The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, highlights and focuses on women artists using their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion. This Artist Feature is Martina Hahn.
I had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with a phenomenal speed painter named Martina Hahn. I use the word “phenomenal” with great purpose, because she reminds me of Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman.I was invited to share poems written by Maya Angelou at the 14th Annual Black History Month Brunch this February at Genesee District Library. While I recited the poems, Martina was next to me painting Angelou’s portrait. By the time I finished my 7-minute recitation Martina was done. I had heard of speed painting but I had never experienced it – definitely not in this manner. Although I was focused on myself on stage, I felt Martina’s presence next to me. I heard the movement of her hands over the canvas, splashing colors in purposeful directions to shape Angelou’s image. At some point, I wanted to STOP and focus on her the way the crowd was focusing on her. I had this odd feeling that the audience was bouncing back and forth between two artists, more so with an emphasis on her work because they were trying to figure out what she was creating. By the time I had started the last poem Still I Rise the audience and I began calling-and-responding the infamous refrain “I Rise,” at which it was becoming abundantly clear who Martina was painting. What a feeling! But this feeling is exhilarating for more reasons than you can imagine. Martina called it the “law of attraction” that brought us together.
Let me share a few things about this German born artist who first pursued a college degree in psychology. She shared the concerns her parents had about her pursuing visual arts as a college major. I suspect others can relate to this experience. I think some of us can guess what that infamous question is when expressing interest in being a professional artist: “How will you make a living?” Well, in Martina’s case she admitted to the struggles she had gone through to reach her dream. She said it wasn’t until the late 1990s (about 17 years ago) when she was given an opportunity to paint a mural, which took her nine months to complete.
At some point in our conversation Martina revealed she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008. I told her she didn’t have to share details if she didn’t wish to, and she explained a concept her family came up with: The Voldemort Syndrome. Do you remember Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter? He’s the evil guy whose name you are not supposed to say. If you’ve never seen the films or read any of the books, this may appear foreign, but think about it like this: Never speak of anything bad or else it might manifest in some way. However, Martina explained how important it is to name the things we consider terrible. She said, “If we don’t say them they will stay with us [like a dirty secret]. I talk about the bad things because when you name them they lose their fear-factor and power.”
And so she talked about the cancer. She also talked about the domestically abusive relationship she was in and how unhealthy her mind and spirit were during this time. She started seeing a therapist who was helping her. Then two years later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was fortunate to learn about this in its early stages. As a result, she was able to undergo treatment that removed the cancer. A year after the diagnosis she found speed painting. Although she had seen speed painting before, she did not pursue this form of art until her son wanted her to paint the character Jack Sparrow from the film Pirates of the Caribbean. She was unable to paint the character because, she explained, she was over-thinking the process. Martina became so frustrated one day that she ended up slapping the paint onto an 8×4 piece of plywood. She found herself furiously creating Jack Sparrow in roughly nine minutes. When a friend saw this wonderment, she was asked to do it again for a fundraising event. And this time the adrenaline rush took over and she created the image in six minutes. She learned to stop over-thinking the process and allow it to flow. She has a magnet on her refrigerator that says, “Don’t take things too seriously.” Over the years this phrase has become a mantra in her life.
She says that she found her peace and joy through art. “People need to find that one thing in life that gives them joy…that calms them.”
May 2015 it will be seven years from the time she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In those seven years she has focused on healing her mind and spirit. “I believe in the trilogy of the mind, body and spirit. Over the years I have come to believe that in this western world, we focus on the body – whether it be short or tall, big or small, black or white. But there’s so much more to us. There is a soul, a mind and a spirit. We don’t give the full attention to our true bodies. I feel that these diseases like cancer are caused by our unhealthy minds and spirits.” She reinforced what I mentioned above: two years after the escape of her own abusive relationship is when she was diagnosed. Although she was unhealthy she explained how fortunate she was. Her body warned her, so to speak. She had a 6.5-inch malignant cyst removed. “The way I choose to look at it,” she said, “is that the cyst encapsulated the cancer. The cancer was actually contained so that it wasn’t spreading in the rest of my body.”
In the aftermath of her explaining her journey to me, I thought of the number seven. When I completed the seven-minute performance with Angelou’s Still I Rise it dawned on me, this poem is a part of Martina’s living truth. Upon completion I looked out into the crowd of faces, and they were in awe of the painting. I was stunned and humbled because I honestly thought her painting spoke for itself and that it was unnecessary for me to be on stage. After all, my job was done. But Martina called me over when she completed the painting with her signature. She assertively grabbed my hand and we both took a bow. Afterwards she later explained that it was important that “we” performed this together. She explained that accolades are fine, but more significant is what we displayed on stage – a communal process. Our job was to come together as one and share our gifts so that others might go home and be inspired. Also, for those not familiar with Angelou’s work, they will hopefully research her legacy and the path she has created so that we could be on stage at that very moment honoring not only the phenomenal woman she is (even in spirit), but also the phenomenal women we are, simply because we rise to the occasion every time we take a breath.
About the Contributing Writer:
Traci Currie is the Art + Creativity Contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential. “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.