Art With a Purpose

The UmhlangaSeptember 19, 2023

The Story of a La’ Muse

Art has the ability to evoke emotions. Using different colours, techniques and visuals, you can elicit feelings of happiness, contentment and sadness, or even convey an entire story. Creating art can also facilitate the release of these feelings, whether you sculpt, write, draw or splash paint onto a wall. Art therapy is using this creative process to improve well-being, by both observing and creating art, regardless of the medium. 


Sonaly Hurdayal’s journey with art began at a young age. After finishing her first piece of art in primary school, she found that she really enjoyed the process of creation. Pretty soon, crayons weren’t giving her the desired effect she wanted to achieve, so she continued creating with paint instead. She soon became known as “the artist” by her classmates and teachers. For Sonaly, creating was a medium of escape and expression. “I found that I could share information and emotions better by drawing and painting rather than writing or speaking,” she shares. 


As she got older, art also became an outlet for her feelings of anxiety. “Even though I didn’t know what it was at the time, I knew I felt a certain way, and painting how I felt helped me cope with those feelings,” she explains. Sonaly is an advocate for mental health awareness and shares her knowledge and experiences to help people know that they are not alone in their journeys. “When my gran was diagnosed with cancer, I researched what art therapy was and I spoke to her about it,” she shares. “It combines psychology and art, helping people express their feelings or influence them when they look at a certain piece of art.” 


This research later guided her businesses and the projects she worked on. “I spent three months in King George Hospital painting murals with a team in their paediatric wards,” she recalled. “Watching those children watching us work and the effect the murals had on them was enough to convince me that this was what I wanted to do – help people with my art. I switched to studying part-time and started focusing on my passion.” 


Sonaly wanted to give her art a purpose by teaching people to paint in order to help them express their emotions. This led to the birth of Pause ‘n Paint. She held her first class in 2017 in a restaurant and then continued with small classes until 2021 when she took up residence at Unity Performing Arts Studio in Gateway. “At Unity, I could embody my role better and be more comfortable with the environment. It was easier to teach there, too.” Attendees were completely focused on the class and left their daily worries outside, giving them an escape and an opportunity to release their stress in a healthy way. 


Sonaly’s classes were so much more than just painting. She would teach the techniques but then leave it up to the individual to express themselves how they wanted to. From there, the brand and the work Sonaly was doing gained recognition and classes were selling out as fast as she could plan them. 


She still needed her own space where she could create a safe environment offering people a refuge to be freely creative. In Greek mythology, the Muses worked together with the god Apollo to bring inspiration to artists. Ironically enough, Sonaly took inspiration from that to create the concept of La’ Muse. From the name, decor, themes and location, Sonaly’s goal is to inspire people when they walk in and leave feeling a little lighter. 


As a female entrepreneur, she faced a lot of challenges where she was met with criticism and doubt. Being an artist who goes against the norm comes with its own set of challenges. Much of her work is personal to her. “I feel so passionate about this because I use my personal experiences and translate them into therapeutic painting classes,” Sonaly explains. “I want people to know that it’s okay to feel the way they do and that things will be okay, that there is more than one path in life.” This is what La’ Muse is for – breaking stereotypes and creating awareness around mental wellness. 


Sonaly aims to leave behind a tangible legacy through her work. “The things I talk about are all things I wish someone had told me at a younger age,” she shares. She wants people to remember the work she did, the awareness she created, and how people benefited from her work. “Follow your passion,” Sonaly asserts. “Don’t settle. Yes, have a safety net, but don’t settle for less. Life is too short to settle.”

Words: Cristina Govender