red background on the wall.

About Almah (she/her):

Almah is a mixed media artist and writer at work on her first book.


Connect with Almah:

Website: www.AlmahLaVonRice.com

Instagram: @agentsubrosa