The artist Aunia Kahn

Aunia Kahn is a power house of creativity.

I was introduced to Aunia’s unique blend of photography, digital painting and collage many years ago when she was wielding images of women with weapons, war paraphenelia and bindings to explore deep-rooted trauma. I was taken by her ability to convey raw emotion in a digital format.

Today her portraits are far less sinister. Instead, the women she paints, all facets of herself, glow with strength and perserverence.

Through art she has grown and her voice has expanded to many additional forms. She does graphic design through her own company, Auxilium Haus Design. She hosts two podcasts. And she continues to work on books and tarot collections.

Her prolific output is remarkable for any human being. But combined with the fact that she’s been battling chronic, sometimes life threatening health problems, her journey becomes all the more inspiring.

With so many people confined and conscious of health’s fragility amidst the pandemic, I contacted Aunia to get some perspective on where her resilience comes from, and how we might all benefit from creative play.

You live in Eugene, Oregon. How has your daily life changed since the spread of Covid 19?

Life in Eugene has changed with the social distancing aspect and how things like stores function, but the amount of people that have contracted the virus and that have tested positive is very low.

We are very fortunate at this time to be a low impact area. In saying this, it brings up a feeling of guilt thinking how the virus is ravaging millions of lives worldwide.

As for my daily life, I have worked from home for over 20 years due to my rare disease and have spent a lot of time bed-ridden, social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding public places, spending large chunks of my life in isolation so it does not feel all that strange to me since much of it was part of daily life experience before Covid19.

What has changed is not being able to meet with clients in person and the Twilight Zone feeling I get watching the whole world having to live a similar and strange existence that I can relate to on a whole new level.

Aunia Kahn wears her face mask

At the beginning of March you experienced hostile energy when you entered a grocery store in a face mask. Where do you think that scorn came from? Now that wearing masks is more widespread and in some places mandatory have you seen a change in attitude? What would you like people to know about what it’s like to go through the world with invisible health issues?

My feeling is that at the end of February and early March people were not given enough information to understand the gravity of Covid19. The media told the public to “not” wear masks and leave them for the essential workers as well as the sick/elderly. Since I am obviously not an 80-year-old woman, it is my assumption that people thought I was either sick, being an alarmist, or a PPE hoarder.

However, it has come to my attention that the way people have been reacting/acting collectively, good or bad, has been drenched in the constant uncertainty and shifting of the world.

No one knows from day to day what is really going on and what we can expect in the long term or even right at this moment. With ever-changing variables of almost every aspect of our lives, we have to be more understanding of people.

As for a change in attitude, I can only report what people tell me since I have not been out of the house since then but once last week. I have been isolated for almost 2 months straight. What I hear is that people are more upset that people are not wearing masks and happier if they are.

People’s experiences and reactions have changed over the last two months exponentially on so many levels. And they will again.

Safekeeping by Aunia Kahn

You rediscovered art many years ago when you went through life-threatening health problems. Can you speak to how art can be a grounding force in a time of trauma and the value of personally directed art therapy?

Art is a lifesaver for me. I do not believe that I would be living on this planet today if I could not fall into some form of creativity through the years of suffering through this disease.

People often misunderstand what it means to be creative and shy away from it when they are not feeling well or perhaps struggling when in fact it is a place to go for peace and solitude if you are able to remove the self-judgment and enjoy the process.

The creative process is not linear. One moment it can be beautiful and the next minute it can be a beautiful disaster. Let it be fruitful, messy, all kinds of wrong, and exciting. Let it support you, break you, repair you, and bring you hope. Let it help you connect with yourself and others and let it help you find peace in the loneliness of your experiences.

In the end, you let that go into the world and you start again. Creativity is the process of just doing “the thing” – not how good you are at doing “the thing”.

Creativity is not a contest with yourself or others, creativity is a process. When you can let go of the outcome and just be with your creativity, whether it’s painting, gardening, working on old cars, web design, etc. Remember it is a process and let is consume and ground you all in the same breath. Let go and be with it.

As someone who has experienced being bedridden and burdened with chronic health that places limitations on your days, do you have any perspective to offer to people who are newly burdened with pains and limitations?

Acceptance, adapting and perseverance have been the things that have kept me alive and moving forward. Under many circumstances of life, as humans, we have to accept what is.

If you lose a leg, you will be unable to get that back in the same way you had it before. You can either accept that or not, but it is what it is.

Adapting is the willingness to find ways do deal with such an extreme loss. A person could be open to prosthetics and want to move forward in that direction quickly, or they could be so devastated that they need to sit in the depths of their pain and loss until they are ready. Neither options are wrong or right.

These experiences are also not linear, one day you could be ready to persevere and the next you could be laying on the floor holding your dog crying. Again this is a process and it is each our own.

Being willing to accept, adapt, and persevere, and go back and forth between those worlds while sometimes taking a leap forward and other times taking 10 steps back.

If you are able to give yourself space to experience what and how you need to experience these things without judgment is really a key to the process. It has helped me greatly.

It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

Leon C. Megginson

Do you have any self-care rituals that help you deal with difficult days?

Well, I am going to call myself out here. Self-care is something I struggle with.

When having years of downtime, not just days, and after my diagnosis after 17 years and finally the right medical treatment and support, on good days I have pushed too far and too fast and have had great setbacks. Lifechanging setbacks.

I don’t regret the setbacks, but they called many things to my greater attention. I realized I was chasing all the years I lost and realized I could never have them back.

It calls back to the acceptance, adapting, and perseverance model I talked about above.

It is only in the last 6 months that I am “willing” to learn this dance. I am doing it better than I ever have while being willing to accept that I do need downtime and self-care even if my brain says otherwise and I don’t want to.

My adaptation and perseverance are so much better now because I am not going full-power ahead with no breaks until I crash and burn, repair, and go again.

I am pushing hard since that is my nature, but I am able to recognize the hot engine and turn it off before a major issue happens – self-care and jump back in maintaining most of my strength. I am getting farther that way, I have been able to take on so much more of life. It is exciting!

For self-care, I journal, make silly art, have a spiritual practice, do yoga, play with my dogs, play pretend gardener in my yard, and meditate.

Halcyon by Aunia Kahn

Has your creative process been affected during this time? What creative projects have you been working on?

The process is up and down just like any other time. Some days I feel really motivated and other days I am stuck in my head and I feel a fog of concern and worry that consumes me.

At this time, as with most times in my life, I am working on several things. Here are a few things I am working on:

  1. A 5th Photography/Poetry Book: Disinigrating Stars
  2. Silver Era Tarot Technicolor
  3. A new painting for “Mermay” a group exhibition opening at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco
  4. Art of PAWS fundraiser – St. Louis

What is the role of art and the artist in a time of crisis?

I think the role of the artist in a time of crisis or great change is to do what they love and meld into the process of what feels best for them.

If those experiencing the work are able to inadvertently find hope, connect and/or experience catharsis from that, that is a bonus.

I come from a place that art is for the artist first and the experiencer second. I know that is not always the case for artists, but that is how I experience working and I know many others do.

So it just feels intuitive for me to believe that the role of the artist (or creator: musician, etc.) is to come to the work first and be with their work and then reach out to the community in solidarity with their expression of self if and when they feel comfortable.

Also, I feel that if artists want to use their voice for things that they feel passionate about, more power to them. Art is free speech and should be used.

A Day in Stone by Aunia Kahn

A great deal of your work, from digital paintings such as Ushering Our Souls and La Sociedad Secreta to your black and white photographs where you interact with skeletons, explores symbols of mortality. Do you feel more or less compelled to explore those types of symbols in your creative work at a time when so many are experiencing a heightened fear of death?

This is a good question, I never really thought about that in this time. Skulls and bones have always been a part of my art, however the last few pieces that I have done have not really had that feeling.

So, perhaps at this time the work I am doing is a bit more calming and not so much about touching death or the dance with morality.

Although I always feel that is a part of life no matter what is going on. I am very attached to Stoicism and their use of “memento mori”.

During this time I feel it is a good thing to be very aware of our mortality and live life in the fullest.

We are always just a step away from death, so it is my belief that we must live the best we can in and understanding that it is fleeting.

Additionally, are you working or do you anticipate that you will work on pieces that reflect on the pandemic?

At this time I do not think that I will be doing that, however, I did revisit an older work I did that had a reflected this issue. It was during another virus issue years ago.

First Class Recruit by Aunia Kahn

Throughout April you encouraged your followers to participate in a color study game. Each day of the game you picked a different color and invited people to share images of groups of items in that color. What inspired you to do this game now? Were you surprised by what people came up with?

The inspiration came from seeing another person on Facebook create something similar without a contest that was just for fun. Plus I have seen similar compositions on Pinterest boards, and have always wanted to do one.

So I jumped in and felt if I offered prizes to participants that it would be motivating and fun while stuck at home during the quarantine. People could connect, be creative, and win something. A win-win for all!

I loved how people created compositions in their own style and I just loved each and everyone that came in.

A selection of stills from Aunia’s color study game. The center image is her creation for Turquoise. The other images were crowd sourced from Aunia’s followers.

You’re a professional artist, but through the color study game and the personal art journaling that you share you show a playful and experimental side. Do you have any advice for artists who may feel that art is their job and they’ve lost touch with the playful side? Or for people who don’t even think of themselves as artists and are afraid to try creative things because they won’t be good enough?

This is a great question. I have been around so many artists who are professionals and feel very stuck or forced into only producing things in their style or medium in fear of losing collectors or clout. I can understand that, and it makes perfect sense to me.

However, I try to live in a place of abundance and openness. If a client, gallery, or collector can’t accept that I do things that are non-professional to keep my creativity fresh then they are not my people.

Creativity is abundant and it is not the repetition of the same thing you know how to do over and over again without exploration. Creativity is enhanced with an exploration of the unknown.

If someone thinks they are not good enough, I can understand that. I have often felt that way myself, but you just have to keep doing what you love.

If you are doing something you enjoy, then do it. Don’t worry about what others think.

Social media has created a block (and an opening) for so many people who live in the fear of peer judgment. Everything that is posted is perfectly curated and it is hard to see the rawness that is the pure essence of the creative spirit.

Those starting out in art or making things they love don’t get to see the many rough drafts, the piles of sketches in trash cans, the sleepless night, the creative block of people they look up to.

Numerous people in varying fields seem superhuman and when they goof, the world lets them know. They are not given the freedom to be human which impacts those just starting out and sometimes keep them away from even trying.

Do what you love and don’t worry about what others think and be kind to yourself. Enjoy the process as I mentioned before. It’s not linear, it is messy, uncertain and it is yours. You have one life, don’t let others dictate how you experience your world.

Also read: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, by Mark Manson

You’re involved in the creation of several tarot and oracle decks. Have you been engaging with card readings during this period? Why or why not?

I have some, but I have been more focused on my web/graphic/media design business, Auxilium Haus. With so many people needing to go remote and jump in digitally, I am needed in this field more than tarot.

People are trying to keep their business going or find new ways to feed their family, so my skills are better matched with this at the moment.

You’re a podcast creator and consumer. Are there plans to do additional episodes of Create and Inspire from quarantine? Are there any particular episodes of Create and Inspire you would recommend artists listen to at this time? And have you been listening to anyone else’s podcasts that you might recommend?

Right now I have two podcasts going, the Auxilium Haus Podcast & Create and Inspire Podcast. There will be many more episodes for both podcasts that will be geared to helping people during this time of great change and transition. I have had many ideas that I am mapping out.

However, at this time I am really consumed with people needing me through Auxilium Haus, so I am trying to make sure I am being balanced and….. ummm following good self-care. wink

One of the most recent Auxilium Haus Podcast posts that I feel could help anyone that is operating as a business online, especially small businesses like artists, etc. would be: Ep 5: 10 Ways to Utilize Digital Marketing for your Business During Tough Times.

Here is my list of Fav Podcasts:

Did you have any planned shows that have been postponed or canceled? Or were there any shows that you were looking forward to attending?

I am very lucky that has not been the case. Most galleries I have worked with are doing virtual shows and I am still creating and shipping work. I don’t typically travel due to medical complications anyhow, so it is not affecting that part of my life.

I feel fortunate to still be participating in gallery showings at this time and I am thankful for any and all opportunities.

Are you still doing graphic design and digital work during this time through Auxilium Haus or has that suffered as well? Has your financial situation been affected by the spread of Covid-19?

Auxilium Haus Design & Media has been able to sustain a regular business flow at this time. The only change to the business model is not being able to be face to face with clients, but video meetings are working fine for our business at this time.

Since Auxilium Haus is a business based on digital products like web and graphic design, digital marketing, and media we have been able to keep going while being able to help others find alternative ways to connect to their clients or customers.

As a company, we have eased up on all marketing efforts for ourselves based on not wanting to look like opportunists going after vulnerable people and are relying solely on word of mouth from previous clients to keep our business going.

What can we do to support your work at this time?

At this time things are okay for me, I think I would like to ask people to support me by supporting local and small businesses. Don’t forget about your family, friends, neighbors, coworker, etc.

Thank you to Aunia for opening up in this interview.

To see more of Aunia’s work or to purchase originals, prints, books and decks, visit her website. You can also check out her Facebook page and follow her on Instagram.

The group show that Aunia is participating in at Modern Eden Gallery, Mermay, opens May 9 and you will be able to view it online at that time.

For her graphic design work, visit the Auxilium Haus website.

For practical advice for creatives and entrepreneurs, listen to Aunia’s Create and Inspire Podcast and her Auxilium Haus Podcast.

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