Wounds are something that all of us can relate to. Whether physical or emotional, deep or just below the surface, wounds and how they scab over them tell a story. Looking at Jessica Wiebe’s exhibit Bearing Arms, B(e)aring Wounds one can see that her art reflects her process of dealing with her wounds; taking her experiences as a soldier in Afghanistan and working through them.
Jessica, now in her final year of a BFA Interdisciplinary at NSCAD, served with the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan in 2008. In her work Jessica hopes to examine the conditions of war and psychological trauma involving personal recollections and working with memory.
“Every time you pull a memory out it changes with new experiences and new knowledge that you add to that memory so how many times when you pull out a memory is it going to alter and change?” she asks.
Putting the exhibit together was daunting for the artist, not because of the work involved but sharing her experiences with the world—something Jessica is not used to.
“The bearing arms is kind of obvious,” she says. “I’ve fired a weapon, I’ve been trained to fire a weapon, but the bearing wounds is something I’ve kept quiet, kept inside for a long time and to share that vulnerability can be intimidating.”
Many of the works exhibited in Bearing Arms, B(e)aring Wounds have only ever been seen by NSCAD students and professors. Jessica credits NSCAD and professors like Ian McKinnon and Dan O’Neill for helping her feel comfortable enough to express herself.“I used to have no confidence whatsoever, because of NSCAD creating that safe environment and professors I really trust, like Ian and Dan, I was able to experiment and play and try and find my own voice and I think I’ve finally found it and it’s been through art, through NSCAD, through the combination of my past experiences with the military, my experience at NSCAD and now my experience trying to share my gift with other people,” she says.
Jessica has taken what she’s learned and is currently using it to help others. She recently launched an art program with the Joint Personal Support Unit (JPSU) of the military where soldiers or family members of soldiers can come and take part in a sketchbook practice class and learn about different mediums, techniques and philosophies of art.
A project she’s wanted to pursue for a long time, recognizing the need for creative outlets in the military, Jessica could not be more thrilled to have the opportunity to give back to her community.
“I always wanted to start a military art program and teach soldiers. There’s nothing in the military for art, they are bringing yoga classes to the gyms and stuff but there’s no art program, there’s no outlet for being creative and expressing yourself,” she says.
The program began four weeks ago with nine students and continues to grow with each passing week. Jessica has raised more than $1,200 dollars for the program and has been overwhelmed by the donations of art supplies from the estate of NSCAD alumna Marion Peters and others; donations that have really helped to jump-start the program and inspire her students.
“They just go, they’re here to learn and it’s one night a week where they can just relax. When I bring out a new medium everybody just jumps on it, like ‘yeah let’s try this’ and they’re ok with not having perfect pictures in their sketchbooks which is a teacher’s dream,” she says.
“When I get home I can barely sleep because I`m so excited and already planning next week’s class. It’s wonderful.”
Although Jessica doesn’t like to put expectations on anything in life, she hopes that through her artwork and through this program that people will begin to understand what a soldier experiences.
“There’s a certain weight that you carry, literally when you’re overseas, but also when you come home in your personal life. It’s hard to let go of that weight sometimes and for me art has kind of lifted a lot of it away.”
Jessica plans to continue her work with soldiers. She also wants to apply to Acadia University in May to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree.
Bearing Arms, B(e)aring Wounds is on exhibit until November 28 at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 1749 Argyle Street.