Powerful art exhibit addresses ‘emotional subject matter’


“You were born by mistake.”

“You’re ugly.”

“Go kill yourself.”

“Nobody likes you.”

These are a few of the powerful, yet hateful, words written on tattered pieces of paper that are part of Maura Lisa’s artwork entitled “Bully Me Not.”

Her work is one of 42 from Pendleton Art Center artists or invited guests that hangs in the second floor of the downtown center. The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 27, is called “Signs of Suicide,” a topic that sometimes is difficult to discuss, said Sue Wittman, director of Art Central Foundation, the exhibit’s sponsor.

MORE: Child suicide rate in Ohio more than doubles over decade

Potential triggers of suicides sometimes aren’t addressed until it’s too late — at visitations and funerals.

“Such an emotional subject matter,” Wittman said.

Besides the local artists, the exhibit includes 15 large-scale panels depicting suicide and the signs that were done by students at Tejas, a K-12 gallery in Dayton. Each panel measures 10 feet by 4 feet and they’re hinged in sets of five. The panels are double-sided so there are 30 different pieces.

The traveling exhibit has been displayed in art galleries, schools and libraries and is on loan to the Middletown art center.

The diverse styles from the young artists include cartoon characters, but also dark and frightening messages. Wittman said they also provide “hope and getting beyond” suicidal tendencies.

One artist created a panel where guests are encouraged to write down their “happy place” on a Post-It Note and stick them on a wall.

Through their pieces, the artists touch on the emotional impact and self discovery with powerful symbolism. The artists featured in the exhibit hope their work conveys a meaningful message without saying a word.

“It’s hard to verbalize issues like this,” Wittman said. “Hopefully, after seeing the exhibit, people are hopeful at the end. Everybody has gone through difficult times. You work through it. We want to shed light on a sometimes difficult subject.”

MORE: With roughly one-fifth of students showing mental health concerns, schools are taking more steps to help them cope

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide, and the foundation estimates the number may be higher because of the stigma surrounding suicide leads to under reporting.

In 2016, there were 1,707 suicides in Ohio, or one suicide every five hours, ranking the state No. 31 in the U.S.

Lisa, of Middletown, believes some people, especially teens, are led to commit suicide because of constant bullying.

Her pieces feature what she called “hurtful words,” ones spoken or written to “diminish” a person, she said.

“Words poorly chosen are damaging,” said Lisa, who added that some of her five children have been bullied in school. “The damage it causes, you never really get over it.”

Wittman called Lisa’s work “one of the more powerful” submissions in the exhibit.

In the right hand corner, there are four pieces of paper, held together by five safety pins, which represent “holes that are left behind” after bullying, Lisa said.

Highlighted are the words:

“See the winter is past, the rains are over and gone

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.”

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