Campus Life student exposes the hurt of being excluded
Tabitha Stephenson’s refreshingly personal collection of artworks titled Breaking Barriers broke the silence of her struggle for acceptance. As a person with an intellectual disability she has often felt marginalized, but with the support of the University of Manitoba Campus Life program operated by the Faculty of Education, she has discovered that she not only belongs, but that she can, and is encouraged to, contribute to the university community in a meaningful way.
Breaking Barriers was on exhibit in at the Gallery of Student Art (GOSA) on the Fort Garry Campus from March 19 – 23rd. The members of GOSA are proud to show work from a variety of students and were thrilled to show Tabitha’s art because many people can identify with her message.
Tabitha’s raw and expressive works expose her pain and struggle for inclusion. In her painting “Woman with Scarred Arms” the viewer witnesses the aftermath of what appears to have been a violent and traumatic experience. The painting is of a nude woman painted in reds on a red background with dark tears pouring from her eyes and deep red marks on her arms. In the piece it’s not clear how the she became scarred, but the hurt is real. Tabitha explains: “This painting was created during a period in my life where I was badly mistreated. I felt frustrated when painting this painting as it signifies isolation, pain and being a social outcast.”
Although the pain associated with Tabitha’s struggle for inclusion plays a significant part of her work, she also shares the sources of her strength. Tabitha grew up surrounded by strong women and by women who have empowered her in all areas of her life. Their strength has encouraged her interest in goddesses and in the study of female representation and femininity. These interests are represented through out her works, which often include images of women and goddesses. Tabitha explains that, “by addressing goddesses, like I did in the painting ‘Faerie Holding Goddess Symbol on Full Moon,’ I discovered the strength within myself to recover from a tragic life event.”
The Campus Life program has allowed Tabitha to take courses in Women and Gender Studies and theater helping her to become more knowledgeable about the people and subjects that help give her strength. Campus Life also connects her to people and other activities in an environment that she would typically be excluded from. By including Tabitha and students like her in the university community, the faculty and students at the University of Manitoba have a unique opportunity to witness and appreciate the gifts and talents of Campus Life students.
Tabitha has completed 2 years in the Campus Life program, and will convocate in 2014. She plans to study Fine Arts in Red Deer, Alberta.