My name is Emilia Wilson and I am a genderqueer, disabled, interdisciplinary artist born and raised in London, Ontario, Canada. As an interdisciplinary artist, I enjoy using a variety of mediums including photography, installation, performance, acrylic paintings, textiles, silkscreen, linocut prints, and watercolour and ink studies. My work often is often influenced by scenes from the natural world as well as social issues ranging from feminism to environmentalism, as well as gender, sexuality and mental health. The style of work I have been focused on most recently is highly intuitive. I enjoy experimenting with the relationships between colours, lines and textures, while allowing myself to be present in the moment by reflecting on my emotional and physical self. Each work I create is a self-portrait in and of itself in that it is a visual display of my own state of mental and physical health, gender identity and expression.
Over time, I have become enthralled with the theme and exploration of the philosophical concepts of identity and belonging – in both an interpersonal and intrapersonal context. Identity is a collective term for the roles, goals, and values that people adopt in order to give their lives direction and purpose. A person may identify with a group of people living in the same place, having a particular characteristic in common, or may feel a sense of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. These groups that we find belonging in are what make up communities. Our identity can form a blueprint for the ways in which we conduct our lives and plan our future. Traumatic events, however, can disrupt these plans and alter our lives in unpredictable and sometimes permanent ways.
There is research which suggests that not only can traumatic exposure be disruptive to identity development, but in the reverse, identity can shape the manner in which trauma is perceived and understood. It is further noted that identity can both exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder symptom severity, and/ or promote positive post traumatic growth. Trauma can be incorporated into one’s identity, serving not only as a turning point or reference point, but also defining one’s life and purpose.
Despite my own personal health challenges, I am motivated to express myself in a way that others may relate, be inspired by, or find solace in. Through my artistic practice I aim to delve deeper into the philosophical world and explore the ideas of identity and belonging. In the context of my non-binary, disabled body, I try to capture what these things mean to me as a form of reclaiming my own identity.
I am someone who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (as well as fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis) on account of being subjected to multiple traumatic instances stemming from early childhood and continuing into my adult life. The fact that my trauma started when I was just 2 years old makes me feel like I was never given a chance to become the real me. On account of my trauma, and because it started before I ever had the chance to truly establish a sense of self, the ideas of identity and belonging are often lost on me.
Part of my PTSD involves avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma. As a result, over the last five years of my life, I have been constantly on the move – travelling from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Colombia to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. To put that into perspective, I have travelled the equivalent of crossing Europe 6 times). I have lived in both houses and tents; I have experienced homelessness. I have slept on beds and couches, in vans, abandoned buses and buildings, and under the night sky. The reality of such a tumultuous living arrangement, coupled with my PTSD diagnosis, is that the ideas of belonging and of community have become skewed to me even more so.
With my PTSD, I also experience episodes of dissociation involving both depersonalization and derealization; I often feel as though I am drifting through time and space with high levels of anxiety and a sense of displacement. I lose attachment from my immediate surroundings, feeling both a loss of the sense of self and that the world is
unreal. With dissociation, I feel divorced from my own personal self by sensing that my body sensations, feelings, emotions, behaviors etc.do not belong to me. I’ve had a difficult time feeling connected to the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met throughout my life. Even the most familiar of places and faces will often appear alien, bizarre, and surreal.
Moreover, I often ponder if the identity I hold now would be the same without my experiences of trauma and intrapersonal strain. I constantly am asking myself: Who am I? What does it mean to be a person? How does one identify with themselves and how does that identity fit in with its community? Is identity formed by belonging to a particular group, by performing a role in life, or by background and biology? Is one’s personal identity contingent and changeable? Similarly, is belonging simply calling somewhere home? If so, what happens if we are forced to move or are subject to a major change in our environment? Can one belong to a community if they don’t have a fixed address?
It is my intention to encourage discussion surrounding these topics in the arts, while overcoming the negative stereotypes that seem to loom over those with disabilities. I believe everyone should be given the chance to authentically exist and succeed in the world regardless of ability, age, gender, ethnicity, creed, sexual orientation, social status or economic status. I believe that it is important to foster the acceptance of those whose differences enhance our lives. Furthermore, the subject of mental health has been in the closet far too long. It is extremely important for people with mental health issues to be able to freely discuss their experiences without the shame and stigma that is too often accompanied by them. Speaking up about our lived experiences can make an incredible difference to the lives of a countless number of people – it can literally save lives.
Find Emilia here: @EmiliaWilsonArt