April 19, 2016

Spotlight: Kyara Andrade

Kyara Andrade's zine Prêta offers a humorous yet honest look at mental health.

Kyara Andrade is a DJ, visual artist, and zinester. While finishing up her junior year at Barnard College studying Africana Studies, she created a zine called Prêta. The first issue is about mental health and psychiatric care based on her own experiences. It’s decisively informal, funny, and brutally honest. Small drawings interspersed with loopy handwriting and cut-and-paste collage, the zine is painstakingly personal. I was able to talk to Kyara about her art, the stigmatization of mental health, and the importance of representation.

THE LE SIGH: Can you tell me a bit about yourself? 

KYARA ANDRADE: I’m from Boston. I grew up in Dorchester and Roxbury. My family is originally from Cape Verde, although my mom was born in Angola. They migrated to the United States in 1980. I consider myself Black, specifically Cape Verdean. I’m the oldest of my siblings, so I’m very protective of them. I was raised by my mom with the help of family and I’m very close with her. My family has really impacted the way I understand the world. I’m 23 and I’m going to graduate Barnard next year. I’m a DJ. I’ve been DJing for three years. I went to Scratch Academy in Cooper Square, I started my freshman year of college. I came into college knowing that I wanted to DJ. Throughout high school I wanted to, but there weren’t any classes in Boston at the time. When I came to New York, I saved up during my first year so that I could start the DJ certification program at Scratch. The classes were really expensive. My family is low income and I have been taught not to spend money recklessly. At first I felt guilty for paying so much for the certification program, but this was a truly special investment for my personal and professional growth. It taught me that I have the agency and responsibility to invest in my own interests, to believe in myself, the things I want to do, and, most importantly, the things that I love regardless of what others think.

TLS:  Why did you choose a zine as the format for Prêta?

KA: I like that zines are accessible. I like the way that you can incorporate so many different skills like writing, visual art, and craft. Zines feel like a good space to bring together all the things I love and not feel the pressure to make something completely polished. I oftentimes feel pressure to make things extremely perfect and zines are a format where I don’t feel the pressure to use academic jargon or avoid spelling and grammar mistakes at all cost. I can share my unrefined voice and thoughts in zines. I value zines because they made me feel like I was normal. In zines, black working women were represented. They were multidimensional and most importantly, emotional. There were more people of color who talked about mental health in a straightforward, personal way. It normalized my feelings, and that was powerful. One zine that motivated me to create my own was Shotgun Seamstress by Osa Atoe. I fucking love that zine! My mom got me the anthology. The content was amazing, it was ideas that I had thought about myself, but never saw in any other publication. She talks about being black in very white spaces, black music traditions that have been appropriated, and issues with capitalism. She is a Nigerian-American woman. That was the first time I saw someone talk about how fucked up capitalism is and relate it to me, as a Black woman living below the poverty line.

TLS: Why did you create Prêta

KA: I created Prêta to have a space to work on using my voice via writing, to write about my identities and interests and lament on things I don’t always feel safe in talking about. It is somewhat of a cathartic experience in that I try to reconcile the issues and troubling feelings that I carry with me. Issue 1 of Prêta tries to shed light on the stigmatization of mental health and care, especially with regards to Black women. I felt very safe sharing my zine at the NYC Feminist Zine Fest because I didn’t know everyone that read and/or purchased my zine. Them not knowing me offered somewhat of a protection, but when I saw my classmates I felt a little bit off guard. I was afraid that they would judge me. I’m talking about something that is super taboo. I’ve even been reluctant to post on social media about my zine because of its content. I’m not that comfortable with sharing it with everyone. I was afraid of how people would see me, especially people that know me in other spaces and capacities. People can be very close-minded and unwilling to challenge what they’ve been socialized to associate with the variety of mental health statuses. When they think about psychiatric hospitals they think about stories like Girl, Interrupted. That isn’t realistic. It’s not uncommon to have a breakdown or anxiety attack or to be sad, and stigma around these experiences makes it difficult for people to seek out support. Then, no one has space to engage with their mental health. The fact that it’s considered normal to not engage with your mental health even when you are “stable” is oppressive.

This zine helped me process the way I have internalized said stigma. It is giving me the power to own my experience. I don’t see a lot of mainstream media about Black people, more specifically Black women, concerning mental health. Specific to Black women, and poor Black women, is the concept of my work. We overwork our bodies and our minds. This can lead to different mental health issues, diagnosed or not. As a result of the legacy of slavery, Black bodies are looked at as tools for labor. This country was built by enslaved Africans and is maintained through the work of poor Black people, immigrants, and other marginalized folks. Black women are dehumanized, and seen only in the ways in which we can help others. If you don’t have a lot of money, you’re working several jobs, and you’re not eating right because you don’t have the time or funds…it impacts us in so many ways. My mom worked from midnight to 4 PM the next day. My cousin now, who has a little baby, works three jobs to provide. It isn’t uncommon to work multiple jobs, have children and be the head of the household, but how do folks manage to do all of that? What is being sacrificed? Often, wellness is being sacrificed. I don’t like that Black women’s mental health is stigmatized and silenced. It needs to be talked about and changes need to be made so that we don’t have to kill ourselves to survive. People expect me to educate them. Sometimes I’ll encounter white people and men, and it’s just so easy for them to be invasive about my life. They’ll ask me personal questions about my hair, my family. They are so willing to be invasive, they think they have unlimited access to my history, to my body. History permeates in these reactions. It takes a toll on me, and reminds me that my body is not seen as fully mine. It makes me feel so many things. I actively have to remind myself that I have agency over my mind, body, and spirit.

TLS: What role has music and art played in your healing process? 

KA: Making art has been extremely medicinal for me. When I was in the hospital, I listened to music a lot. They had these little purple iPods that folks could sign out. If I felt anxious, I would listen to music. It had Alicia Keys’ first album, which I love and so many people in my family love. I grew up on that album. Certain songs reminded me of certain people. I thought about my mom and my cousin in particular a lot when listening. It was helpful. I was able to be reflective. It made me want to dance sometime, which brought me joy when I thought I couldn’t feel it. I cried a lot to that album while there. I can’t really listen to it now without thinking back to that time. Music was extremely powerful in my healing process. Even now, while I’m in a stable place, it has helped me. Playing around on my turntables and finding beats that match really well, it’s euphoric. You’re in a different space. Music and art definitely have a medicinal quality and I feel thankful that I can include them in my healing practices.

Find out more about Kyara here.

Emma May is a sophomore at Barnard College studying Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She likes pop punk, comics, and Haribo.