Healing Hands: A Conversation with Itshanapa Dail Chambers

My strongest intention is focused on my healing hands. My healing hands can create the Reiki. My healing hands can create art. My healing hands can write.

The saying goes, “a woman’s work is never done,” but artist and healer Itshanapa Dail Chambers wears so many hats it’s almost dizzying. Visual artist. Poet. Craftswoman. Reiki master. Life coach. Doula. Herbalist. Nonprofit founder. Community organizer. Location independent homeschooler. Mother of toddler and teenager. How does she do it all?

“I keep a very strong planner,” she says. Two planners, in fact. Plus a coach, mentor, and assistant.

“It takes a whole community support network for me to be able to live a self-actualized, liberated life. I want to make that clear. It’s not about the assistant or my daughter or my mentor. It’s about the synchronicity of all that. It forces me to be better – more organized, more communicative. It forces me to get out in the public even when I’m feeling insecure or about to embark into a situation I don’t know that much of.”

What does a self-actualized, liberated life look like?

“Folks are used to a 9 to 5 schedule and that’s just not what I have. Once I made that understanding happen for myself, I realized that those folks who were interested in moving towards a liberated lifestyle are more supportive of others’ liberation. There’s lots of people out here that are having visions that are similar to mine, and everybody’s doing their best to work towards what they consider their vision to be and seeing how that synchronizes with each other.

“So knowing who my audience is, who I’m speaking to, who my collaborators are and who my community support network is helps me determine what’s more important because I’m not trying to reach everybody. That’s not a realistic goal for me.”

It doesn’t hurt that Dail comes from an artistic family: oil painters on her father’s side, and quilters on her mother’s. These influences helped her to identify and pursue her creative talents as a child and left a set of footprints that she was able to follow and still draws inspiration from. But she carved out her own path just the same.

After high school, Dail studied fine arts at St. Louis Community College and Memphis College of Art. While giving birth to her first daughter at 19 years old may have derailed another artist, it fueled Dail’s passion to create. “I didn’t have time to play,” she says. She completed her degrees with a little one in tow and has been making a living as a professional artist ever since. Her work has been featured at shows and galleries in St. Louis, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh to name a few.

A balanced perspective about money and creativity helps her manage negotiations about something so personal as one’s art: “Everything I do is more valuable than a dollar amount because my time money and energy is being invested. My worth, my time, my energy is invaluable. And from there, I can work out the price. Sometimes it’s not the price I think it should be. It might not the price I want it to be. That’s because I might have sliding scale rates.”

In addition to traditional fine arts, she also experiments with more functional media such as bleach-painted wearable art and a series of devotional candles featuring public figures near and dear to the African-American community, including Maya Angelou, Prince, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, as well as important persons in Latin America, Africa and mainstream America.

When asked about her inspiration, she lists “my personal story that comes out of my biomythography. My ancestors, of course. The signs and messages from nature.” She is also inspired by three artists: Edmonia Lewis, “the first black and indigenous sculptor that Europeans recorded”; internationally celebrated sculptor and graphic artist Elizabeth Catlett; and one of her mentors, fiber artist and spiritualist Is’Mima Nebt’Kata of St. Louis. “There’s always something new I can see in their work, and I enjoy that.”

Dail’s liberated life and creative practice also hinges on a strong self-care regimen that includes weekly salt baths, acupuncture, massage. She starts each day with Zen concentration, cooking, exercise, and journaling, on top of nurturing her daughters. “Then I start my public day,” she explains. “So that means I’m only getting a few things done per day for the public but that’s what’s necessary.”

Her public work currently includes creating a series of mixed-media landscapes that focuses on the relationship between black women and nature, running Yeyo Arts Collective – a women’s art nonprofit in St. Louis, and co-facilitating Black Skillet – an innovative hybrid of crowdfunding and pitch contests built around soul food.

Yeyo, a Maasai word for “mother” made popular by an Erykah Badu song of the same name, is dedicated to the creative empowerment of women and family. The gallery has been open for eight years, and in addition to offering women artists a space to make, share and sell their art, Yeyo also offers programming for youth and for professional development opportunities for emerging artists. “Our biggest thing right now is an international travel residency for artists who are not emerging but are already practicing but have families.” (Click the link for details – applications are being accepted through March 30.)

Dail hosts Black Skillet with another accomplished artist, poet Treasure Shields Redmond. She explains: “We cook a soul food meal, we charge $10 per person to come eat our soul food meal, and then each person who comes listens to the proposals and they vote. Whoever gets the most votes takes all the money home, minus the costs to prepare the food.” They’ve funded three projects in the St. Louis/East St. Louis region thus far and look forward to expanding their reach even farther.

As you can see, Itshanapa Dail Chambers is committed to modeling and empowering her philosophy that “the most valuable creation is you” for other creative women and mothers. She is equally committed to leaving her daughters a legacy of “sustainable integrity…I want them to be above the curve.”

Buy her book here: http://itshanapa.tumblr.com/book

Buy her crafts here: http://itshanapa.storenvy.com/

Follow her here: https://www.facebook.com/itshanapa/
and here: https://www.instagram.com/itshanapa/

Deidre R. Gantt is the former Associate Editor of Face2Face Africa. Prior to that, she served the Greater New Orleans community as a Program Associate with Foundation for Louisiana, where she managed leadership programs, grant opportunities and communications support to drive civic engagement and policy change. Her communications background includes a lengthy freelance career as a writer and editor, grant writer, and college writing instructor. Between 2007 and 2010, Deidre covered the rebirth of the cultural arts community in her hometown, Washington, DC, for the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative. Her professional writing career began in the 1990s as a contributing editor for Rolling Out urban style weekly. Deidre is also an accomplished poet and performer who has appeared on stages throughout the United States as well as in Tanzania and Ghana. Deidre holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Emerson College and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Southern California.

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