I have a wonderful group of peers who really know me – from the things I like (bacon) to my hobby (photography). Last December one peer was sitting on a committee with another organization that had organized an art show/contest called ‘Hope and Help: Overcoming Trauma’ and he suggested that I enter. I asked him to email me the entry information and I would take a look at it.
I downloaded the flyer, familiarized myself with the requirements and decided I would enter the contest. I could see how my photo ‘Stigma – A Self Portrait’ would fit the theme of the show and it could educate others on the trauma of stigma for those living with HIV.
I went online to submit a digital copy of my photograph and a short blurb (their words not mine) that told the story behind it. Within days I was notified that they received my submission and I would be notified sometime in January if my photo would be in the show and at a later date, the top three winners would be announced prior to the show’s opening.
Late in January they did contact me saying I was entered and told where I could drop off my framed, ready to display photo. All photos would be on display at the March 3, 2016 opening at Kitchener City Hall. They would remain there the first month and then be moved to other venues around Kitchener-Waterloo over the next three months.
A week prior to the show I received an email listing the three winners. I was a little disappointed to learn I wasn’t one of them. The three winning entries were included in the email with the stories behind them and as I read each of them I understood why they were selected. All three winning pieces were paintings by three amazing women. The trauma they had expressed in their art and stories was very moving. I was humbled by their strength, battling a trauma I would never experience.
March 3rd, opening night. I arrived on time, maybe a little early. I was surprised to see so many others but I only recognized one person that I had actually met before, the lead organizer. As I looked around the rotunda I didn’t see the artwork, just some poster cards of each entry were taped on the walls and they were being projected on a screen next to the microphone. I kept looking around and I finally noticed there was a special room where the art work was being displayed.
As I entered the viewing room, my eyes searched the wall to see where mine was hanging. For me, positioning is important. One day I hope to see mine as the main attraction. When I spotted it near the end of the wall there were a couple of women in front of it so I waited to go towards it.
One woman had a camera and was taking photos of what I thought was all the art in front of her but I as I looked closer I could see the screen on the back of her camera. She was photographing mine.
She was zooming in on just the photo, then she captured one of all the words and finally one of the story card beside it. When she was done, she flipped through the photos and they both began to discuss them quietly. When they noticed I was waiting to be in the spot they were in they started to leave. I thanked them for looking at my photo and introduced myself. They asked me a couple of questions but I don’t recall what they were; it was an ‘all about me’ moment. The photo you see here, the lady with the camera took it for me on my iPhone.
On my way back in to the presentation I noticed a table was set up near the exit and on it were more of the postcards of our artwork that were taped to the walls. There must have been ten or twenty of each, I noticed several people had them in their hands. I looked for mine and there was only two left. It was a good feeling learning that my photo had reached out to these people, they could see what stigma can look like.
When the presentation started they had a couple of speakers. One was a doctor who worked with people dealing with trauma and she was another planner of the show. Next we listened to an interpretation of slam poetry. A part of the poem had a collection of words and phrases that were closely associated to my photo but dealt with trauma of a different kind. To share a sample of what it contained, “you’re fat, worthless, nobody likes you”, were just a small portion of it.
The final part of the evening was handing out the prizes to the winners. Each woman was allowed to say something if they were up to it. The other artists were also offered a chance to speak about our artwork but I declined after hearing the winners. There weren’t many dry eyes in the place.
The most humbling part of my evening was learning who the first place winner was. She was one of the women in front of my photo taking pictures. It was an honour to have her show so much interest in my photo. I had a few questions as to why but it wasn’t the right time, this was her moment.
As the event wound down I went to congratulate her and I attempted to apologize for my selfish ‘all about me’ moment earlier. I honestly felt bad but this is an experience I wasn’t prepared for. I never want to downplay the trauma of living with HIV or the stigma that comes with it but I’m alright, I’m going to be alright. The trauma that others live with can be very debilitating and it can come with mental and physical scars.
Trauma has many faces, you can cover them with a mask but tears will always find a way out and that’s alright.