An Anthology of Sticks & Stones
The Main Gallery, October 18 – November 23, 2019
Opening Reception: Friday, October 18, from 7 pm – 10 pm
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 St, Edmonton
The story of my body has been told to me by many people – through prescriptions and whispers behind backs, danced around by loved ones, and shouted out of car windows as I walk. We are told as young ones that words cannot hurt us, that they are not weapons, and yet we all hold memories of moments where language has cut and marked us indelibly. The exhibition An Anthology of Sticks and Stones is a vulnerable exposure of the wounds that we have collected as fat people, and a metaphorical exploration of how the violence of language can go beyond individual experiences to create an entire culture of shame.
Over a year-long residency, I have collected anecdotes and memories from individuals who identify as fat – whether that be in a positive, negative, or neutral way. These anecdotes are specifically focusing on memories of being told that their bodies are wrong, shameful, or aberrant, from a variety of people in each individual’s life and over a span of decades. Over one hundred people contributed to these works, each bearing a multitude of stories and memories of language being used, whether intentionally or not, to wound them because of their size and its perceived implications. These thousands of memories were incorporated both into a series of mixed media paintings and an interactive installation piece. The six mixed media paintings in this series each focus on a different “stream” of commentary that fat people receive – from the media, family and friends, online and on social media, medical practitioners, their inner voices, and from the support of fat community.
Combining text taken verbatim from interviews and surveys with grainy photo transfers and elements of collage and needlepoint – these pieces work to encourage viewers to reflect on language and its impact on people, especially when the words that have so harmed people in this series are likely the ones that we have all, at one time or another, heard or said ourselves. As well, the use of embroidery and other specialty textiles connotes traditional femininity and the handing down from one generation to another, which mirrors concepts that are heavily present when analyzing weight stigma and fat oppression in our society as we hand down our ideas of which bodies have value in our society. The installation piece is a tangible recreation of the way a mind works after being exposed to trauma and abuse for years on end. When a trigger or situation is faced, it often leads our brains to connect the dots of what we are currently experiencing to past experiences that are similar, whether consciously or subconsciously. In this way, we often experience trauma repeatedly, over and over, with our bodies recreating the emotions and sensations of the past and our brain unable to distinguish whether the current moment is dangerous or not. While over one hundred participants contributed, each anecdote is not tied to a specific individual, paralleling how sometimes our own experiences can become indistinguishable from those we have heard from others, and how sometimes these memories get confused or mixed up and filed in the wrong place in our brains, causing any multitudes of impacts.
This series is not only the result of numerous years of the world telling me and so many others that our bodies, our homes, are unacceptable in their eyes, but also the past few years of intense counselling that I have been going through. The body of work is not only the physical art pieces that have resulted, but the hundreds of moments of community coming together and sharing their experiences with one another in order to heal, as I strive to do myself. Throughout the series, while the majority of it stings, there are tiny little pinpricks of light – the hope that with the building of community, the sharing and voicing of pains, and the slow but steady changing of systems – that we can grow and thrive, bigger and beyond what we could have ever imagined.
Allison Tunis has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Alberta, and a graduate diploma in Art Therapy from the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute. She works mainly in cross-stitch embroidery, but also explores mixed media involving acrylic painting and gel transfers, and has self-publishing a body positive colouring book entitled Body Love: A Fat Activism Colouring Book, which can be found on Amazon in many countries.
Tunis is currently developing and facilitating a Queer Youth Art Club through the Alberta Sex Positive Education & Community Centre (ASPECC), which is a project supported by the Edmonton Arts Council and the Edmonton Community Foundation. As well, she is in the process of developing a body of work themed around language, social norms, and the experience of living as a fat person in our society. Previously, Tunis was the Artist-in-Residence for Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS), on grant from the Edmonton Arts Council, working with high-risk youth in the Edmonton area to create art in a therapeutic and activist context, as well as creating her own body of work focusing on body diversity, feminism, and reducing weight-based and mental illness stigma. Allison’s first solo exhibition premiered at the Alberta Craft Council Discovery Gallery in January 2018, and was well-received. It went on to travel to the Calgary location, and Allison has been slated to be a part of a number of group exhibitions and commissioned projects in 2019 and beyond.
Her pieces question our society’s obsession with aesthetic beauty, restrictive beauty standards, and body conformity, while exploring her own struggle with body image and a hunger for more diverse representation. Issues of feminism and intersectionality, diversity in media representation, and social constructions of beauty all influence Allison’s work as an artist.