Debut art exhibit
features artwork expressing the personal impacts of the toxic drug crisis. Artwork
aims to inspire new conversations and reduce stigma.
"Things Unseen" by Randall Bear Barnetson of Nadleh Whut'en First Nation
A new virtual art exhibit sponsored and presented by the FNHA will feature artwork from people who have been personally affected by drug overdose. Entitled From the Art, the exhibit is intended to spark new conversations surrounding substance use and the toxic drug crisis. The virtual space is an opportunity for participants to uphold their stories and feelings, expressed through art.
“I value being able to share my work among other artists who have suffered through this crisis," says artist Taylor John. “To share our individual experiences and connect with others who understand the immense pain means a lot to me. I send love to everyone affected by this crisis, and I hope for everyone to find some peace."
The title of the exhibit is a play on words referring to art that is created from the heart of people who have been affected by overdose. The artists have lost friends and family members, witnessed overdoses, and some artists work as part of the crisis response. Their works of art offer an opportunity to learn about the complexity and humanity behind the toxic drug crisis.
“Living with the grief of losing loved ones is almost unbearable," says artist Randall Bear Barnetson of Nadleh Whut'en First Nation. “I have spent many nights crying out to Creator in the moonlight ... I choose to believe that Creator hears me, that the moon is his witness to the pain. For that reason, I choose to depict the moon as a weeping ancestor figure in my artwork."
Art has the potential to soothe our souls. The making of art can be highly therapeutic, providing a means of expressing feelings that cannot be put into words.
In sharing the art collaboratively, the works offer raw insight and stories that speak of the diversity of the artists' experiences with the goal of ending the stigma of addiction. Public exhibits like this can engage a wide range of people and provide the opportunity for people to challenge their own negative and stigmatizing ideas about people who experience addiction.
For generations, Indigenous people have experienced stigma anchored in colonial views. Indigenous people who use substances experience additional stigmatization, which is even more detrimental to their health and well-being. The harms created by historic and present-day colonialism are among the root causes of substance use and this, combined with the increasingly poisoned drug supply in BC, has led to First Nations people dying from toxic drugs at more than five times the rate of other BC residents in 2021.
In addition to creating the artwork itself, the activity of developing and planning the exhibit builds relationships and connection among the artists and the organizations involved, leading to a reduction of stigma in these organizations and community settings.
The artwork in this exhibition was not commissioned specifically for the show. Indigenous and Indigenous-allied artists created these pieces organically, in the moment of their experience, using their art as a way to process what they were feeling. They have willingly shared them on this platform as a message from their hearts to others.
“Poetry and photography became outlets for my grief, my love and loss, and containers and outlets for my anguish and disbelief," says mother and artist Niki Lucas about losing her son.
In the spring, the exhibition will move to an in-person show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Once the exhibit launches there, the artists' experiences as part of this one-of-a-kind exhibit will be developed into a short video. Indigenous peoples with lived and living experience of substance use will continue to work closely with the project team and community-based organizations for the duration of this initiative.
We hope you will be touched by this collection and that it helps you reflect on what the toxic drug crisis means to you. Visit the From the Art exhibit here. The FNHA is the primary sponsor of the exhibition and is grateful for funding provided by the BC Ministry of Health.