By Aisha Hassan on November 24th, 2021
An Outlet, a sanctuary
Dana Kaarina’s art blooms with abstract shapes, bold hues, and echoes of emotion. “The freedom to create and express myself through art is what keeps me going,” the Malaysian/Finnish artist and illustrator, says. “It has become a safe space for me to explore my feelings and experiences — both good and bad.”
Dana, who is also an art therapist, says this deeper connection developed while she was studying Psychology in Hawaii. There, she spent much of her free time painting, which ultimately became a “journey of self discovery” while coping with moving to a new place. “It was only after Hawaii and reflecting on my experiences there did I realize that I wanted to pursue a path that involves combining my passions in art and mental health,” Dana says.
As a registered and licensed art therapist, Dana facilitates art therapy sessions during which art is used as a tool to express and understand the self. As someone who has always suffered from anxiety, Dana knows firsthand how powerful this process can be. “Painting and drawing are ways for me to ground myself and bring myself back to the present, which is something that can be quite hard to do when you deal with anxiety,” she says. “No matter what I’m going through in life, art has always been an outlet for me.”
The notion of an “outlet” holds significance for Dana, who, together with her sister, started a platform called Outlet KL. The project evolved out of an online magazine in London that the sisters founded, and today’s iteration is a space where people can shop prints and merchandise from independent artists in Malaysia. “Collaboration rather than competition is also something we believe in at Outlet,” Dana says.
How art blossoms
Since Dana is guided by her emotions, her own work unfolds in an unpredictable way. “I’ve always been drawn to abstract expressionism because of the raw energy it exudes,” she says. “My creative process is very intuitive so nothing is ever really planned out in advance.”
The inspiration behind each piece varies, but the story is there in the shapes and shades. “The colors I use are definitely influenced by my mood,” Dana says. Her graphic print “Harmony,” for instance, is inspired by loved ones coming together. On the other hand, “Growth” is inspired by taking the time for ourselves to reach our full potential. In both of these illustrations, the silhouette of flowers strikes the viewer straight on. And flower motifs, Dana has come to realize, are here to stay.
“I do believe my fascination and admiration for flowers and nature is in my blood.”
Dana’s “obsession” with flowers is largely thanks to her grandmother, one of Dana’s biggest inspirations in life, and an artist herself. “My childhood was filled with memories of spending time with her in the garden and tending to her flower beds,” Dana recalls. On a recent trip back to Finland, Dana and her grandmother spent a whole day painting flowers, which led to a moment of great clarity about nature and art.
“That moment solidified everything for me and I am always reminded of her when I’m painting,” Dana says. “I think flowers are just something that bring so much joy to our lives and they never cease to amaze me with all their beautiful details.” The purpose and meaning of specific flowers, Dana adds, never fails “to uplift people emotionally.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Dana even created a set of A6 prints, consisting of five flower illustrations, titled “Little Joys.” Since art is a medium for so much emotional expression and solace, it seems apt that Dana imbues hers with so much of the natural world.
“Once you pay attention to all the little details nature has to offer,” Dana says, “you can’t help but feel a deeper sense of connection and togetherness.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.