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By Samreen Masqood

Sarah Samuel, a graduate of Ryerson University’s Masters of Journalism program, learned poetry in the summer of 2021. Inspired by her father who died in June and her experiences in high school creative writing classes, Samuel found peace in rhymes and freedom. -poems in verse.

Unable to think up appropriate phrases without adding rhyme, her poems quickly became a tribute to her late father. According to Samuel, his poetry gave him a better understanding of the world, nature, the ever-looming stress of the pandemic, and the loss of his father.

After graduating last year, Samuel found more time to write again and new reasons why she previously loved the art form: the escape from reality it offered, the appreciation of nature, thoughts inspired by Sufism and feelings of closeness to God.

For Samuel, Sufism accepts the existence of God through a personal quest which she says is different from finding it through a regimented religion. The word Sufi comes from a Persian word meaning wisdom.

“The poems I write in tribute to my father are more like conversations or grievances, sometimes things I wish he knew, but the Sufi-inspired ones I like to think of as prayers and to the praise of the Almighty,” she said.

“The poems I read and write give meaning to my life, that is the purpose of all art.”

Samuel isn’t the only one finding peace through art during the pandemic. According to an online survey conducted by market research firm Narrative Research in 2021, 63% of people took up a new hobby when the COVID-19 lockdowns began. This included artistic hobbies, such as painting, photography, and sewing.

“The poems I read and write give meaning to my life, that is the purpose of all art.”

During the first wave of the pandemic and the first lockdown in March 2020, people focused more on baking and gardening. However, according to a CBC article, as time passed and lockdowns were imposed and lifted, people started to get more creative about how they wanted to spend their time.

With restrictions now starting to fully lift, Samuel takes his perfected craft to the “real world”. She hopes her poems will be published to commemorate her father’s upcoming memorial ceremony in June.

“It calms my hurried mind. I feel close to my father when I write,” she said.

Other students like Tracy Tenywa, a second-year project management student at the Chang School of Continuing Education, also found solace in new artistic hobbies as the world remained closed.

During the summer of 2020, Tenywa decides to start modeling. She had always loved being the person behind the camera, but when her confidence started to rise in the face of the pandemic, she decided to give it a try.

“I could escape reality for a moment and be seen. I felt confident and really beautiful in my own skin.

She said the pandemic has made her feel lonely and question her purpose on this planet. After being invited to collaborate with a photographer for the first time in a long time, she says she feels free.

“I could escape reality for a moment and be seen. I felt confident and really beautiful in my own skin,” Tenywa said.

She has worked with several GTA-based photographers, such as @kiy.vision, @bryns.photography and @shotsbymaii. Tenywa is also an ambassador for a black-owned jewelry brand called Mauve.

“I always wondered what that feeling would be like [to model]…It made me appreciate my body, I take care of myself properly, I fuel my body with nutritious food, I include daily physical activity, I laugh often. I am assertive and aligned with my skills and my worth,” she said.

More of Tenywa’s work can be found on her Instagram @ok.tracy.

According to an article by the Canadian Mental Health Association, indulging in a hobby can help manage stress, which is beneficial for mental health.

Teresa Valenton, a freshman journalism student at Ryerson, had walked away from artistic hobbies because of the stress it caused her in college. Velenton was part of the art program offered at his school and felt that it was not the healthiest place to develop artistically. His artistic endeavors were note-based, eliminating the passion of drawing.

However, with the intermittent lockdown restrictions and nothing to do, Valenton sought out different artistic hobbies that allowed him to express his creativity without causing too much stress.

She started drawing again in March last year, initially doing it for fun with the freedom she had, drawing abstract faces or shop fronts. However, she said her return to the creative sphere was not a “linear process”.

“His vision of creativity and self-expression gave me that extra push to try art once again.”

“I just wanted to draw without having issues with anatomical accuracy and I feel like I’m slowly starting to love art again,” Valenton said.

She says she took up drawing after discovering C-pop group Wayv! C-pop is a Chinese music genre in the Greater China region.

One of her favorite members, Ten, was known to be a visual artist, which inspired her to start creating again.

“I really loved his works and despite being a performer, his works were just as expressive. Her vision of creativity and self-expression gave me that extra push to try art once more.

Although she says she’s been creating art for as long as she can remember, Valenton feels like she’s rediscovered it in a new light. All of his previous works were always categorized and rated according to their technical skills or designed for family members who always requested specific pieces.

Now she says she can draw for her own pleasure and spend time thinking about how she wants to approach an artwork, rather than worrying about how it will be perceived.

It’s been a fun experience so far because she doesn’t have to do too much prep or research before creating the piece. Worrying less about color schemes and design elements allowed him to express himself freely.

“I love being able to put music on and create something that I can call my own.”

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