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Ayana Mack brings representation to communities of color through her art and healing workshops

Nicole Townsend and Maddie Khaw
Ayana Mack brings representation to communities of color through her art and healing workshops
Ayana Mack in her studio. PHOTO: NICOLE TOWNSEND

When 34-year-old visual artist Ayana Mack started selling her artwork in 2014, she was excited to share her work and ambitious to create community connections.

A few years after selling her pieces, however, she noticed something was off.

“I started to see the disparity and the difference between [access to] art in neighborhoods of color, Black neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, versus downtown Boston or the Seaport,” Mack said. “My antennas went up, and I was like, ‘OK, why does it look different here than there? How can we change it?’ I really started thinking about how to use art as a tool to create change in communities.”

Now, she provides access to art in communities of color, using her passion for giving representation to create artwork depicting Black people and to hold community-oriented events.

Mack curates an online shop with prints, glassware, greeting cards and other products. She also holds interactive events, such as painting classes and art and healing workshops, which are free and open to the public.

Her workshops — centered on “vulnerability, healing and transformation” — are geared toward different mediums and held in various locations such as the Boston Public Library’s Mattapan and Roxbury branches. The events strive to enrich communities and uplift participants, specifically Black and brown residents in Boston’s communities of color.

Work in progress at Ayana Mack’s studio. PHOTO: MADDIE KHAW

One of these workshops was “Village of Serenity — Art & Healing Workshop,” which she held earlier this year to provide “an opportunity for self-discovery and emotional healing through the power of creativity,” according to her website.

Dr. Leonie Bradbury, a leading Boston-based curator of contemporary art, emphasized the importance of visual art in urban areas.

“Representation is important,” she said. “It can not just give you that sense of pride in terms of the [community] … but also, to see yourself represented is important and can feel supportive and affirmative of your place in the world. And I think art can really do that.”

Mack is a native Bostonian, having lived in the bordering neighborhoods of Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester. She has created art throughout her life, starting as a young child when her family supported her creative endeavors. She expresses her gratitude for her grandmother, who taught her how to draw still life when she was 14.

Mack said she essentially has two businesses — visual art and digital design — “but they have the same streamline of art and creativity.”

She has collaborated with other local artists, such as Silvia López Chavez, whose murals around the Greater Boston area are informed by her Afro-Caribbean upbringing.

Mack participated in Artists for Humanity‘s inaugural AFH Artists Fellowship in the past year. The fellowship was led by AFH co-founder and managing director of alumni programs, Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs, a prominent Boston-based visual artist and organizer. Mack and the other fellows in the six-month cohort, all AFH alumni, collaborated to create artwork while serving as mentors and ambassadors to younger artists.

Mack also works as a graphic designer and media strategist, designing print and digital media for clients such as Boston While Black, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and the Boston Art & Music Soul Festival.

Her visual art focuses on painting portraits of Black people, specifically Black women, rooted “through healing, vulnerability and generational, community-related topics.” Her primary mediums include colored pencils and acrylic paint. She describes her artistic style as bright, vibrant and colorful.

“Anyone can view the work,” she said, “but the people who are going to resonate with it are Black people or people of color who have been through some of these things and can identify with what they’re seeing in front of them.”