I was assigned a project at school. I needed to create a work of art that encompassed my growing fury over the fentanyl crisis occurring in Vancouver.
For my transformation project, Equal Light, I was finally able to demonstrate how I truly feel when considering people who suffer from addictions.
I lost one of my oldest friends in July to an overdose and I am still incredibly angry over such a preventable loss. My sister also suffers from substance abuse and I am highly aware of the risks she takes every single day. Mostly, I am furious with how many people see addicts as ‘other’ – and how they refuse to embrace them into everyday society as equals or peers. I’ll admit that I felt that way when I was younger because addiction had not touched my life – but I am far from feeling that way now.
I created my work, Equal Light, in an attempt to encapsulate the light that every single person has within them. Friend, sister, stranger, addict – we are all born as humans that have every right to be respected and loved equally. I wanted to create a piece that could show our worth even after we’ve been touched by tragedy or trauma – that even if we walk a darker path, we’re still the same inside as everyone else.
I decided to communicate this concept with paint and glass. I found identical glass vases, or carafes, and designated each vase as a different ‘spirit’. I then hand painted each vase with my fingers – carefully layering different shades, hues, and tints of colour all over the glass. Each finger print is meant to represent the effect that others have on us. Warm, lighter shades are meant to represent positive, loving experiences – and cooler, darker shades represent trauma or tragedy. I wanted each vase to look different and to carry a different story from the other. One was much darker and one was much lighter – showing the different paths and lives that we all can live. I brought each vase to life with a string of copper lights that I secured inside before I suspended each vase to the ceiling. It was important for these vases to look like little spirit capsules, floating peacefully in the air – to emphasize the beauty, magic, and preciousness of each life.
This piece was extremely emotional for me. When I started applying the paint colours, I tried very hard to imagine the different kinds of energy inflicted on my own life with each fingerprint. I felt good when I was putting pinks, reds, and yellows on my glass vases. Like I was giving gifts to each vessel. When I switched to applying dark violets and dark blues, I began to think about all of the things I’ve heard others struggle through. It was a bit overwhelming to feel the emotions as I applied them, but a seemingly necessary part of my grieving process. It felt good to look back and know that people can make it through life with quite a lot of darkness and still keep shining.
After presenting this project to my art class, a fellow student came up to me after my class presentation and thanked me for my piece. She has a family connection to addiction, and it moved her to hear someone else speaking about the worth and validity of people who suffer from addiction.
In fact, I’ve had several people send me messages since I’ve shared my piece publicly – and it breaks my heart that this recognition of worth and love surrounding addicts is so secret and rare.
Addiction is painful, for everyone involved, and I think it is wrong that we feel encouraged to hide our grief and our love because we are so often taught to feel shame instead.
Everyone is deserving of dignity and of love.