Healing doesn’t come with a how-to manual. It’s a process with no time limits and as life continues on its axis, coping becomes our navigational system and day-by-day we get through. Historically, gifting and receiving flowers have been a gesture of care and comfort for joyous occasions and sad ones.
The vibrational energy and solace flowers provide in times of great loss is the genesis of a new art installation on view at Norwest Gallery of Art in the Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood. After battling COVID-19 herself, subsequently losing her mother to the coronavirus and six months prior losing her father, Asia Hamilton, owner and chief curator of Norwest Gallery of Art, turned to nature for refuge.
“Just experiencing that amount of grief in such a short period of time with two of the most important people in my life, I needed a place to heal. I couldn’t really be around people and turned to nature and spending time with God to really uplift me and give me the hope and peace I needed during that time. Flowers were my therapy,” she says. “I went to a garden in Traverse City and they had rows and rows of lavender and fresh flowers. It was such a euphoric experience. My whole mood and energy has changed and I wanted to do something like that in the gallery. I wanted people to experience that right here in Detroit.”
Co-curated by Hamilton and Simone Bryant, FLOWER THERAPY is a limited exhibition that features immersive floral art installations designed by Jessica DeMuro; Joy Simon of Joy x Design; Joy Bradley of Blum Floral; Nadine Ahmed and Caroline Eells of PassiFlora Studio.
But, the art exhibition is just the beginning. Working alongside Kayana Sessoms, a community engagement specialist who also endured the loss of her father from COVID-19, FLOWER THERAPY serves as a fundraising pathway for the Gardening Through Grief Project, founded by Hamilton. Proceeds from the exhibition will benefit securing space and moving the project from its early stages to full fruition. The floral art installation and the grief project have also been a part of Sessoms’ healing process.
“I too experienced the loss of my father — my best friend, my superhero, actually on Earth Day. That is something that now represents a tree planting in his honor every year that will continue on as I continue on with this mission of being able to integrate into green spaces and creating healing environments for people,” she shares. “I lost my aunt due to COVID-19 and I also became pregnant with my first child last year, and ended up losing her before the end of the year. Her name is Zara, which means blossoming flower. And so these significant losses who were so near and dear to my heart really had me turning inward and looking at how I heal and what that means to me. And what that means to the environment around me as well.”
The Gardening Through Grief Project aims to provide a communal space that supports the healing process and extends sentiment to the concept that though bodies transition from their fleshly existence, their presence lives on in spirit.
This Too Shall Pass, an installation created by Caroline Eells of PassiFlora Design Studio, references a Persian proverb that speaks to the ephemerality of the human condition.
“There’s this cloud of baby breaths — all various colors, and it reminds me of how a storm would look and the different colors in the sky and how those clouds pass over; there’s always sunlight at the end of it,” Hamilton describes. “In that, it kind of looks like a monument going up into the sky and people are able to share their life lessons on the monument. These giant clouds of baby breaths are absolutely adorable and it gives hope.”
Sessoms adds, “I don’t see how you can leave that [gallery] space without feeling transformed or changed in some way. My hope is for people to walk out with a sense of healing and being able to see floral elements as a healing tool, and that they can bring those into their home and personal space to shift energies for them and their families.”
FLOWER THERAPY is on view at Norwest Gallery of Art through Aug. 1 and features an artist talk in the space at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 24. Visit norwestgallery.com for details.
For more stories on grappling with grief and coping, check out WDET x Science Gallery Detroit’s Science of Grief podcast.
Listen: Asia Hamilton and Kayana Sessoms discuss the genesis and future of the art installation.