I’ve never been to an art exhibition before, but it’s always been something that I wanted to experience. I have an appreciation and longing for art that I don’t often fulfill and so one of my sub-goals of getting involved this year was that I wanted to visit some exhibitions on campus.
For my first exhibition I had the honour of viewing Veronica Blanco’s “Bullied”. I wasn’t too sure of what I should expect but the moment I crossed the threshold of the Gales Gallery I knew I was going to be impacted, one way or another.
The initial feeling as I entered the room was almost uncomfortable. In the center of the room sat a standard student desk with a built in table, the kind that my highschool was filled with.
The walls and floors are highly contrasted by the words and in particular, the insults, that cover them. As I began to walk around I initially felt curious, but neutral. The first moment I felt affected by Veronica’s art was when I read the words on the wall facing the desk.
I’ve had many experiences with bullying myself and her words, her thoughts, eerily resembled my own thoughts…thoughts I’ve carried with me consistently until just a few years ago. Thoughts that I sometimes still struggle with. I too was bullied about my nose, my teeth, and my skin. I was weird because I was shy and unconfident. I’m sure so many people can relate to these words and the experience of suffering through bullying.
From the center of the room you can also notice letters and other objects adorning the wall, all of them marred with the frozen drip of thick black tar. I spent a short amount of time on one piece, than another, until I hit a report card.
Some comments from the letter: “Veronica is a very quiet student. She seldom asks questions in class, and she is a little shy to volunteer answers… I would like to see Veronica read aloud more often in class. This initiative may help her confidence. Veronica is more capable than the grades on this report would seem to indicate[.]”
I could have sworn that was my report card hanging on the wall. I was the quiet student. I was far too shy to answer questions in class and when I was forced to talk my face would shine like a red beacon and my voice would waver as I heard my peers giggling in the background. I was the student that was ‘more capable’ and I don’t know how many times I heard my mother say ‘you aren’t reaching your full potential’. Veronica’s report card sucked me into a memory vortex and as I stood there, memory after memory flashed in my head.
This is art in its purest form. It’s emotional, even painful. But when my trip through memory lane was over, I felt a certain peace. I looked at her report card, cut and covered in tar and I imagined, just imagined, my own report cards burning up and fading from existence. To me this piece, as dark as it first seems, represents strength and cleansing. Veronica’s bullying might have helped shape who she is a person but she doesn’t let it define her. She can let it plague her thoughts, or she can destroy it, living free from that weight.
I went through a similar process when I saw the graduation cap hanging on the wall, covered in tar.
And who hasn’t been hit with nostalgia when going through their Facebook feeds? You see your former peers, your former bullies living seemingly awesome lives.
The tar covering that Facebook reunion event brought me back to reality. I’ve been guilty of ‘facebook stalking’ my old bullies in the past. I’ve been jealous of the lives they seem to be living. But I constantly remind myself that those people are on their own path. They have their own joys, and their own demons, just as you and I do. The tar on Elementary Reunion reminded me to focus on my own path.
The final piece I connected with was a simple diary, lightly covered in tar, sitting on a podium beside the desk in the middle of the room.
What struck me about this diary was that it was empty. Veronica’s name was clearly visible on the first page but the rest of the pages were blank which reminded me so much of my childhood. I don’t know how many diaries I went through throughout my younger years. I’d put my name on the front page, maybe fill out a page or two, and eventually, I’d throw the diary out. Even now I have writers block when it comes to writing for me. This diary represents an artistic struggle to me. An emotional struggle. You have all these thoughts and stories to share as an artist, but it’s not always easy to get them out. And when you’ve been bullied, I think that the amount of judgment you place on yourself is so heavy, it’s constraining. Veronica is breaking those constraints with the tar on her diary. She’s taking control of her artistic abilities, her strengths and her weaknesses.
Veronica Blanco’s “Bullied” is an immersive experience, one so powerful that its simplistic elements are capable of transporting you deep into your own past. As a viewer I went from feeling curious to nostalgic to overwhelmed and finally I ended my internal journey as a survivor. The contrast between the past, my memories, and my present is indescribable. To be where I am now, after what I’ve been through, after what I’ve been reminded of, makes me feel strong and confident. All in all, I am impressed with my first exhibition experience and I have to commend Veronica for sharing so much of her soul with her audience.
I reached out to Veronica before I had the experience of viewing her exhibition and she was awesome enough to oblige to answering a few of my questions. I know that this is an unusually long post but I ask that you please take the time to read the Q & A’s below.
As always, share your thoughts below!
Q & A with Veronica Blanco, the artist behind “Bullied”
M – What inspired you to create the “Bullied” exhibit?
Veronica – During my previous year as a visual arts major, I began pushing myself even further in my artwork. I realized that the more heavily I immersed myself within my artwork, by sharing and exploring my struggles, deepest thoughts and heartaches, the more interesting [my art became]. If I managed to create art where I revealed myself and all my complexities, then I created a successful piece.
My “Bullied” exhibit started out as a painting assignment where I wanted to explore the idea of memories and the use of tar as a medium. I considered the overall texture of tar and its appearance; I felt it would be beneficial towards my piece if I utilized it in order to exhibit various facets of death. This led me towards the notion of destroying memories. My next question was, what memory do I have that I wanted to destroy? With the news buzzing around about Amanda Todd, I remembered my grade five year in elementary school—a past that I have never spoken about. Around this time I was invited to my elementary school reunion on Facebook, where my former classmates spoke about how everyone got along, and how everyone was so friendly. I was angry when I saw this and how fondly people spoke about our school because the learning environment was certainly not a pleasant place for everyone. So with these thoughts in mind, I decided to create a body of work where I attempted to destroy the memories I have of that school year.
Each of the objects in the artwork such as the report card, the lunch bag and the diary, are more like artifacts where each object is related to my elementary school, and holds a memory. Not all the objects are fully covered with the tar because it is impossible to fully destroy a memory.
M – What were your expectations in regards to your exhibition and how do you feel now that it’s almost over?
Veronica – Showcasing this artwork at this exhibition has been a very therapeutic experience for me, as it has forced me to talk about my experiences.
The amount of attention my exhibition has received is incredible, but what is even more overwhelming is seeing how many people have been able to relate to bullying, and how the exhibition has affected others. That is really all that I wish for; for my artwork to evoke emotion, and I’m so grateful it has for some.
M – What has your experience been like at York?
Veronica – York’s Visual Arts program has been wonderful to me for the past three years. From its freedom of expression to the instructors who have pushed me in class, I’ve truly grown as an artist. The great thing about York is that it is an interdisciplinary school, where we are given the opportunity to enroll in numerous free electives, and take general education courses to broaden our knowledge.
M – Do you have a message for other victims of bullying?
Veronica – For the victims of bullying, my message to them is to “stay strong”. You may not be able to completely change a person’s actions, but you can change how it affects you. Children should not have to come to school and be frightened of the people around them. Being bullied is a horrible experience and I would not wish it upon anyone.