Dairo Vargas is a London-based fine artist whose distinctive artwork is in galleries and private homes worldwide. As well as being an accomplished artist, Dairo, originally from Colombia, runs The Art Listens, a project that uses art and creativity to help eradicate the stigma around mental health.
He has worked worldwide with children and adults, helping them discover the transformative power of art and creativity as a way to express their feelings and process mental health issues. Art is an especially powerful tool for people that don’t have the words to express their feelings when they suffer from depression, anxiety or have experienced abuse or experienced trauma.
During the pandemic, Dairo spent a year working remotely with underprivileged children and their teachers on a project in Colombia. He has worked worldwide and has previously worked with the children’s charity, Barnardo’s and other organisations in the UK.
The Colombia project helped teachers and children process the emotional impact of Covid, another layer of distress for many of the cohort, who were already experiencing challenging lives, living in near poverty, with many years of family mental health issues to contend with. The Art Listens year-long project had more than six hundred participants, aged from 4–18 and was featured in the Colombian Government’s annual book about inspiring new projects for disadvantaged children.
Dairo is seen above with The Duke and The Duchess of Cambridge at the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit in London, a pre-pandemic event. Dairo has met many high-profile celebrities and royalty at various awareness-raising events, including footballer Ian Rush, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and the Her Highness Sheikha Moza of Qatar.
Dairo set up The Art Listens to help raise awareness and challenge the stigma of mental health issues after overcoming years of depression through the healing power of art.
‘Life put me into this field, and my passion is now helping people transform their lives. By the age of 20, I was very depressed. Art and mindfulness helped me overturn my struggle with depression; after years of trying all the conventional treatments, art is the thing that helped me transform my mental health. The tools I use are part of a lifelong practice that works for me and helps the people I work with to break the cycle that can have built up over generations,’ says Dairo.
‘The Art Listens can be translated into any language, and I am excited to bring this to other communities and countries. With Mental Health Awareness Week coming up (9th–15th May), I hope to reach out to more people that The Art Listens can help.
The year-long Colombia project, based in Bogota, was supported by the Colombian Government and was integrated into the curriculum in many schools. Dairo created training tools and guides for teachers so part of the programme could be delivered directly to the pupils, but most of the project was conducted via Zoom.
The project culminated in an exhibition of the children’s work, with many of the children visiting an exhibition for the first time. There has never been anything like this for children from these kinds of disadvantaged backgrounds. Dairo works with people of all ages and abilities, showing them how to use art to encourage mental well-being and healing.