meet maliyamungu muhande
the New York City-based documentary filmmaker, who believes part of normalizing mental health is saying how you genuinely feel when asked.
How do you make your health a priority?
I prioritize scent. Scent for me is a big trigger because I was in a gas explosion in 2018. Sometimes my mind thinks I’m smelling gas, so by lighting a candle, the scent of jasmine, lavender, or rose botanica takes me into a peaceful place. It sets the mood and it’s a reminder that I’m safe.
Prior to taking this picture in the snow, I just had a great talk with my therapist. It was the first real snow of the year in New York and it felt very magical for me. Not having grown up with snow, it always feels like another world when I see it. I felt like such a child and seeing this picture, I am reminded of how happy I was and that happiness is such an inconsistent state.
What gives you courage and, therefore, positively impacts your mental health?
I’m a documentary filmmaker and I’ve been working on a film about Louis Mendes, an 80-year-old photographer in New York City. I’ve been talking to people from his era that were also photographers, so I interviewed Alex Harsley, who is the man in this photo. Mentally, as a Congolese girl pursuing a life in the arts, it’s hard to believe in myself sometimes because there’s so many odds that I have to go against. It helps me to talk with elders who have pursued an artistically driven life as Black people. It gives me a boost of courage. I’m emerging in my career as a filmmaker and so far, it’s been very humbling and challenging, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
I carry with me the constant tension of dwelling in my own identity and recognizing my potential while navigating spaces that suppress the possibility of Black liberation. My fixation on who people believe I am, makes it difficult to hear my own voice. This struggle has taken its toll, but I stay curious and I think that’s the most important thing. I make sure I enter spaces that align with my dreams despite the efforts of some to keep me out, but it does take a toll on my mental health. So I have to keep checking in on myself.
How do you manage your anxiety?
That morning I made kale, eggs, and toast. My bowels take a hit when I’m anxious, so I have prebiotic and probiotics in my hand. I’ve been doing acupuncture, so I have Chinese medicine as well. When I have a panic attack, a tool I’ve been practicing is closing my eyes and picturing myself on her acupuncture bed as if she’s placing the needles on me, taking myself to that neutral stillness.
“Yes, to some this sounds like a nightmare, but to me it’s relaxing”
My refuge was my art class growing up in South Africa, it’s the first place I discovered my artistic voice and its therapeutic power, and lately I’ve been drawing and painting again. In this picture, you see me with a watercolor outline, where I use fine liners to make patterns inside the white spaces to create shadows. That technique takes me to a meditative state. The repetition is so soothing for me.
next story — carrie barber