Everyone carries baggage and the current exhibition at Wellington’s Bowen Galleries examines the weight borne by those affected by learning difficulties yet acts a testament to their resilience. Visitors to the gallery have been moved to tears – not in the least, I feel, at being confronted with the reflection by which art mirrors society (and its failings) so glaringly back at us.
Textile artist Rosie White and her daughter Elisabeth (who is studying Spatial Design at Massey’s College of Creative Arts) pooled talents and concepts to chart experience with the New Zealand school system of their family which has 3 dyslexic members, including Elisabeth herself. Quotes from students, parents, teachers and principals are embroidered on school bags highlighting injustice and humiliation – in a layering of text and textile which was hailed by one visitor as “elegant yet pushing boundaries”.
“Why should how well you read and write be the catalyst of how intelligent you are?” asks Elisabeth who is finding her tertiary environment much more nuturing of her talents than the school sysem ever was. Given that the majority of dyslexics are of above average intelligence, one can only imagine how frustrating some scenarios must have been.
One bag in the exhibition recalls “She said try harder so I pushed hard with my pencil and got a detention – blow trying harder.”
Rising above it all, the main banner proclaims: My gift of dyslexia is my treasure. It no longer holds me back; it inspires me.
Rosie, as a parent, was constantly disheartened during the 23 years her children were in the school system. She embroidered some of the exhibition’s phrases upside down so as not to have to revisit the emotions they stirred up. However she is far from bitter and sees a key role of the exhibition as celebrating the unique insight and perception of dyslexic children. By telling challeging stories in a compelling format, Rosie and Elisabeth have provided us with poignant commentary. Rosie assuringly adds that “the good thing about acknowledging the bags one carries is that you can choose to put them down.”