Coping Mechanisms: Art at the Intersection of Racism and Mental Health

August 22 – November 12, 2022 @ Otterbein University's Miller Gallery

Opening Reception: Friday, September 2, 5 – 7 PM

Featuring: Michael Coppage, Taylor Gaston Davis, Asa Featherstone IV, Dr. Tia Sherèe Gaynor, Pepper, Benjamin Pierce, Gaye Reissland, Vitus Shell, April Sunami, Laurie VanBalen, Asha White, Donte Woods-Spikes

One’s initial impulse in writing a curatorial statement about Coping Mechanisms might be to focus on the facts behind the exhibition: the overwhelming evidence that systemic racism has adverse effects on mental health. However, that is not entirely why Coping Mechanisms was developed and continues to travel to multiple venues.

Data about systemic racism is crucial for clarifying its impact on communities, but it can be impersonal, overwhelming, or difficult to grasp. Art, on the other hand, has the power to engage and resonate on a profoundly human level. Fresh A.I.R. Gallery, where Coping Mechanisms started, was founded on the idea that we can dismantle the stigma of mental illnesses and substance use disorders by sharing the artistic vision of people who live with them — that art can help us understand how these issues are personally experienced. Art can move us beyond diagnoses and labels. Art can change how we think, make choices, and interact with others. This is Coping Mechanisms’ underlying premise.

Coping Mechanisms debuted in 2021, shortly after the murder of George Floyd ignited an ongoing wave of racial reckoning in the United States, and when the devastating, disproportionate toll of the COVID pandemic among people of color was newly highlighting disparities in healthcare. As the exhibition title implies, the artwork featured here is about coping. It addresses racism that is mentally endured and coped with: regular police killings of people of color, microaggressive comments and biased language used in everyday conversation, brutal immigration policies, intergenerational trauma. Equally important, it is about the act of coping itself: the creation of art as a way to process and counter racism, to heal, to share strength and joy. Lastly, it asks viewers: How do you cope? How will you use what you learn here to challenge the racist systems that perpetuate physical and mental harm?

Michael Coppage & Lauren Pond, Curators

Coping Mechanism Card Front_no_bleeds

Clockwise from top left: Artworks by April Sunami; Asa Featherstone, IV; Benjamin Pierce; Michael Coppage; Vitus Shell; Gaye Reissland; and Asha White.

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