Local photographer debuts art exhibit in Townsend Hall

The artist hopes that her exhibit will open up discussions about mental health.

Tiffany V. McPeak and Timothy Moore sat in the auditorium of Swallow Hall on Monday evening, waiting for the discussion panel on McPeak’s latest exhibit to begin. McPeak, a local artist, had just debuted her “IT” exhibit in Townsend Hall.

McPeak has been working on this exhibit for five years. Moore, a poet and friend of McPeak, had been a photography model for her exhibit.

They were both there to talk about the exhibit and its subject matter: the darkest moments of people’s lives, their rock-bottom “IT” moments.

“I felt [like] the older I got, the more people I met and they had gone through things in their lives that they’d never talked to anybody about, so they lived with this baggage on their bodies, on their lives… I wanted to impact that,” McPeak said on the project’s origin. “My way to impact that was to come up with a project that people could express themselves and they could say things that, maybe, they hadn’t told anyone else before. To unload that baggage.”

McPeak began the project in 2012, asking people to come forward and share the moments from the lowest points in their lives, either by letter, phone call or in-person photography.

All three mediums are available at the exhibit, which runs through Friday, Oct. 27. In choosing the mediums, McPeak had very specific purposes in mind: the letters and phone calls could be sent in anonymously so that people felt comfortable in revealing their IT moments, while the photographs were printed on fabric and hung from the ceiling, giving the exhibit a more welcoming, free-flowing aura.

“The subject matter is really heavy,” McPeak said. “I wanted to give it a lighter feel when you walked into the space so that you really become a part of that space. As you move around, the images move around from the wind that’s created from your body and there’s this constant energy all the time.”

Despite the heavy subject matter, McPeak emphasized that the exhibit is about people’s resiliency.

“We’ve all, whether we admit it or not, have had a moment where we weren’t sure we were going to get through it. But we are all still here,” McPeak said.

That resilience was shown in the photos with controversial symbolism involving a gun.

McPeak said she took inspiration from cartoons she would watch as a child, where the villain would have the hero at gunpoint, but when the trigger was pulled, a flag with the word “bang” written on it would come out of the barrel and the hero would continue to fight on.

McPeak took this concept and had participants print their IT moments on the flag of their gun. Even though the meaning behind the image is positive, McPeak admitted that she faced roadblocks because of the controversy surrounding guns but kept them in the images.

“Everybody had their lowest point; this was their ‘bang’ moment,” McPeak said. “And it was also a flag. Even though it was their lowest point, they were able to get up and keep going.”

One of those people who has kept going was Moore, who survived his suicide attempt and has since been very open about his story and an advocate for mental health issues.

Moore originally decided to volunteer for the exhibit to help others, claiming that, “If I stop one person, it’s worth it.”

While his involvement was not originally for his own benefit, as he became involved he found it therapeutic to work with McPeak.

Moore’s own attempt is not his only experience with suicide. A friend committed suicide while the two men were in college, a death that Moore dealt with by writing his poem “Wild Things,” which he performed to end the event.

He admitted that losing his friend and feeling like he hadn’t been there for him added to his own stressors.

“If you truly love someone, you are obligated to try [to help them],” Moore said. “Most people are just looking for tomorrow. If you give them that — another minute, another hour — you’ve given them another minute to realize someone cares about them … People just want to feel loved.”

Moore also suggested for those in their IT moments to reach out to a friend, campus resources or an independent psychologist.

“Seek help,” Moore said. “There’s no shame in that. There’s no judgement in that. You’re doing something to help yourself and help the community around you …. There’s literally billions of people in the world that feel the same way that you feel. I think that … lessens some of the pain.”

Moore’s final sentiment is one echoed by McPeak, who repeated her reasons for creating the exhibit in the first place.

“I hope we realize that no matter who we are, no matter where we come from, there are some commonalities between us all. Because we are human,” McPeak said.

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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