friend of arq feature : deun ivory

This month we chatted with Deun Ivory about her creative projects, grounding rituals, and what she's learned about herself during this rollercoaster year of 2020.

A “wellness creative” to her core, Deun takes us through her journey and creation of her organization, The Body: A Home For Love. A healing space for Black women who’ve experienced sexual abuse, The Body: A Home For Love is aptly named, focusing on women’s reclamation of their bodies, joy, support, and sisterhood.

We are so excited about your latest project! Tell us about The Body : A Home For Love!

I'm always grinning from ear to ear when I get to talk about The Body because it makes me so happy.  It started as a photo project where I kind of chronicled the narrative of 13 Black women around the world who dealt with sexual abuse.  I interviewed them and tried to gain insight into how they were journeying back to their body after being sexually violated, and from that point The Body has kind of emerged, by choice, into now a community based 501c3 nonprofit around how Black women heal from sexual trauma. 

Before I even started The Body, I considered myself a wellness creative, meaning someone who is an artist, who is rooted in an intention to help people tap into their best selves, into their innate wholeness.  That's something that I've always been extremely committed to in my work; helping Black women or making Black women feel seen, celebrated, and heard through my work as a photographer, a director, as a writer and an illustrator.
So, creating The Body: A Home For Love has been amazing because I essentially just kind of merged all of the things that bring me joy - wellness, arts, storytelling, community, sisterhood. Using all of those things with an amazing purpose, to create a space where Black women are able to heal in a way that brings them joy, using different mechanisms and art practices, which I feel is extremely powerful. The Body: A Home For Love is truly centered around creating healing rituals for women to integrate into their daily lives that we hope will help them sustain the ongoing work of self-love, because healing is a process - and it's not linear at all.
We believe that healing through joy is accessible to all Black women. It's not like, “oh I have to heal first,” we believe in accessing that joy as you journey along the process. Something one of my coworkers said is, “healing from trauma doesn’t have to be traumatic -” and I love that because that is truly what we believe in.  We don't want to re-trigger survivors, we want to create a space where you feel validated in your experiences, where you feel supported, listened to, where you feel heard, and where you feel loved and nourished because it's so important as Black women have that safe space to be vulnerable and be held by others. We’re very big on creating experiential activation, with different programs that restore the spirit, the mind and the body.

As a child, how did you view the women in your life? Who were your role models, and how did they encourage you with your creative vision?

My childhood was very traumatic for many reasons. For one, I was being sexually assaulted by my stepfather, I saw my mom being abused, and I also knew of other family members who were being abused. When I say abuse, I’m referring to domestic violence. These were the women I looked up to. There was a great love there, and still is. I think I viewed them as women who had endless grace for the people who wronged them. What I observed was women who were resilient despite what they were going through on a day to day basis, they tried to make it work.  People make their decisions for different reasons, and as a child, I didn’t know what those reasons were. Even as an adult, as empathetic as I can be, I’m not you, so I don't necessarily know why you make the decisions you make. I can just say that from observation, I saw that these women were filled with a lot of grace, and they were committed to working it out if it benefited their children, or our family in some type of way.  

You often times count yourself last as a means to serve other people, and that’s essentially often the narrative of Black women. We are always serving, we're always caring and nourishing others, and we set ourselves aside. So that's what I grew up seeing - they were my role models. Even with all of the abuse that was going on, and me seeing how resilient they were or how they forgave... I still admired them. I still admire Black women because inherently, we are servant leaders, which is beautiful, but also we make magic out of nothing. I don't know where it came from - even when my stepfather was abusing me I was always still a joyful child - I felt this joy that I carried with me from the very beginning.  I'm really, really grateful for that and I'm so grateful to my mom because she was very supportive of my dreams. We didn't have much, but my mom believed in my dreams and she allowed me to explore all the layers of my identity without ever questioning me or telling me that I should be something.  I love that - that's one of my favorite things about my mom. She held me to believe that I could be anything I wanted to be at any given time.  Wherever my spirit wanted to go, she supported that. I'm so grateful to her for that.

So that's how I would say she encouraged my creative vision - she just allowed me to be free and she didn't allow the burden of us not being in a certain socioeconomic class, or her being abused, or the chaos and darkness that was hovering over our lives to get in the way of her allowing me to be who I wanted to be. I would love for every child to be able to experience that. 

You are an accomplished creative force and a master at allowing such rich expression to flow through your art. Tell us a bit about your journey to landing where you are today; how has your artistic vision been shaped by your experiences in your work and personal life?

One of the things that I have been saying from the very beginning of my career is that I wanted to create things that I had never seen before. I wanted to prevent, through my work, other Black women from feeling what I felt when I was at my lowest. We don’t deserve to feel that. We deserve to know the truth about who we are. I am so hellbent on using my work to do that.  

I think it’s so magical to cultivate art to the point that people can identify you or your art before they even see your name. I honestly don't even know how I got to that point, but I am so grateful. Authenticity has been something that's been so powerful in my life. Since day one I've been very authentic in who I am, what I want to say, how I want to say it, and I believe that comes from conviction.  I feel like God gave me a voice that is just so powerful it has the ability to transform lives.  For me to abandon that would essentially be abandoning my purpose. And that's something that I never want to do because at the end of the day, I am a vessel. I am a vessel for God to use me to empower other people, to lift up others, and to help people to reclaim everything that they have felt has been robbed from them from a young age or from a traumatic experience.  I got here today by being in tune with God and with what brings me joy.  

I’m not afraid to show up for myself and say, this is art that I created, and it doesn’t look like anybody else's. Showing up for myself looks like staying true to the art that I’m creating. I've been able to create such a signature voice and visual language that people resonate with because it’s honest. One of my mantras is, “authenticity will take you where imitation can’t.”     

In terms of my work and my personal life, especially through The Body : A Home For Love, my experiences with sexual assault have shaped it. Initially, I did not feel that I was equipped to lead the way I am.  I felt like, who am I to be used as an instrument in these womens’ lives when I’m not a certified practitioner or therapist… but I learned that I am enough. The fact that I don’t let that part of me that has been through trauma define who I am, or allow my trauma to be the sum of my identity, is powerful. That is what women need to hear, that is for women to see. Everything about what I’ve been through has shaped how and why I do what I do.

I believe that Black women deserve to know they're beautiful. That's why you see my art painted in this way showing this duality of being both soft and resilient because that is who we are. We are multifaceted. I believe that healing through joy is accessible, because I do that in my own personal life.  


You are so actively engaged in your community and in your work - what personal practices and rituals help you return to yourself and keep grounded? 

My relationship with God is very important to me, and it is always my why and my starting point. It is what grounds me and keeps me motivated to do this work.  It also reminds me of who I am outside of what I do without tying my identity to my successes or failures. I am a brilliant Black woman. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am all these things. I love work, and I am a workaholic, but I try to allow space to just BE a human being; journaling, visualization, meditation, prayer are all very important to me. Making time for friends who know me, who don’t care about how the world sees me, who will hold me accountable. Being in constant communion with people who don’t care about what I’ve got going on in my professional life is one of the best ways to stay grounded.  

You have stated that your work is rooted in the desire to make Black women feel celebrated, worthy, and at home in their bodies.  If you could impart a piece of the wisdom you now hold to your younger self, or to other women aspiring to access the strength you so clearly embody, what would that be?

I would impart this indestructible, unwavering knowing that regardless of who tries to tell me otherwise or what I've been through, I am beautiful, I am worthy, I have value, and I matter.  

When I was growing up and I was going through this situation of my stepfather abusing me, it took a toll on my self-esteem and my self-worth. So, I questioned myself, and that’s because my belief was wavering - it would go high and then it would go low because I was in a situation that made me question my identity and who I am. Now, just as I know the sky is blue, that is what I know about who I am.  When we are operating from that unwavering knowing, the decisions we make are rooted in a mindset that is healthy, that believes in wholeness, and affirms that we are worthy. The way we navigate life, the people we choose to interact and exchange energy with are all rooted in knowing we are worthy - so we don’t have to seek validation from anyone, we don’t have to get attention in order to feel important because we know that for ourselves. If I would’ve known that when I was younger there are many trauma informed decisions that I would not have made.   

One thing comes back over and over in your work: the idea of home. Home in your body, home on the earth. There is a tangible pull toward the comfort of this feeling that shines through your imagery. 

Tell us where, and how you feel most at home. What are the things you must include in your daily life to feel a sense of home?

I feel most at home when I am dancing. Dancing is so intimate and creates community at the same time. To feel in tune with my body in the presence of other people is like a next level experience of showing up for myself. Some other things I incorporate into my daily life to feel a sense of home... Running is an experience of knowing that my body can do wonders for me, taking a bath - when I’ve got my hot water, epsom salts, candles lit - feels like I’m offering up a sacred space of gratitude for my body. It feels like, “girl, you deserve to be pampered right now, you deserve to rest.” 

2020 has been a wild ride for so many of us. We are experiencing a pandemic and a revolution here in the US... It feels like a year of action, definition, reflection, and community.  How have you come to know yourself differently within this past year?

Where do I start? So many things have shifted! At one point I was always on the go, traveling non stop - traveling ten times a month sometimes. Now that Im at home and I have time to sit still and reflect, Ive come to know so many different things. Im now thinking… WOW -- who am I? And its because Ive shed so much. Im constantly grieving the former me as Im creating space for a new and improved Deun. Ive come to know myself differently in terms of what my desires actually are and not judging myself. I’m offering myself a safe space to dream and to want without deeming anything good or bad, just letting it be. Especially when you come from a more religious background, you tend to think of everything as black and white. And for me, that’s not how life works, everything in my life is a gray area. There’s always a story behind why a decision was made, there's always a perspective to consider.  I have finally accepted that I am not a black and white person and that’s OK because I have been gifted with the ability to understand all perspectives. There are so many things to consider and seeing things from multiple sides is so important, especially as a leader. It’s important to value peoples’ mindsets and opinions. I love my work, because creating is like breathing for me, but I now know that I don’t like when I spend all day at the computer and don’t take time to eat, talk to a friend, or walk my dog.  When you’re on the go, you often don’t make time to sit down and figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Now I’m gaining more control around how I want my day to be and what I want it to look like. I’m stepping into that power to figure out when my cut off time is going to be for work on a particular day and how I can be more social in my personal life.   

* this month is a great time to stock up on scrunchies as all sales are being donated to Deuns organization, The Body: a Home for Love *



Deun on Instagram

The Body: a Home for Love

Deuns Website