Sound Style: DJ Mahealani on the healing power of art

Today, we launch a new music and fashion series called Sound Style, with a story about Lesli Sparkman-Williams, who performs as DJ Mahealani. The series explores the way artists approach image. How does an artist’s look, how they style themselves, affect the way they think about their performance? Is the image part of the art or an afterthought? Is there ever any pressure around fan expectations and, if so, how do they manage it?

Photo by Laura Skelding for American-Statesman

SOUND STYLE: DJ Mahealani ‘A lady of fashion and justice’ 

Sparkman-Williams is a thrift store queen with a knack for spotting unique pieces that she combines in ways that are unexpected and delightful.  She describes her basic style as “either all black or kind of a barfing rainbow. … The more patterns and colors, the better.”

She’s also an unabashed rule breaker. A few years back, she read an article that said women over 40 shouldn’t wear hoop earrings. Instead of retiring a significant section of her jewelry box, she doubled down, making giant hoops (along with red lipstick) part of her signature look.

In addition to her dual life as a DJ and evening child care coordinator at the Austin Community College children’s lab school on the Eastview campus, Sparkman-Williams is an artist. In talking about music and fashion, our conversations drifted to the therapeutic value of art and she told this powerful story.

The healing power of art

Lesli Sparkman-Williams began making collages for fun, but later realized their therapeutic value.

“I remember when I found out what collage meant in fourth grade; it was like this magic word to me,” Sparkman-Williams says.

Scissors, magazines and glue sticks — it was a form of art that was cheap and easy to create. Throughout junior high and high school, she’d make “funny collages” with her friends, gluing photos of their heads onto pictures of each other’s bodies. When she was in college, she began to develop an aesthetic. She created images she thought were pretty.

“And then as I kind of got older and life kicks your ass, I realized how therapeutic they were for me,” she says.

She was 27 years old and living in Hawaii when she was raped. He was someone she knew. She thought he was a friend. Shortly after it happened, she moved back to Austin to live with her long-distance boyfriend, now husband, Lauritz Williams, an emcee who performs in the group Afrofreque.

In a piece she created to help process the violation, a woman lies nude in a field of flowers while assorted planets and an errant fish loom overhead. A white gardenia blossom in the foreground unfurls between her thighs while a figurine of a man blissfully embracing his female partner nestles between her splayed calves.

“I really love the woman and the man’s face,” she says. “I was trying really hard to get that tenderness back because I was scared. … I remember staring at that for a long time. And there was just something. It helped me feel like I could get that back again.”

Prints, T-shirts, tote bags and stickers featuring Sparkman-Williams’ designs are available at redbubble.com/people/djmahealani.

DJ MAHEALANI LIVE

Boss Babes August Meetup

When: 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24

Where: Spiderhouse Ballroom, 2908 Fruth St.

Info: $8 in advance, $15 at door; bossbabes.org

Studio 54klift 

When: Aug. 26

Where: Gather, 5540 N. Lamar Blvd.

Info: Benefit for Forklift Danceworks. $75. forkliftdanceworks.org

Frida Friday ATX

When: 6 p.m. Sept. 8

Where: Kebabalicious, 1311 E. 7th St.

Info: Free

Firehouse Lounge & Hostel

When: 10 p.m., Aug. 25, second and fourth Saturdays, monthly beginning in Sept.

Where: 605 Brazos St.

Info: Free, firehousehostel.com


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