The Art of Healing with Lesli-Ann Belnavis
"When you discover what your passion is, always remember to carry these life-lesson gems in your pocket - perseverance (drive), endurance, patience, faith (with a tups of prayer), and support with a splash of laughter. These aren't taught in school. When the journey feels difficult, remember to pick a gem from your pocket to guide you." This is the advice of Art Therapist and Photographer Lesli-Ann Belnavis.
Surrounded by varying forms of creativity from a young age, it was only natural for Belnavis to follow her fate all the way to fine arts. "I used to dance, sing, and perform in a church youth group coordinated by my mother, and later performed with different dance troupes and in the Jamaica Junior Theatre Company where we did Broadway shows like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast." While attending St Hugh's High School, her interest grew and she developed a passion for the visual arts. Before completing 11th grade, she told her parents that she did not want to continue to upper sixth form, but wanted to pursue studies in art in the United States. "My family was extremely supportive, which led to my completing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Studio Art from Florida State University," she revealed.
Armed with her qualifications, she questioned her next step. Struggling with the fear of returning home only to fall into the stereotype of becoming a starving artist, she sought an alternative route. After a conversation with some friends, she took an unlikely turn, which led to the most interesting destination yet - art therapy.
Florida State University offered Art Therapy as a Master's Degree, she did her research, took an introductory course in Art Therapy where her eyes were opened to the art form, revealing how ignorant she was.
"Art therapy is a mental-health discipline that combines both the use of visual art (i.e., drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography) and psychology, to help persons express and cope with various emotional/behavioural concerns - physical, developmental and psychological factors including stress and grief." And with this realisation, the rest became history.
Now working with Mustard Seed Communities - Jerusalem! Children's Home, many of the residents she sees have physical and neuro-developmental disabilities. Some of these include cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual disabilities, but for Belnavis, seeing how engaged they are in the sessions is a rewarding experience.
Belnavis has delved into showcasing her own art in a photographic exhibition called 'Double Exposure' with artist Michael Elliott in 2017 - a project that was two years in the making.
Belnavis who is willing to experience new adventures, had taken up tennis. She is very close to her family - her parents and two sisters, and counts them as her main support system. She enjoys Miss Aubrey's pepper steak and Jamaica's national dish with a touch of pork in the mix.
What's next for Belnavis? Getting back to painting, and of course, establishing an Expressive Arts Therapy Centre in Jamaica.