The biggest highlight of my artistic journey was not when my first painting was sold but instead it was my solo exhibition, Bullied. To date, I still believe this is the best body of art I’ve created.
I was in my third year at York University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program when I was assigned to create artwork based on the theme “memories”. I dug into my past and remembered several incidents that I kept away hidden in a tiny vault in my head—my experiences of being bullied in elementary school. It was a topic that I hardly ever discussed because I didn’t want to relive those moments again. But I knew it would be a great topic for the assignment because there was so much content.
So I looked around in my house for any objects from that period of my life. I found a diary, report cards, photos, my old lunch bag and the medallion I received at my elementary gradation. These were all objects –artifacts I called them—that were symbolic of my bullying experiences in Grade 5. The bullying I experienced in elementary school affected my grades, participation in class, social skills and overall attitude towards life. I covered these objects in black tar, the black sticky residue to symbolize death. The act of dipping these objects in the tar was symbolic of burying the bullying experiences.
I nailed the objects to the wall and exhibited them during my class critique. I explained how I was a shy girl and was bullied for the majority of my years in elementary school with Grade 5 being the most difficult year. It was a very emotional moment and my professor congratulated me on my work and said the work should be displayed in a gallery.
So at the end of the year, I applied to have a solo exhibition at the school’s main art gallery for the following year. I received the acceptance email months later and was both excited and apprehensive as I knew organizing a solo show would be a lot of work! I found more artifacts to display and I set up a small student desk in the centre of the room surrounded by insults that were taped to the floor. The desk faced a wall which read all the insecurities I had in elementary school.
The exhibition ran from September 16th to September 27th, admission was free and I held a small private opening reception during the first week.
One of the artifacts in the show was a lunch bag with a note below that read:
"My lunch bag fell on the ground. The boy in front of me picked it up and yelled, 'Whose is this?' When a girl answered, 'It’s Veronica’s', the boy screamed, dropped it on the ground and wiped off his hands - as if I had an infectious disease."
Through the exhibition I wished to bring awareness to how much bullying can affect a child. The response I received was incredible. There was so much love and support left in the guestbook, comments from anonymous people explaining that they suffered the same experiences or that they walked away from the exhibition very emotional. As mentioned in my “Keep Art Uncensored” blog, I strongly believe that any good artwork is one that can strike up questioning and evoke emotion. This exhibition was the first time I felt that I successfully finished a body of work. It was a tremendous success for and encouraged me to exhibit my work more.