Meet Hannah Blair Akins
Who I am is a story best illustrated with the colors of my foundation, made of the people and places that have shaped me. I was born and raised by my humble, generous parents in Greensboro, North Carolina. My father was a scientist as well as a painter and potter. My mother grew up in a poverty-stricken family; she was the fifteenth of seventeen children. She was the first to attend and graduate college, and is now a teacher. My paternal grandparents are both artists – my grandmother an art historian and costume designer, my grandfather a professor of theater. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had an environment full of kindness and art in which to grow, and have wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember – it’s simply always been something in which I found innate and immediate meaning.
At fourteen, I moved cross-country to Phoenix, Arizona with my family, which included my parents and my younger sister, Emmy. My older sister, Brie, stayed with her fiancé in Wilmington, NC, where they both studied. I finished grade school here and decided to attend the University of Arizona. Having always been encouraged toward scientific pursuits, I began studying physiology. However, my love for art followed me across the county, and I soon realized I’d always be unsatisfied if I didn’t pursue it. I changed my major to Film, and was then accepted into the Bachelor of Fine Arts program along with fifteen other students, all of whom would be given the privilege to create our own short films with the help and resources of the school.
I was able to complete various creative projects during my time at the University of Arizona. One was a documentary covering Tucson-based Mexican painter, musician, and political activist, Salvador Duran, who lost various friends and family members during the political unrest in 1960s Mexico. Another was a claymation about the fateful love story between a fly and a Venus fly trap. My junior film was a short folk-horror film about a brood of wild children living in the wetlands. Finally, my senior thesis film was a crossbreed between fiction and non-fiction wherein I cast my parents as themselves in a quiet art-drama about the night we learned of my older sister’s suicide. I was granted the 2018 Creative Achievement Award for my work on these films, and my mother, a non-actor, won the award for Best Actress at the May 2019 premiere in Tucson.
Upon graduation, I was gifted an antique harp that I’d been eyeing for some time. I decided to take a much needed break from the chaos of emotionally-charged filmmaking, and to focus instead on another medium I’d always loved – music. Inspired by harpist Joanna Newsom, I began trying to teach myself how to play the ancient instrument (mine was made in 1914, and often sounds like it.) Having no experience with music or songwriting, I was taken aback when I was invited to play at a DIY festival at Phoenix’s Trunk Space called the Indie 500. I scurried to write five original songs, which I performed in September 2019. Though it was a small venue, it was quite a dream come true. I’ve continued to practice playing and writing, and have played a handful of other live shows in Phoenix and Tucson.
It has certainly been a difficult journey. Having suffered a near-fatal episode of heart failure at two weeks old, I attribute much of my lifelong experience with anxiety to the early trauma of helicopter rides from hospital to hospital, various surgeries, and the subsequent years of my health being closely and obsessively monitored. My chronic depression, on the other hand, I attribute to having seen my mother lose six of her siblings to drugs and alcohol. But the biggest blow has easily been the death of my sister, Brie, which I mentioned above as being the basis of my senior thesis film. We lost her in July of 2017 to suicide.
Brie was actually adopted before my younger sister and I were born – biologically, she is our cousin. Her mother (my mother’s sister) allegedly committed suicide when Brie was just five. I say “allegedly” because of there being some evidence that she was actually killed by her boyfriend at the time, as she was shot in the abdomen and had no gun powder residue on her hands. Brie struggled with Borderline Personality Disorder growing up, which was likely the result of the abuse she’d endured during the first years of her life. This caused intense mood swings, identity crises, and suicidality.
Losing her was incredibly painful, and we continue to grapple daily with the grief brought on by her absence. She had two children at the time of her death, Koda, and Na’vi, who were five and eighteen months respectively. We are very close with them, and cherish the time we spend with the pieces of my sister that she left with us. They are doing well and have a happy family.
Nonetheless, this new understanding of grief has exacerbated the issues surrounding my mental health that I’ve always contended with. I’ve learned that it’s very much incorrect to presume that artists function at their best when clinically depressed – in fact, it makes an insurmountable task out of simply existing at times. However, art provided my life with the meaning I’ve always sought in it, and gave me much-needed goals on which to fixate.
Now that the ashes have fallen from the explosion of her sudden death, I continue to look to art. Healing is a lifelong process, but I desire nothing more than to create and connect with others throughout it. Grieving on such a profound level, while it challenged me in countless ways, also opened my heart. I made some sort of realization of how short and silly and fleeting our time on earth truly is, and how little time we have to express our true selves. I realized how much love each of us needs, and how isolated each of us can feel at times. I made it a goal to communicate as authentically as possible to allow others to feel truly heard and seen, less alone, and most importantly, loved.
I don’t have a concrete business, so I’ll describe the philosophy behind my life as an art project, while trying not to sound pretentious or silly. Hannah Blair, the name by which I address the idealized persona of my most artistic, all-loving self, is a long-term multimedia art project with the goal of breaking down the barriers in communication we experience due to emotional isolation by way of authentic expression. Using mediums including filmmaking, visual art, and music, I aim to connect with others and to learn more about myself. My art is not only the end product which is created — the films, the songs — it is the entire process, including the vision that may never be actualized. It is the celebration of our imperfections and the earthly pursuit of something transcendent. It is the study of building a comfortable home inside yourself to come back to when the external overwhelms you. It’s putting your own mental health above everything else, as I’ve learned that failing to do so can easily become fatal. It is the practice of continually learning, cherishing every moment, and transforming your own perspective.
Like many others do, I used to associate success with external validation — I was looking to find some objective standard to reach. But the path to creation includes countless and seemingly constant failures, which is immediately humbling. I learned very quickly that a vision is not often reflected accurately in one’s work, and that this is to be expected. When I found myself disappointed in what I’d created (which was very often), peers I look up to reminded me that this is the exact essence of being an “artist” — we are constantly trying to actualize some idea that does not yet exist in our physical reality. It’s the attempt to do this, not the actual doing, which is the crux of it. When we get very close to it, we win awards, but to spend one’s life chasing awards is to spend the vast majority of the time you’re allotted profoundly disappointed in yourself. This is why I try to focus on the importance of simply trying my best to express my truest self, whether through mediocre filmmaking or amateurish harp-playing. As long as I keep pursuing the same beauty each artist aspires to, a unique and unforeseen beauty will unfold in its place.