July 5, 2019 11:20 am

Peterborough art project ‘unmasks’ struggles of brain injury survivors

WATCH: An art exhibit featuring the work of brain injury survivors describes their personal journeys through painted masks.


A new exhibit in Peterborough is allowing brain injury survivors to express their struggles through art.

Organized by the Ontario Brain Injury Association, Unmasking Brain Injury features masks created by those living with brain injuries.

Some survivors say that in some ways, the masks help to make their invisible injuries visible.

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Artist Elaine Devlin says a brain injury can affect people in different ways and that the masks reflect that.

“That’s the neat thing with art: when people actually see it, they don’t see the same thing every time, even though it’s the same head … the descriptions are very different based on what everybody has to experience or go through,” she explained.

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Teryl Hoefel, executive director of the Brain Injury Association Peterborough, says the idea of using unpainted masks as a medium for expression started with U.S. army casualties from Iraq. In Ontario, she added that it was first used in the Quinte area.

“It allows the members and the individuals who are creating the masks to work through the challenges of living with a brain injury, finding a voice, finding a way to raise awareness of the invisible disability,” Hoefel explained.

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Carolyn Barber, whose brain injury was caused by meningitis, says her mask reflects her pain.

“Most of the things that I was looking for when I got working on it were very sharp,” she said. “I was trying to show people the pain that you have with the brain, not … with the liquid squishing your brain, so it was sharp objects like stone and prickles and the backs of earrings and things like that.”

The two sides of Ann Wilson’s mask reflect her life before and after her brain injury. However, she thinks there should be another side she can use to think about her future.

“It gave me more hope and more focus on positivity and pursuing something new,” she said.

The display can be found on the lower level of the Peterborough Public Library until the end of July.

WATCH: Turning brain injury into art

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