In 2015 I initiated [i am] Project KALI – Celebration of Womanhood that focuses on providing a safe healing space for women, referred to as the “KALI Women”, who have a history of abuse, trauma, and domestic violence, in Baltimore city.
As a community artist, I operate with the philosophy that “creativity” is a pledge to embrace and value one’s own existence through “self-reflection”—a process for changing awareness, sense of self-worth and future behaviors. The marriage between creativity and self-reflection brings forth a unique language that speaks beyond words. It signifies change that helps individuals to visually express feelings and emotions, which are difficult to articulate through conventional means. It is a tool for personal metamorphosis that is the determining rationale for this project. The project title is inspired by a Hindu mythological figure, Goddess Kali (Bob, 1996)—the healer of agony and manifestation of hope— inviting women to bring their baggage of pain, despair, and melancholy, tailor their experiences and emotions into various artistic souvenirs, and collectively discover the emergence of Kali within.  Therefore, I work towards providing not only an artistic voice to the participants but also a chance to be heard and healed through the process of sharing and nurturing. Witnessing the emotional and physical distresses of the women residing in East Baltimore, there was a clear evidence for creating a safe space for them as a means to express traumatic struggles. Working with the community partners provided the opportunity to establish that place for them in the neighborhood, to share individual and collective stories while discussing their own joys, successes, issues, and challenges.
The artworks produced by the KALI Women have proven that aesthetic investigations benefit the emotional needs of participants as well as provide a means for empowerment. Recyclable materials, fabric, and other art supplies have been used to facilitate cathartic creative processes and artistic outcomes. Participants are introduced to varied techniques—including puppet making, hand-embroidery, machine quilting, piecing, and appliqué to highlight their personal stories.
Kali is a goddess of mystic feminism (Mookerjee, 1988).  She is the representation of a set of cultural ideals, a mythological figure committed to destroying all the evil in this world, hence portraying the true beauty that shines within all of us. She embodies sisterhood, love, caring, happiness, unity, transparency, and beauty. She is a powerful form of womanhood embellished with a garland of trophies achieved as she surpasses every obstacle and hardship she encounters. Her fearless army of weapons signifies power over defeat, authority over fear, and liberation over suffering. She represents evolution—a rebirth of self—devouring the menace of suppression, hence transforming those who “believe” into powerful entities. The image of Kali is generally represented as black, just as all colors disappear in black, signifying that the supreme goddess is the source of all energies (Coburn, 1994).  KALI Women represent multiple identities based such as mother, daughter, sister, or wife.
According to the Hindu scriptures Kali was a submissive wife to Lord Shiva. The mythical story sheds light on her “becoming.” One day when the Hindu Gods—along with Lord Shiva—waged war against the demons and were being defeated by the evil Mahishasura, Kali could not bear witness to the falling of her kingdom. Enduring the pain emanating from her anger, she transformed into a fierce warrior leading to the battle of Ambika to defeat ginormous demons of Canda (the ferocious one) and Munda (the skull) sent by Mahishasura.  Her story highlights her victorious transformation as she takes matters into her own hands to courageously conquer evil. Furthermore, in the scripture it mentions that she grants liberation by removing the dark clouds of defeat, despair, and degradation.
To create an ongoing safe, creative healing space for women suffering various forms of trauma.
• Introducing a safe creative space for participants to express their concerns.
• Providing a space for healing through artmaking for women.
• Establishing a meditative platform for all participants.
• Validating identities and stories of women from the Baltimore community.
• Skill building through the use of art-based activities.
• Celebrating artworks made by participants and inviting more individuals to be part of the creative journey.
• Understanding and providing creative outlets that support the project's vision and mission.
• Incorporating the interests of the participants into the curriculum.
LISTEN, LEARN, HEAL, ACT, and CHANGE!
• Artmaking as a tool for self-reflection.
• Relationship-building with the participants.
• Co-designing a space for participant voices to be heard including opportunities for healing.
• Building cohesion amongst the group including plans for future shared artmaking activities.
• Invoking empathy, unconditional positive regard, and authenticity amongst group members.
Since inception, Project KALI has been funded by The Pollination Project, France-Merrick Opportunity Fund by the Office of Community Engagement, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Graduate Research Development Grant and the Launch Artists in Baltimore Award by the Office of Graduate Studies, MICA.
The Pollination Project (TPP) is based in California, U.S. and it is identified as a vegan organization and a social-justice funder for emergent philanthropic works and projects. Project KALI received seed-funding from TPP to buy supplies and materials in realizing the projects mentioned above.
MICA’s Office of Community Engagement and Student Affairs provide France-Merrick Opportunity Fund to artists pursuing community projects in Baltimore. Project KALI received three awards to buy equipment and raw materials for the development, implementation, and evaluation of the project.
Graduate Research Development Grant is provided by MICA’s Office of Graduate Studies for furthering research and creative projects by graduate students. Project KALI received two cycles of funds, which were utilized for me to attend Creative Community Fellow’s training and launchpad events.
National Arts Strategies (NAS) is a creative incubator for artists and community advocates from all over the United States who strive to become leaders by merging culture with arts. Creative Community Fellows program is built to provide such leaders with tools, training and access to others working in the same field. The fellowship training was vital for the development of Project KALI as it helped me to gain knowledge in understanding cultural dynamics, learn to sustain on-going project activities while building capacity and sustainability.
For my community-based art practice, I have had the privilege of receiving the Launch Artists in Baltimore (LAB) Award to continue working on Project KALI. Through this award I am expanding my project by collaborating with other partners like the House of Ruth and Keswick Multi-Care Center. House of Ruth is Baltimore’s most comprehensive intimate partner violence program. The services provided include: emergency shelter and transitional housing, legal advocacy and representation, adult and children's counselling, a 24-hour crisis and information hotline, abuse intervention programs, professional training, and community outreach and education. These programs are designed to provide victims of intimate partner violence with the tools necessary to live a life free from abuse. Whereas, Keswick Multi-Care Center is a community health resource for older adults providing individualized, quality care to restore, renew, and revitalize older adults through healthy living initiatives. It offers programs such as chronic disease management, diabetes prevention, falls prevention, brain health, and community art studio programs meant to engage older adults and support their efforts to live their best lives.
By collaborating with the House of Ruth and Keswick Multi-Care Center, Project KALI aims to provide a sense of empowerment to a new group of women. The workshops will include designing marionettes, creating technical drawings, woodcarving and chiseling, assemblage, painting and working on the costumes, creating the handle, stringing, and learning to manipulate the finished puppet. These workshops will help build interaction, dialogue, and inform experiences that have affected the lives of the participants as they represent their histories and hopes for the future. One of the major objectives of the workshops will be to deepen participants’ understanding of and comfort with their own creative investigations. The workshops will take place in three locations: MICA PLACE, House of Ruth, and Keswick Multi-Care Center’s Creative Art Studio.
The main goal of the project is to define how creativity, as a healing instrument, helps overcome the hurt generated from abusive situations. Through the LAB Award my intention is to expand Project KALI by implementing the arts and trauma curriculum that I have created. It’s about advocacy and spreading the word about and sewing the seeds of KALI.
• Men and Families Center, Inc.
• Keswick Multi-Care Center
• St. Mary's Outreach Center
• Maryland Art Place
• MICA PLACE (Maryland Institute College of Art)
 Kindler, Bob. (1996). Twenty-Four Aspects of Mother Kali. SRV Associations.
 Mookerjee, Ajit. (1988). Kali: the Feminine Force. Thames and Hudson. London.
 Coburn, Thomas. (1984). Devī Māhātmya – the Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition. Motilal Banarsidass. New Delhi, India.
 Hindu Myths. (2015). Retrieved on: April 11, 2016. <https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/6998/what-is-the-story-of-kali-maa>