We need to talk.
The overdose public health emergency is a complex crisis with no easy solutions, but experts agree that open dialogue is a critical step in saving lives. Stigma — an attribute or quality which ‘significantly discredits’ an individual in the eyes of others — keeps people from talking about substance use and the overdose crisis. But it’s crucial to talk, to build connections and make sure no one suffers alone.
“The ‘unmasking’ of people who use substances allows us to see the whole person rather than only one aspect of who the person is,” says Judith Pellerin, co-chair of the Mission Overdose Community Action Team (MOCAT). “Substance use is not the defining characteristic a person.”
Reported overdose deaths aren’t just numbers — they represent sons and daughters, parents of children, loved ones who have been torn from the fabric of their families.
Masks We Wear is a community arts dialogue that explores the faces we present to the world and those we perceive others wear. Throughout August 2020, leading up to International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, the MOCAT hosted a series of mask-making workshops facilitated by community artist and MOCAT project coordinator Kat Wahamaa. Downtown Mission businesses and organizations Perfect Piece Optical, Mission Friendship Centre, Fronya, Gallery 202, Trendy or What Knot, The Penny, Rex Cox Menswear, Royal Lepage and The Mission Record displayed the artwork for Overdose Awareness August 31- September 3.
The mixed media artworks were created by 48 community members from 17 to 72, many with lived experience — including family members, service providers, and others with a desire to learn more about the opioid health emergency.
Using art to reduce stigma and build community
Mission resident Jennie Bice participated with daughter Sofya. “It is critically important to bring the community together through events like these to help break down stigma barriers,” Bice says. “Overdose death is preventable. We support supervised consumption sites, there are zero deaths recorded in these facilities. Zero. Never use alone.”
“Spreading messages to our community through art is honestly one of the best ways to make a change,” Sofya adds. “It was great to use this medium to create much needed awareness around Mission.”
The sessions generated thought-provoking pieces and, through exhibition, invite the whole community to dialogue. Masks We Wear is now on display in the Community Art Space at The Reach Gallery Museum Abbotsford until October 28 as part of their fall exhibition season.