Black Owned: Sarina Mantle, founder of art studio Wildsuga

Welcome to Black Owned, a series that celebrates the brilliant Black entrepreneurs doing bits in the UK.

Despite the challenges, the community continues to create important and brilliant work – and we’re here to make sure that you know about it.

This week, we’ve got Sarina Mantle, founder of Wildsuga – a studio specialising in ‘holistic art pieces’ that remind us to reconnect with our mystical selves. Her work is beautiful and unusual in that it centres Black women in sacred wellness spaces.

While wellness is increasingly popular among millennials, we’re still confronted with the idea that plants, yoga and horoscopes are for white people. The representation of Blackness in these self-care spaces has never been more important.

Why did you set up wildsuga?

I created Wildsuga in 2008, originally as a women’s clothing label after completing my degree in Fashion Design. Over the years, it adapted into a more focused illustration and surface design brand. 

Wildsuga became an artistic outlet, allowing me to explore and express different mediums, techniques and creative practices which ranged from screen printing and pattern cutting to graphic design.

I wanted to own my own business to have a sense of freedom and flexibility while creating a career that excited me everyday and would benefit others in an uplifting way. 

What inspires your beautiful illustrations?

So many things!

My work is inspired by my African-Caribbean heritage (I’m of St Lucian and Jamaican decent). I would spend my six week school holidays with my mum every other year in St Lucia absorbing the culture, tropical climate, plants, landscapes and colours. I spent time as an adult travelling around Central and South America, where one of my favourite Mexican artists – Frida Kahlo – comes from. Her work is the embodiment of female empowerment. I spent time visiting her Blue House (La Casa Azul) in Mexico and was blown away by her creative universe, the natural world against rich bold colourful backdrops and her powerful healing journey.

Self-care is a huge part of my illustration and design work. I have an allotment where I grow food and watching plants grow connects me deeper to nature – whether that’s the flower of life, sacred geometry or the dream time language of cosmic patterns in plants and flowers.

I grew up in an era where the representation of Black and brown girls and women was lacking and so I felt inspired to create visuals that allowed others to see themselves. Creating women in holistic and wellness environments doing yoga, meditation, in devotion and connecting to Mother Earth is so inspiring for me.

Why did you decide to create an adult colouring book?

I was going through a transformational time in my life as a new parent. As a mother, I’ve often heard how your child can accelerate your personal growth – which was the case for me. I was flowing with ideas and would sketch at night while my 2-year-old was asleep. It became a re-balancing and self-care journey within itself. I’ve always seen art as a form of meditation and therapy.

I also started asking myself deeper life questions like what my purpose was as a creative person and how was that connected in service to others. How could I share that bond of art with my daughter and how I could celebrate my culture and passions?

I thought about three things that inspired me and that became the title of my colouring book : Women + patterns + plants. 

The feedback around the world has been amazing. I get messages daily from people who have used it for their own wellbeing, during hospital treatments, during their trimester in pregnancy when they couldn’t sleep at night, in schools, in prisons, and for bonding time between parents and child during the lockdown. My publishers liminal11 have done a great job with establishing my work in the New York Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian Museum, and in bookshops like New Beacon in London .

Blackness is something that doesn’t show up in wellness spaces enough – self care, crystals, moon devotion, even plants – it’s all really white. Why is that?

I can see that this is partly true – speaking from experience of attending retreats and wellness spaces. Often, there are very few Black women. However, I think It also depends on your location, network, community, mindset and other factors too.   

Something which stands out to me was a tweet/quote attributed to Solange: ‘Create your own communities, build your own institutions, give your friends awards, award yourself and be the gold you wanna hold my Gs.’

I think her words speak deeply to this question of creating opportunity and owning and reclaiming your own spaces. 

There may be people better qualified than me who can answer why Blackness doesn’t show up enough in wellness spaces but as an illustrator, I would presume a lack of visual representation in the media plays a role.

The lack of inclusivity and diversity in wellness organisations also affects how the general public is targeted. In some communities, historically it may have been deemed uncivilised, crazy or negative to devote time to things like the moon and crystal healing. There has been a big disconnect from feminine energy and harmony with nature.  I can see also how the wellness industry has a kind of privilege to it that many poor people cannot afford and so may feel isolated or intimidated by.

I know for sure that my mum’s generation (born in the 1940s) worked so hard that many would not have had the opportunity to enjoy wellness the way this generation can.  

Saying that, I think that Blackness in wellness spaces is alive and it’s being reclaimed by people in their own spaces. I know Black yoga teachers, tarot readers, nutritionists, sound healers, reiki masters, meditators who have their own wellness communities that are thriving.They are visible to me on a grassroots level and are creating ripples and waves. I believe my work is an addition to showing up in what wellness looks like.

Why is wellness so important within the Black community? 

I think it depends on the mindset and lifestyle of the individual. I personally feel that the Black women I know are interested in wellness now and have always been invested in their wellness. Historically – say only three generations ago – it would have been a privilege to be able to look after ones mind, body and soul and we know the reasons behind this.

I’m speaking as a descendant of peoples stolen from Africa and brought to the Caribbean to work on plantations. Born and raised in London, intuitively I knew from very young that discovering identity and reconnection to nature was important to my healing of ancestral trauma. I needed it in order for me to go beyond a cycle of reactive and limiting mindsets to a more empowered state of being.

My generation has been doing lots more healing work – starting with loving themselves and their reflection. Reprogramming self-talk, old negative self-beliefs and doing the internal work to recognise that there is infinite wisdom out there that’s our birthright. It’s ancient and has no time for illusions of separation; it’s now being reclaimed by many.

What is clear to me is that wellness/self-care is the foundation of functioning well. It is a given that it should be accessible, accessed and a part of daily life. Because of divisions, class systems, greed and various other things that have created disease in society, there’s been an imbalance on our planet. Mother nature is powerful and has the answers.

Many people wish to return to a more harmonious lifestyle which incorporates wellness into their everyday life. It is one of the reasons why I create my illustrated visuals to show the beauty of being in that state. 

How important is representation in art, beauty, wellness?

I believe it’s very important, crucial even; the more visual representation, the more beauty in the world. Beauty means diversity, inclusion, opportunities and empowerment.

Has your identity as a Black woman created any hurdles for you in terms of getting your business off the ground?

As a self-employed artist, a lot of my own hurdles have really been internal – changing my mind-set about value, creating bigger goals and believing in myself 100%. I think the mind is powerful; you’re in control of what you attract and manifest. 

What advice would you give other women looking to start their own businesses?

Live your passion and love what you do.

If your business idea is what you think about everyday, then it’s more than likely something worth pursuing. Do fun things like vision boards, mind mapping, daily motivational affirmations and be patient – practice over and over again, stay focused.

Gratitude journalling has been an amazing tool for me and I also would recommend incorporating a lunar mandala chart into female businesses as it syncs with the 28-day moon cycle. It involves journalling, watching the phases of the moon and changing archetypes which helps with setting intentions and knowing when to rest or have meetings.

Celebrate your progress as a cosmic guide and most of all, go for it.

What do you wish you’d known when you started Wildsuga?

The importance of valuing my time, energy and quality of my work, to not overthink too much and procrastinate instead manifesting my success. Learning that saying ‘no’ is okay and that not every opportunity is for me. Nurturing unwavering faith in myself. 

Follow wildsuga on Instagram to flood your feed with beauty and check out Sarina’s website here.

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