The following description of the Hands on Empowerment Mandela was written collectively by the project participants to explain the art piece and to describe their experiences throughout the project. The piece will be displayed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with this description from June until September.

Hands on Empowerment

The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre is a feminist organization working to eliminate sexual assault/

abuse, and to change the current socio-political culture that fosters sexism, social injustice and other forms of oppression. Our mission is to provide services for those affected by sexual violence, with primary emphasis on medical follow up after immediate sexual assault, support, education, counselling and leadership/advocacy services primarily for women.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia partnered with Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and artist Miro Davis to work with a group of young women in meaningful arts-based activities designed to explore and express feelings about sexual issues, self-esteem, and empowerment. Together, we formed a group, creating a space to share our individual stories promoting empowerment, strength and resiliency while creating this mandala, entitled Hands on Empowerment.

This project explores themes of sexuality and consent, female empowerment and collectivity.

Our mandala hands were sculpted to express who we are as a collective and as individuals. These hands are our power tools, expressing character, quality, gesture and form. These hands hold relics of empowerment, our treasures of strength and meaning, our femininity and our empowerment. The process and product of our project challenges sexual violence against girls and women, while promoting meaningful consent and self-determination.

Story-telling and Embodiment

Our henna maps were extremely personal and a direct reflection of who we are as individuals.

The copper work was born from a henna process; we shared our stories of identity through hennaing each other. We mapped our identity, reflecting stories in a dialogue of intimacy and trust as we drew brown lines detailing and staining our skins. From the skin stories, we transferred these symbols of our identity tribes to copper, impressing a permanent relief to surround the mandala.

Phases of Femininity

The illuminated moon phases represent our spiritual connectivity; cycles, time, tides, emotions, often associated with the female cycles and change. A halo of etchings, patterning and revealing of time. Each moon revealed a unique empowerment message: “shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars,” an eye comprised of music notes, the tree of life, and a butterfly in the section of the cerebral cortex. These moon phases illuminate femininity and resiliency and embody the symbols and patterns that emerged during our shared story-telling.

Everything about this project is powerfully feminine; there is the moon phases, our hands, our copper skin art, the yin yang fish, and the blocky but gentle hands, allowing earth to birth flora from them. This is a powerfully “woman-identified” piece.


The utmost theme of this project is female sexual empowerment. Each of the artists expressed themselves in an empowering manner using the hands and skin art with henna. Some hands carried pencils as a relic, symbolizing writing as a tool of empowerment. Others held a chrysalis birthing a monarch butterfly, female symbols, body parts, and words. “I chose hair as my relic because women are so often oppressed because of their hair; society has brought us up to believe that women should have long and luscious locks, and that’s what will differentiate them from men. I fought that stereotype by chopping my hair all off and giving myself the greatest empowerment. I feel liberated and strong and so outside-the-box. Women shouldn’t hide behind their hair; beauty is cramming itself up behind that silky mask begging to be shown to the world.”


The power to be yourself is greater than any other form of strength. This project is colourful and diverse and reflects the unique personality and character of each artist. The entirety of the project created a number of layers. This represented the complexity of womanhood, and the multiple layers of our identities: emotional, physical, psychological, and sexual. This mandala captures our individual and collective experiences, honouring our differences and recognizing our sameness. Mother Nature’s hands, carved from natures trees, emerge centrally from a circular ground firm and strong, with a gentle cradle, holding mossy growth and metal vines overflowing. She seeds and nurtures growth, providing and supporting our environment. She is a part of all of us, we are all her.

“Hands of Empowerment” art piece by youth.