Pandemic allowed Rye students to reconnect with their inner artist

In Arts & Culture1 Comment

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By Samreen Maqsood

Sarah Samuel, a graduate of the master of journalism program at Ryerson University, picked up poetry during the summer of 2021. Inspired by her father who passed away in June and her experiences from high school creative writing classes, Samuel found peace in rhymes and free-verse poems. 

Unable to think up proper sentences without adding rhymes, her poems quickly became a tribute to her late father. According to Samuel, her poetry allowed her to better understand the world, nature, the pandemic’s ever-looming stress and the loss of her father.

After she graduated last year, Samuel found more time to write again and new reasons as to why she’d previously loved the art form: the escape from reality it offered, appreciation for nature, Sufism-inspired thoughts and feelings of closeness to God.

To Samuel, Sufism is accepting God’s existence through a personal quest which she says is different from finding it through a regimented religion. The word Sufi comes from a Persian word meaning wisdom.

“The poems I write as a tribute for my father are more like conversations or grievances, sometimes things I’d like him to know, but the Sufi-inspired ones, I like to think of them as prayers and in the Almighty’s praise,” she said. 

“The poems I read and write give my life some meaning, that’s the purpose of any art.”

Samuel isn’t alone in finding peace through art during the pandemic. According to an online survey conducted by market research company Narrative Research in 2021, 63 per cent of people took up a new hobby when COVID-19 lockdowns began. This included artistic hobbies, such as painting, photography and sewing.

“The poems I read and write give my life some meaning, that’s the purpose of any art.” 

During the first wave of the pandemic and the first lockdown in March 2020, people leaned more towards baking and gardening. However, according to an article by CBC, as time went on and lockdowns were imposed and lifted, people began to get more creative with how they wanted to spend their time.

A restrictions now start lifting completely, Samuel is taking her honed craft out into the “real-world.” She hopes to get her poems published as a way to commemorate her father’s upcoming memorial ceremony in June.  

“It calms my rushing mind. I feel close to my dad when I am writing,” she said.

Other students like Tracy Tenywa, a second-year project management student at the Chang School of Continuing Education, also found comfort within new artistic hobbies as the world remained closed. 

During the summer of 2020, Tenywa decided to take up modelling. She had always enjoyed being the person behind the camera, but when her confidence began to elevate over the pandemic, she decided to try being in front of it. 

“I could escape reality for a moment and be seen. I felt confident and genuinely beautiful in my skin.”

She said the pandemic made her feel alone and question her purpose on this planet. After being invited to collaborate with a photographer for the first time in a long time, she said she felt free.  

“I could escape reality for a moment and be seen. I felt confident and genuinely beautiful in my skin,” said Tenywa.

She has worked with several GTA-based photographers, such as, and @shotsbymaii. Tenywa is also an ambassador for a Black-owned jewelry brand called Mauve

“I always wondered what that feeling would feel like [to model]…It has made me appreciate my body, I take care of myself properly, I fuel my body with nutritious foods, I include daily physical activity, I laugh often. I am assertive and in alignment of my skills and worth,” she said

More of Tenywa’s work can be found on her Instagram @ok.tracy.

According to an article by the Canadian Mental Health Association, taking up a hobby can help one manage stress, benefitting mental health. 

Teresa Valenton, a first-year journalism student at Ryerson, had drifted away from artistic hobbies due to the stress it had caused her in middle school. Velenton was part of the art program offered at her school, and felt it wasn’t the healthiest place to develop artistically. Her artistic efforts were based on grades, taking the passion out of drawing.

However, with the on-and-off-again lockdown restrictions and nothing to do, Valenton looked for different artistic hobbies that allowed her to express her creativity without causing too much stress. 

She started drawing again in March of last year, first doing it for fun with the freedom she had, by drawing abstract faces or storefronts. However, she said her venture back into the creative sphere was not a “linear process.” 

“His outlook on creativity and expressing oneself gave me that extra push to try art just one more time.”

“I just wanted to draw without having any issues with anatomical accuracy and I feel like I’m slowly starting to like art again,” said Valenton.

She said she picked up drawing again after discovering the C-pop group Wayv! C-pop is a Chinese music genre in the Greater China region. 

One of her favourite members, Ten, was known to be a visual artist, inspiring her to start creating again. 

“I really loved his works and despite being a performer, his artworks were equally as expressive. His outlook on creativity and expressing oneself gave me that extra push to try art just one more time.”

Even though she said she has been creating art for as long as she can remember, Valenton feels like she has rediscovered it in a new light. All of her previous artwork has always been graded and marked based on technical skills or made for family members who were always asking for specific pieces.

Now she said she gets to draw for her own pleasure and spend time thinking about how she wants to approach an artistic piece, rather than worrying about how it will be perceived.

So far, it’s been a fun experience, as she doesn’t have to do too much prep or prior research before creating the piece. Caring less about colour schemes and design elements has allowed her to freely express herself.

“I love being able to turn on some music and just make something I can call my own.”


  1. Totally agree with this analysis. It is really impressive to see how the pandemic had a positive aspect for students which they were able to express and really connect with there inner selves. Well written!!!

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