News /PEERS launches consumer mask display in downtown Oakland
A new consumer mask art exhibit debuted in downtown Oakland today next to the Paramount Theatre and will last through the end of February. The display, which highlights masks made by four consumers through the "Reformation: Moving Beyond Stigma" workshop, serves to educate the public and foster dialogue around mental health stigma and discrimination.
"This display has multiple goals, but the overarching focus is to promote and perpetuate the message of the Social Inclusion Campaign, which is 'See me, not my diagnosis,'" said PEERS Associate Director Lisa Smusz. "We want to educate the public on what mental health is and how harmful labels and stereotypes can be. We also want to honor the wonderful masks that consumers made and allow them to share their processes and stories of recovery in their own words."
Located at 2021 Broadway, the exhibit allows viewers to dial a number on their cell phones to listen to each artist describe their mask.
"By listening to the stories while seeing the artwork, we believe that passers-by will make a connection and feel a sense of contact with the person on the other end," Smusz said. "We want people to realize that mental health issues are common and real, that nearly everyone is affected, and that a diagnosis does not equate with inability or ineptitude."
Artist Jader Tadefa is excited to be a part of the project and hopes that his and fellow artists' masks make a positive impression on the public.
"I hope to share with viewers that the people you see walking down the street asking for a dollar or two — those who might seem like they'll never come out of a temporary bad space — are not destined to always be like that," Tadefa said. "I've been that person, one of 'those people.' It's not impossible to recover from that. People who experience mental health challenges are at the core genuinely good people, have a lot of talent and skills to offer, and also have a voice."
Tadefa is also grateful for the opportunity to contribute to positive social change with a group of like-minded peers.
"I wasn’t expecting this [exhibit] to come about, but now that that it's moving forward in the way that it is, I'm humbled by this experience," Tadefa said. "I went from being someone who didn't talk at all to someone who now talks all the time! Mental health challenges are not the be-all, end-all and are not the final chapter of somebody's life. There’s a lot more to those people than what you're seeing."
Designed to empower participants in eliminating both internal and external stigma through art, the two-day mask workshop provides space and materials for attendees to create a dialogue about who they truly want to be.
In the process, participants create personalized masks with a variety of visuals from magazines, drawings, writings, and other artistic tools. The outside of the mask features words and imagery depicting how the participants believes he or she is perceived by society, while the inside features words and imagery reflecting how the consumer sees him- or herself.
The four artists profiled in the display include:
- Christal Byrd, whose art shows the contrast between the shame she once felt over her weight and emotional eating habits and her present confidence and optimism with her life and body;
- Abu Rahim, whose external and internal masks feature competing visual elements of stereotypes and taboo with childlike imagery and unbridled happiness;
- Jader Tadefa, whose display conveys his life journey through the mental health system. His outer mask uses imagery of blood and shattered glass to depict more difficult times, while his inside mask uses sunshine, doves, and green hilly scenery to show a newfound sense of hope and happiness; and
- Yaffa Alter, whose outside mask represents "the old her" with low self-esteem and not living her own life. By contrast, her inside mask represents who she is today, a "victorious Caribbean queen," whole and complete just the way she is.
If you're interested in learning more about the masks but can't get to the display, you can watch an episode of Mental Health Matters with Tadefa and workshop creator Adella at: http://blip.tv/mental-health-matters/mental-health-matters-mask-healing-5657974.
You can also hear the artists' stories via the PEERS Podcast at: www.peersnet.org/radio