Death is inevitable. A sure fact of life is that every one of us is going to die at the end of it. Death is natural and yet for some reason death is “one of the last taboos that we’ve got. We talk about everything it seems to me, lots of sexuality, culture but we seldom really talk about death,” says Brian Nichols, local artist and psychotherapist.
Running from now until March 28 in Gallery in the Attic located at 140½ Hunter St. West, is Nichols’ art show, Preferring Not To See. On the four walls of the room in which his art showcased, hang more than 360 faces. These are the faces of sorrow. Of other peoples sorrow, of Nichols’ sorrow and the sorrow reflected from within the viewer. “This show is about the things we don’t want to talk about. The work has a lot of angst, many of the photos are self portraits,” explains Nichols.
This art show is running in conjunction with a Death Cafés presented by Hospice Peterborough. The café is being held March 10 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Gallery in the Attic as well and is called Unspeakable Deaths: The Deaths That We Don’t or Cant Talk About.
This will be an interactive evening involving Nichols’ art as well as music and poetry. “We don’t really allow people to talk who aren’t experts in the field about what death might mean to them,” says Nichols, so this evening is an opportunity for anyone who wishes, to discuss death in a welcoming and safe environment.
Within a life time we all will or have experienced the impact of death but are very rarely given the occasion to discuss death and the effects that it has on our lives.
“Preferring Not To See, this whole show is about the things we don’t want to talk about. And so this art is coming out of my own personal work which is largely, AIDS in Zimbabwe, Haiti and cholera, Russia in orphanages, Israel and my own practice here.
Because I am a psychotherapist I see a lot of people for whom there has been a tragic death. As a result of this I do my own art practice which is often an expression of those things that I am left with at the end of the day,” explores Nichols.
I went to see the exhibit and found myself very unwilling to focus on any particular face for a length of time, and once I became aware of this I asked myself why.
These are the answers I came up with: fear, anxiety, pain, judgement, vulnerability, anger, sorrow, and confusion. These are just a few of the emotions that passed through me as I looked upon the faces on the walls and as I felt the faces look upon me. This is a very powerful show because it forces you to open your eyes to things that you may not want to see.
“The show invites you into a room where all four walls are covered with faces that depict different degrees of suffering and it’s asking you to look at them. These 360 faces are about suffering,” says Nichols.
When asked about how he feels as an artist about putting his paintings, his faces up, for people to see Nichols answers, “Sounds funny, scary. It feels vulnerable. There is a huge risk that nobody will get it. It feels like I am exposing myself. On the other hand, I think as artists, most of us do the work for ourselves. It’s not for the viewer, the public. So even choosing to hang this show was for me. I needed to see them hung in a row. This is my therapy, showing the process of my therapy trying to understand suffering in this world.”
People in general spend very little time looking at a piece of art before moving onto the next. Through his art, Nichols in a way is challenging the viewer to stop and really look, to really see and connect with what is in front of them.
He mentions that at the opening of the show some people were unable to spend any length of time in the room because it was too sad, because these faces demand to be seen, and for some people, myself included, it is difficult to realize such sorrows.
“If we don’t talk about death, we won’t understand life,” says Nichols. “We don’t live forever so there isn’t time to hurt people, we need to care more.”
None of us are immune to death, there is no vaccination for it, no remedy we can take to prevent it. One can spend a lifetime worrying about death but the reality is that it can happen to anyone at anytime, so why not be ready for it and welcome it when it comes.