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Styx & Stones

Watching Amanda Todd's heart wrenching cry for help brought back a flood of emotions long since buried and shone a light on the increasing challenges brought on by the relentless 24/7 access individuals have to torment and beat down their victims. It also brought to light that bullying is not just a challenge of youth, it can happen to anyone regardless of age, profession, ethnicity, gender, economic and social standing. What has changed over the years is the nature of how bullies can relentlessly attack their victims outside the schoolyard, work place and beyond. This exhibition is intended to explore these issues and engage both bullies and their victims in an effort to bring to light the issues and in some small way open opportunities for those who have previously felt alone. This exhibit features two key components: an open call for artists and a non-juried public program which invites the community to come in and add their own voice and experience to the exhibition. The title takes its key from the old rhyme sticks and stones but replaces sticks with the mythical Greek version Styx which was the river that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. Styx it is said winds around Hades (hell) nine times. Its name comes from the Greek word stugein, which means hate, Styx, the river of hate. A fitting reinterpretation on the age-old rhyme sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me ... of course they did!

It’s the non-physical bullying that picks up after the beatings end and is the form of bullying that the majority of us experience on a daily basis either as the antagonist or as the victim and, it is the most insidious as it eats away at you long after the incident, often haunting the dark corners of your consciousness for years after.  It’s incredible how much damage one can do spreading images, rumours, innuendo and outright lies about you and how the effects of their actions will drag you down to some very dark places. As a public figure you do put yourself out there and make yourself an easy target but that doesn’t preclude those who just want to go about their lives quietly making as few waves as possible. One can’t go a day without experiencing and baring witness to some form of bullying in their lives whether it be at the workplace, road rage, out shopping, turning on the TV, watching the sports highlights, listening to the news on the radio or picking up the daily paper; it’s everywhere we turn. There may be some way of quantifying the total economic cost and emotional toll this has and imagine it would be one of the leading causes of our economic and social strife and unhappiness.

The intent of this exhibition is to bring to the forefront the scale and scope of bullying in our society today and serve as a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit in spite of untold adversity, cruelty and relentless assault. The response for the call for artist submissions has been so overwhelming that I have taken the extraordinary step of moving our annual high school exhibition to the May / June exhibition spot allowing this exhibition to take over all three exhibition spaces. The scale and scope of these works which I have seen at the point of this writing is impressive, heartfelt, honest and in many cases profoundly moving and cathartic.

A quick search online provides some alarming statistics as to the prevalence of bullying today both in schools and the workplace. According to the Canadian Red Cross, since 2002 they have documented a growing trend in fighting behaviour especially in grades 6 to 8 with 18 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls reporting that they had been in four or more fights in the past year. I find it shocking that 64 per cent considered bullying a normal part of school life, while 20-50 per cent said that it is OK to pick on losers and that bullying can be a good thing as it makes people tougher. In regards to the growing trend of cyberbullying, 51% of all teens have had negative experience with social networking with 16% saying that someone posted an embarrassing photo of them and 12% said someone hacked into their account at least once.

As we all know bullying is not restricted to the realm of our youth and is prevalent in our daily lives and the workplace with the five most common forms of bullying being: 1) Threat to professional status including belittling opinions, public professional humiliation, accusations regarding lack of effort, intimidating use of discipline or competence procedures 2) Threat to personal standing including undermining personal integrity, destructive innuendo and sarcasm, making inappropriate jokes about target, persistent teasing, name calling, insults, intimidation 3) Isolation including preventing access to opportunities, physical or social isolation, withholding necessary information, keeping the target out of the loop, ignoring or excluding 4) Overwork including undue pressure, impossible deadlines, unnecessary disruptions 5) Destabilisation including failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, repeated reminders of blunders, setting target up to fail, shifting goal posts without telling the target.

I can’t claim this exhibition will hold the answers to this problem but I can be certain each and everyone of us will find something we can relate to and I hope this will increase our personal awareness to our own actions and those around us. I hope it gives us all a voice to say that enough is enough and to stand up for those who need the moral and emotional support. Every journey starts with a small step and I hope this exhibit will be a small step in the right direction. There will also be an opportunity to share your own story anonymously on our confessional wall where you can tell your story or ask for forgiveness from those you have bullied in the past or forgive those who have tormented you. I am hoping this will be a cathartic exercise for us all and may help lift a burden off our shoulders allowing us to move forward and start building a healthier and happier community. With luck, exhibitions such as this may help shed a greater light on a growing problem and help turn the tide before it eats us all alive.