Recovery takes different forms for every survivor. The victim of an inexplicable act of violence, in which she nearly lost her life, Armina Mussa spent a month regaining her strength in the hospital, before resuming her work as the project manager for Saint Heron. Making this transition back to work gave Mussa newfound clarity on how she wanted to move forward with her life.
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“Working hard helped me through it because even though it was such a tough experience, it gave me so much clarity in life and a new found love for it. I felt like I had an advantage because of the outlook I had gained,” she says.
A near death experience is one you can't really articulate. The strength and power that gives you afterwards, although I bear so much emotional damage—the strength and pushing through, anything is now possible no matter the circumstance. I can’t tell you how weak I was after, having to teach myself to walk again.
Since the incident, Mussa has been making a full effort to live her life better than she ever did before. The first testament of this mission is the release of Unknown Wyoming, a conceptual art book birthed out of her ongoing healing process.
We recently chatted with the 25-year-old visual artist to learn more about her personal background and creative process, and how she has managed to pick up the pieces of her life after going through such a life-altering ordeal. Needless to say, you'll feel incredibly inspired to rethink your own priorities in this lifetime.
Unknown Wyoming is available to pre-order here. Learn more about the book in the interview, below.
What is your background in art?
My background is super self-taught. I never went to school for art. I’ve just always been super experimental. I think with the age that I am, being 25, I’m sort of coming into a stage where I understand what I’m trying to convey as an artist, and what me and my art kind of lay in. It was difficult for me to try and define it, but through this, I know that I create art off of my personal experience, like most artists. At the age of 25, I've experienced a lot, the kind of things that evolve you as a person, define who you are today, and set the tone for your life.
How did Unknown Wyoming come together?
I decided to create Unknown, Wyoming by myself and self-publish it, which made it easy for me to edit it. I’m still editing to this day because the book is actually just on pre-sale, I'm a perfectionist! It’s incredibly conceptual in the sense that it’s only 22 pages and it started with maybe 700 images that I had to narrow down to a good, solid eight that I use frequently throughout the book in different ways; cropping some of the images or zooming in so they’re super detailed shots.
I first published it in March. I tried to align it with the backstory that the images come from... part of me feels that I went through all the trauma that the book is trying to convey. I was mentally distraught about defining and finding closure with all the systematic shit I had to go through with trial. If you know anything about criminal cases, depending on the extent of the crime, closure seems to always be so far away. It’s a super-long process, and it’s just so much legal bullshit that goes with it and anxiety. I waited almost a year and a half.
I can’t tell you how many times [the trial] was postponed. Maybe five times in total, with close to two months in between each time. I was told, “Sorry, we’re not going to go through with trial just yet.” Having to try and prepare myself and juggling work, being an artist, it was such a mental—it felt like I was like in jail, which is so insane and ironic. I realized that because they toyed with me so much emotionally, it began to also dictate my healing process, I couldn’t depend on them to give me any kind of justice at the end of the day, and I was more so waiting for it to just be over.
Could you tell me a little bit more about the inspiration behind the title?
The title ties back into that period. Unknown, Wyoming was the alias given to me at the [hospital] in New Orleans.
The book touches on and explores the concept of power. What does that mean to you?
I set forth the tone of the book being power for many reasons. I essentially wanted to interrogate the concept of power based off my experience, like someone feeling like they had the power to try and take my life. Also, myself having the power the to overcome this evil act committed towards all while still having ridiculous amount of faith, was just powerful.
The visuals I put together convey power, in a sense of how strong they sit on their own. The piercing eye gazes in my self portraits, the cryptic black painted hand physiques, and blurring pieces of earthy minerals, are all incredibly symbolic and shape me in a powerful way.
Has this whole experience changed your perception of New Orleans at all? Do you still feel comfortable being there?
It doesn’t change my outlook on New Orleans at all. What happened to me was my fate at the time due to who I surrounded myself with. I was met with grief and an outpouring of praise from everyone in New Orleans who admire my perseverance in the wake of what happened to me in their city.
Extremely displeased and hurt by the judicial system here that could careless about black on black crime. This happening to someone like myself even, speaks volumes and I hope to one day help my people who are victims of violence to do better for ourselves in places that unfortunately work against our greatness.