Celebrating Black lives and empowering mental health through textile art

  • 10 hand sewed portraits honour influential Black figures
  • A project by Michelle Ayavoro and GMMH Recovery Pathways service users 
  • The exhibition is open to the public at HOME

A collection of vibrant portraits celebrating influential Black figures decorate the walls of Manchester HOME as part of a project by artist Michelle Ayavoro and service users from Recovery Pathways.

The project, Inspired, Uplifted and Proud, brought together six individuals struggling with mental health and taught them how to create handsewn and embroidered portraits of Black people who have brought inspiration and strength into their lives.

The rich colour and harmonious patterns pouring out the portraits convey a fabric of joy, pride, and strength, through the faces of Maya Angelou, Beyoncé Knowles and Madam CJ Walker.

Black History Month textile art in Manchester
The project was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement

Textile artist and wellbeing arts tutor, Michelle Ayavoro, was moved by the achievement and dedication of her team.

“All of the participants inspired me as a facilitator in expanding my workshops as well. I feel tearful thinking about it now because there’s so many elements to the project, it’s just an amazing project,” Michelle said.


Michelle felt inspired to create the project following the killing of George Floyd.

She wanted to promote and celebrate positive images of Black people, to honour their lives and portray them in a positive light in the hope that her art work would challenge the oppressive stereotypes fed by inequalities and racism.

Michelle channelled her emotions into her art and began making the first textile portrait of what would become the Inspire, Uplifted and Proud collection.

She said: “I just picked up my materials and started creating a portrait of George Floyd and just kept going.”

Textile art in Manchester inspired by Black Lives Matter
Michelle stands proud by her work of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a self portrait


In light of the challenges brought by the pandemic, GMMH Recovery Pathways – who are dedicated to nurturing wellbeing through art – decided to adapt their workshops by facilitating them online and delivering art packs to service users’ homes.

Michelle embraced this opportunity with open arms and put forward the Black arts project.

Consisting of six service users with mixed experience in sewing and embroidery, the 12-week project designed and facilitated by Michelle, equipped individuals with a step-by-step guide to create their portraits.

Each person created an array of vivid patterns and behind every portrait are their courageous life stories battling with mental health.

Michelle told NQ about one particular service user who created a portrait of Scottish singer Emeli Sandé.

“She chose Emeli Sandé because she had always been drawn to the warmth and beauty of her voice and the way that Emeli writes about her personal experience of heartache and emotional vulnerability with such openness and honesty,” she said.

Portrait of Emeli Sandé and Beyoncé Knowles

“Emeli Sandé’s album Real Life helped her through a very dark time when she was in hospital because of her mental health.  The songs on that album are all about surviving something very painful and coming out the other side overwhelmed by the joy of being alive, which is exactly how she felt at the time. 

“She was also influenced by one of her favourite artists Frida Kahlo, who also used her creativity to explore painful personal experiences and celebrate the power of women.”


Today Michelle and her team of six feel proud of their hard work which has brought warmth during an isolating time during the 2020 national lockdown and which now adorn the walls of HOME.

“When I first saw the exhibition I felt so overwhelmed, tears came to my eyes thinking about the people who I was working with and their achievement, they produced these amazing pieces, it was all their hard work and determination,” Michelle said.

Manchester HOME
Michelle holds self portrait outside of HOME

Along with her work for GMMH Recovery Pathways, the Mancunian born and bred artist also runs her business called HerArt and uses to empower younger generations.

The 10 colourful portraits can be found in HOME’s ground floor café until January 2022. Visit the HOME website for more information.

Article courtesy of The Northern Quarter Loop