“Sacred Spaces” uncovers the reality of living with mental illness

Many people find that they can make themselves comfortable no matter where they go; for others, those who silently grapple with mental illness, they find that they experience little to no comfort or safety out in the world at all. This is an important conversation that needs to be had and artists Chardon Trimble-Kirk and Kaitlyn Roberts seek to bring it to light through art with a new exhibition called “Sacred Spaces”.

The work in “Sacred Spaces” heavily revolves around the idea of the safety of beds and bedsheets, the ways in which they keep one safe from the horrors they may face in the outside world, ultimately juxtaposing this with the concept of uncovering struggles with mental illness.

“[The art] was about my personal experience with anxiety,” said Roberts. “Essentially, I became attracted to this idea that my bed is the only place that I’ve felt comfortable and safe and I began to create artwork around this whole idea that the blanket has become my hero in my life. The exhibition is sort of [based around] the idea that a piece of cloth has become security in a way for a lot of people.”

Trimble-Kirk sought to tackle similar subject matter but from a different perspective.

“I’m a little vague with my art but it’s about my own personal experiences surrounding mental illnesses,” said Trimble-Kirk. “I focus more on the bed itself and I do a lot of figurative work where [the bed is] tied more to safety, a little bit of sexuality as well.”

Painting and analogue photography are the two media highlighted within this exhibition. Where Roberts stated she “brought her bed to the canvas”, a lot of Trimble-Kirk’s work focuses on faceless figures, allowing for unique takes on the subject of mental illness.

“My photographs represent this sort of battle between myself and my mind as I go through each day with a mental illness,” said Roberts. “The bed came from, literally, the fact that that was the only place where I was comfortable and I wanted to portray that in my artwork.”

“For my paintings, I deal a lot with figures and you don’t see their faces and this idea of hiding yourself,” said Trimble-Kirk.

A collaborative effort between the two artists comes in the form of Roberts’ photographs that Trimble-Kirk painted on top of to unite their experiences.

“I painted over top of [the photographs] to connect the materiality of the paint that I used and give this idea of covering and uncovering,” said Trimble-Kirk.

Although these are deeply personal narratives that are being put on display, Roberts and Trimble-Kirk stated these works were carefully crafted with the intent of resonating with people who had battled illness before.

“[Painting is] very therapeutic and, for me personally, with the hiding and covering [in my artwork], it’s a way to show something that’s so private publicly — especially with exhibiting it as well and bringing about a conversation of these issues,” said Trimble-Kirk. “I want people to look at these paintings and for a lot of people to understand them. Like, with my portraits, I don’t show the faces [of the figures], so anybody could put themselves in that position and a lot of people, I assume, would get those feelings and understand the safety and the vulnerability within those pieces.”

“I want people to relate to the work and I want people to take away a new perception on what goes through the mind of someone with a mental illness,” said Roberts. “I want people to put themselves into their work as well as though the work is theirs, the bed is theirs.”

Even those who can’t relate to the struggles that come with mental illness can find a home at “Sacred Spaces”. The exhibition is important in terms of furthering the conversation around mental illness. Both Roberts and Trimble-Kirk stressed that they hoped “Sacred Spaces” would offer a look at what the struggles of the mentally ill are like. Featuring heartfelt pieces built on true experiences, there’s no doubt that it does.

“For people who don’t experience [mental illness], [“Sacred Spaces”] is a way to experience it or understand it, it’s a way to shine a light on things that may be hidden in public,” said Trimble-Kirk. “For people who relate to the work, it gives them a chance to relate to something and know that there’s somebody else out there who experiences [illness].”

Roberts capped off the interview with one simple statement of agreement that just about summed up an underlying theme beneath the entire exhibition: “You’re not alone.”

As a place to either find comfort in a vulnerable reflection of your own struggles or learn what it’s like to look through the eyes of someone else struggling, “Sacred Spaces” certainly proves Roberts’ statement to be true to be true.

“Sacred Spaces” is being held from Feb. 6 to Feb. 29 in the VISA Art Gallery and Student Exhibition Space at Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The opening reception will be held Feb. 12 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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