#ArtTransforms July 14, 2020

Art gives me options

By Jonsaba Jabbi

Alia Ettienne is a performer, writer and facilitator who was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. An advocate for mental health, specifically for Black people, her work often deals with themes of mental health and racism in society. She just wrapped up the summer session of her workshop series, Chill N Do Art, a weekly arts wellness space for Black and Indigenous women and is currently raising funds to provide Creative Coping Kits for Black and Indigenous single mothers and their families. You can donate to the fundraiser here.

In addition to Chill N Do Art, Alia is currently working on her second show, Xiety Complex. View more of her work at www.aliaettienne.com and follow her on Instagram @its_aliaj.

I am a theatre performer and an all-around creative, that’s how I like to put it. I also do really cool costume stuff, the things I can do with a glue gun, you know?!

When I came to Indie Studio,  I was going through a very…interesting mental health time. Last year, I was dealing with a bit of social anxiety and so I wanted something or somewhere to go where I would be consistently be around creatives and that would consistently get me out of the house.

Alia performing at our 2019 Rad Grad celebration

My creative process starts at an odd time of day, before sunrise and after everyone has gone to bed. I’m usually just listening to music, loud in my headphones and a story comes up, an image comes up, a costume idea comes up, then I will start writing with it…sometimes I work with it for a month, sometimes I work with it for two days but I just run with it. But once I start running with it, it starts morphing into more details.

I always like to start with music always cause I’m a mover  and I write on my feet so whenever I’ve written a piece, I’ve written that piece after pacing for 15 minutes, thinking about it and how it flows.

Because I like multiple forms of creation, sometimes it’s just whatever form fits that day. So I maybe inspired in a certain way but I’m not always going to write it or dance or draw it.

A piece of art that I’m proud of would be writing my first full-length show, Yellowzoned, which made was part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. It was such an accomplishment, I felt like I was re-introducing myself to the world or something.  The piece came out of a really dark time  and to finally be able to perform my own work and have my own stage and have control in that way was a proud moment for me.

Alia performing a movement piece at Rad Grad in 2018

Right now, I’m inspired by texture and motion. Texture in terms of costume element because I also create costumes for the pieces that I do. I want to create the full extent of that emotion and have that model sit in it and imagine how do I get there?

If something’s rough, how does it make you feel, if something’s soft how does it make you feel. If the texture of a sheet is very ruffled versus smooth, how does it make you feel? What thoughts does that bring up for you? How can I provoke emotion? I’m thinking of all of those little things.

Motion works as an inspiration because motion shows emotion and so when I’m dancing, sometimes I’ve written the piece and then I have a beat and then I’m going into to motion. If I’m showing, for example anxiety, am I going to be quicker?  Am I going to move slower?  Am I going to move sharper? It’s all motion for me.

Art has given me more options that wouldn’t have existed if I didn’t do art.

Flyer for Alia’s Chill N Do Art workshop series for Black and Indigenous women

It’s all art. Everything is optional.