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Karyn Quin-Smith | Pieces of Me Art Exhibition
Karyn Quin-Smith (left) and artist Vee Hoy (right)

When Karyn Quin-Smith finally decided to become a Tall Tree it was after experiencing a lot of discrimination and stigma – “especially from work colleagues, who happen to be health care professionals like me”.

She knew what it felt like to be ignored, isolated, bullied and made to feel shame, so when she came across a Facebook ad calling for Rākau Roroa applicants she felt she was in the right space to stand tall and tell her story of mental distress.

“Experiencing discrimination stirred a fire within me,” she says. “I want to work towards breaking down the barriers and stigma we face, by sharing my story and proactively using education and love to change people’s perceptions.”

Art has always been an innate part of Karyn’s being. She’s used it as a form of therapy and healing and knew she was not the only one to use it in this way.

By combining her creative talent with her Rākau Roroa training, Karyn curated a one-off art exhibition called Pieces of Me, which featured the work of 10 artists, all of whom had experience of mental distress.

“Art is a powerful tool that enables you to express what words cannot always say and Pieces of Me was an opportunity to give people who experience mental distress a platform to be able to creatively express what their mental distress means to them,” Karyn explains.

“I wanted others to feel empowered in their journeys and I was humbled that I got the response I did, from so many artists, wanting the chance to share their stories and be understood.”

Held at Corban Estate Art Centre in Auckland the raw, interactive and confronting exhibition gave people coming to the exhibition a glimpse into the artists’ inner worlds.

Karyn hoped that visitors would feel an emotional connection to the works and think deeply about what mental distress is, as well as thinking about their own mental wellbeing and that of the people they know and love.

“I wanted to show that everyone’s journey is unique and that we are creative, productive, insightful people, who are just wanting to live our best lives and that we should not feel ashamed of ourselves and our journeys.”

The feedback from those who attended has been positive and encouraging. The exhibition broke down misconceptions and created a safe space for people to have conversations with the artists.

“People were so supportive of what our vision and message was and showed nothing but admiration and respect for us,” Karyn says.

“They opened up about their own experiences of mental distress, or the experience of someone that was close to them. They talked about their emotional responses to the art and how much the exhibition affected them.

“What touched me the most personally was the mother of an artist coming up to me and thanking me for giving her daughter the opportunity to be in the exhibition, which was really humbling.”

Another very special moment was an impromptu performance. Musicians performed during the night and near the end, when only a few people remained, an older gentleman took the stage.

“He spoke about his beautiful friend who had ended his life 20 years ago. With so much love and grief he sang the most soulful song, that he said always made him think of his friend.

“I sat there listening to him sing and thought ‘wow, I am experiencing something very special and powerful right now’.  The exhibition had given him a platform to open up, share and perhaps heal a little. This was the exhibition’s true purpose all along.”

Thanks to our Pieces of Me artists | Eve Wereta, Vee Hoy, Karyn Quin-Smith, Kelly Reichardt, Chrissie Jones, Julie Johnstone, Aaron Frater, Maria Gomez-Ron, Leilani Thompson-Rikys and Rosilea Leat.

View photos and the opening night video on the Pieces of Me Facebook page:


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