As we close out a month of elevating black art and culture, we spoke to an art therapist, an artist with lived experience in the foster care system, and a therapist with expertise in foster care and adoption to explore the connection between self-expression, positive outcomes, and healing from trauma.  

The Healing Power of Art 

Juba, also know as Jackie Davis, is a mixed media artist based in Dallas who also serves as a CASA supervisor. His major influences are Neo-expressionist artist Jean Michel Basquiat, his father, and his own CPS records… literally. Juba uses CPS records in his work — he was adopted from foster care twice. 

“It has a lot of healing power,” said Juba. 

In a piece titled “Ethol and the Parasite,” he digitally layered a character drawing on top of a real scan of a hospital emergency room record showing a fatal level of alcohol content while Juba was in utero. He found the document in his CPS file  

“The canvas is a safe place,” Juba said. “Once you deal with it on the canvas, it makes it easier to talk about it.” 

Wanda Montemayor is a licensed art therapist and shares Juba’s sentiment. Wanda, LPC-S, ATCS, ATR-BC, and RPT-S, is the founder and Senior Clinician at Community Arts in Austin, Texas. 

In her practice, Wanda invites children, adults, and families, to model clay, draw, color, paint, etc. to pull out feelings and make peace with the different parts of themselves.  

“We draw before we write. Art is about the process, not the product… Art is messy and invites mistakes.” 

Creating Inclusive and Safe Spaces 

In her practice, Wanda has found that young people, families, and those who come from cultures where therapy is often stigmatized can thrive in art therapy and community art therapy. Wanda specializes in spaces where BIPOC people impacted by trauma can create and share together. 

“Healing has been around before therapy has been around. The connected and positive experience is the healing,” she said. 

In 2022, Community Arts (Wanda’s therapy clinic) started providing free group art therapy to the Uvalde community through the creation of a mosaic tile mural in a public park. Following the shooting deaths of 19 elementary students and two teachers, the mostly Latino community needed healing. 

Juba has also seen the power of self-expression in his own work. At a solo exhibition in Wichita Falls, Juba had put out a body of work about his life’s trauma and he found the visitors moved to address their own trauma after seeing him confront his so boldly. 

“I think that’s the most powerful thing I’ve done as an artist,” he said. 

Access to Culture and Expressing Blackness 

Dr. Annette Williams, the Post Adoption Program Manager at Arms Wide sees a strong connection between expression and self-esteem for BIPOC youth. As a therapist and past CPS employee, she’s seen firsthand the way youth can face the challenge of missing identity when they are transracially fostered and adopted. 

Her grandparents and parents were able to share the oral history of their struggles through the Depression-era, participating in sit-in protests in the early 1960s, and lack of access to education opportunities.  

“Our kids aren’t getting those kinds of stories in transracial homes. It doesn’t mean they aren’t getting good care,” she said. 

“For us, identity and culture is huge because of where we live and the times we live in. Racism will never die. Those children have to be prepared for what they are going to face.” 

Where culture includes art, history, music, movies, and food, she notes that things like hair care and skin care are also vital pieces that are sometimes relayed in subliminal ways.  

“To help our kids feel better about themselves, we have to save their self-esteem,” Dr. Williams said.  

She believes transracial foster and adoptive parents can provide exceptional care but hopes connections to the culture of origin are facilitated both inside and outside of the home. That connection could change the child’s life. 

As a black, bi-racial person and an adoptee, Juba remembers going through a crisis of self-identity when he became an adult. He pursued a relationship with his biological father who encouraged him to continue creating art. 

“It’s important to be able to self-express, to know who you are and where you come from,” said Juba.