Benjamin Zephaniah - Poet, writer, lyricist and musician.

"Julio is a cool cat. I became aware of his work when I used one of his paintings as the poster image for an exhibition I was curating on the famous Southbank in London. It was the stand out piece of the exhibition. His work is vibrant, intelligent, relevant, and quirky. I love his work. Welcome to his world."

Benjamin Zephaniah - Juliocesartist poster  image to we all human exhibition at the London Southbank


I was born in Colombia but moved to the UK in 1983 to join my father and new family, and have been based in London ever since. After finishing school, I set up a number of businesses. However, my passion for documentary photography led me to return to education as a mature student and then pursue a career in the industry.

A visit to my birth place, Colombia, in the late 1990s led to my first big photographic project, Work, Play, and No Rest, which was part of a university assignment. This project evolved into a five-year undertaking that culminated in a book containing 150 photographs documenting the lives of disadvantaged children in Colombia, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and Venezuela. A portion of the book's revenue sales were donated to orphanages in South Africa and Peru. Six copies of the book are housed in the British Library at the institution’s behest.

However, it was during a challenging period of my life, following a sentence for self-defense in a nightclub altercation, that I discovered my love for painting. With my cameras unavailable, I started to paint as a means of creative expression. Painting allowed me to view my current circumstances and life with a clearer mind.

During my first month of incarceration, I was locked up for 23 hours a day and fell into a deep depression while awaiting trial. One day, I was unlocked and instructed to attend an education induction day. It was in a small art room where I found the spark that changed my life. There were basic materials available, and I was encouraged to paint or draw whatever I wanted. I chose to copy a painting of a seaside view from an art book, and the result you casn see bellow and kept as a momentum of the start of my new journey in life.

Juliocesartist first creation of his painting of his paiting journey. Seaside View

Six months later, one of the tutors offered to present my work in a solo exhibition at the Barristers chambers in Chancery Lane, London. My first painting was sold at this exhibition, and it was subsequently featured in Not Shut Up, a charity and magazine that celebrates and facilitates creative programming for those detained or in secure hospitals, refugee centers, and children’s homes.

I produced 60 paintings during the incarceration, and most are tagged with a HM PRISON clothing label to show where the works were created. A year before my release, my works were featured at London's renowned Southbank Centre as part of the Koestler Trust's 'Catching Dreams' exhibition. Two days after my release, I attended the opening of "We Are All Human" exhibition at the same venue, curated by the poet, writer, lyricist, and musician, Benjamin Zephaniah, who chose my painting Miniscule Beauty as the poster image for the exhibition.

As a prize, I was awarded a fine art scholarship from The Monument Trust, and I have not looked back. I have had several solo exhibitions as well as being part of group ones.

As a self-taught painter, who did not attend art school, I have developed my own style and technics through experimenting and not having rules to follow with regards to colours; I am free to create using my raw instinct.

The Impact of Art on Mental Health

Art can have a profound impact on mental health, providing a creative outlet for expressing and processing emotions, particularly those that are difficult to put into words. Studies have shown that expression through art can help people with depression, anxiety, and stress (The Whole U)[https://thewholeu.uw.edu/2022/04/11/art-for-self-care-and-mental-health/]. Community-based art-making can enhance mental well-being, increasing an individual's sense of value and self-esteem (National Center for Biotechnology Information)[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9472646/].

Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that provides a way for people to express emotions and experiences. It offers physical and mental health benefits, including improved concentration and self-esteem (American Medical Association)[https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/physician-health/art-mental-health-well-being-benefits-practicing-art-frank]. Research has found that making art can activate reward pathways in the brain, reduce stress, lower anxiety levels, and improve mood (Smithsonian Magazine)[https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/can-art-therapy-help-patients-deal-with-mental-health-struggles-during-the-pandemic-180980310/].

Art as a Form of Self-Expression

Art gives us the ability to express ourselves in ways that nothing else can. Self-expression allows us to understand ourselves and process our emotions. It enables individuals to tap into their authentic selves and communicate their true thoughts and feelings (Arts Academy)[https://www.artsacad.net/the-need-for-teen-self-expression-through-art/]. In art therapy, people can explore and express their thoughts, emotions, experiences, and perceptions of themselves through art (Verywell Health)[https://www.verywellhealth.com/art-therapy-5212229].

Artistic Expression in Prison

Artistic expression in prison is a powerful tool for self-expression and personal growth. A lot of art created in prisons is reflective of time, with prisoners using art as a mark that they leave to confirm their existence (Rutgers)[https://www.rutgers.edu/news/insider-art-how-prison-populations-express-themselves-outside-world]. Art therapy in prison can contribute to inmate self-expression and exploration (Justice Action)[https://justiceaction.org.au/art-in-prison/].

Art as a Tool for Change

Art is an empowering tool to facilitate critical dialogue around feminism, anti-racism, 2SLGBTQAI+ rights, and environmental activism (Eastern Edge)[https://easternedge.ca/art-as-a-tool-for-change/]. Powerful art themed around social issues and pressing matters are essential tools for bringing about reform in the social and political spheres (Motiva Art)[https://motiva.art/blog/art-social-change/].

In my case, art was a tool for change, enabling me to navigate through a challenging period of my life. It allowed me to express my emotions, process my experiences, and ultimately, to find a new path in life. Through art, I was able to transform a difficult time into a period of personal growth and evolution.

In conclusion, art is not just a form of expression, but a powerful tool for mental health, self-understanding, personal growth, and societal change. Its transformative power is evident in the stories of many, including my own. Through art, we can find a way out of our corners, painting a path towards healing, self-expression, and change.