A Stuffed Koala Depicted in a Collage and Suicide
When I was enrolled in the Master’s of Liberal Studies program from 2009–2010, I took a collage course as one of the requirements toward the degree.
I decided to do a final project on the topic of suicide. I made a collection of three pieces featuring my stuffed koala. Suicide is a dark and serious subject that no one wants to approach at all and I decided to create a shocking satire out of the subject. The entire work was full of colors of every kind and all shades and all shapes were made entirely out of strips of magazines layered over each other again and again.
Suicide is so hard to talk about and I really wanted to put the subject out there so much that I chose to go away with creating pieces that place suicide right in front of people’s faces. I didn’t intend to make a joke out of suicide. My intention was to get people to come face-to-face with it. Suicide is so misunderstood and it’s a subject that I always think about because many people worldwide kill themselves. It’s a huge social problem that people can’t just keep sweeping under the rug. In the United States, Lithuania, South Korea, Japan, China (unlike in Lithuania and Russia, a higher number of women in China kill themselves or are more likely to contemplate taking their lives than men). Perhaps bringing up suicide makes people uncomfortable. I disagree how in some cultures suicide is taboo to such a high extent that when there’s a family of which someone has taken their life, the whole community shuns them and, even worse, there isn’t any proper and traditional burial performed for the deceased. Instead, the deceased is coldly criticized without any regard to how the family left behind must cope. Often, even the family may forget that the person even existed because some believe that committing suicide is losing face, or there’s the question of how the person could do such a thing because it’s against religion. In Singapore, people who survive their suicide attempt are thrown into prison because trying to take one’s own life is considered a crime. These perceptions are wrong.
Knowing that information, I wanted to draw a reaction from the members of the academic community on the suicide subject by putting those pieces together and putting them on display for my classmates and professor to view and understand. Unfortunately, even in a master’s program, my professor was alarmed when she asked me what the theme of my pieces represented and I answered, “Suicide.” I didn’t say much about my pieces that day letting them speak for themselves. That day was the last day of the class and everyone showed their work. I thought that it was a good day as I got to see the completed work of everyone in the class. Mine were the most colorfully messy and fantastical. My pieces were fun to look at but got the suicide topic out there. One piece was of my stuffed koala falling from a building looking distressed. I thought that the look on the koala’s face would invite people into looking at how people who are about to or taking their lives may endure. My intention was to get people to understand that people pondering over whether or not to kill themselves go through a lot of pain; the mental anguish in them is powerful; it’s pure suffering. My understanding is that their pain is at such a high level of intensity that it doesn’t feel like any help can soothe their pain. The other piece depicted a character in the form of my koala slowly bleeding and I don’t recall what the other piece looked like. The colors surrounding the figure were there to calm the violent images of suicide down enough for the viewer to observe.
Yes, I describe this scene now and it sounds over-the-top and even insensitive (my purpose is to be sensitive actually). There are no words for me to explain how much I care that the suicide topic be discussed more. Why are people not willing to talk about how to help more? Any suicide rate is enough cause for concern for an entire society to come to terms with it and to speak about how to be a more pleasant and caring society. Yes, when one commits suicide, it’s not understandable at all and it’s goes beyond being feeling cared about sometimes. There are a lot of people who get a lot of moral and financial support and still take their own lives. However, it still makes sense to talk about broach the subject of suicide because suicide occurs all the time.
I was willing to get people to think about how humanity handled suicide and couldn’t care less about what anyone in that class thought. I wasn’t in that class to make any friends (I spent all of my class time alone working hard on my pieces). I believed (and still do) that art was about making statements. Art was about announcing something that needed more attention; it was about information. I felt that every problem out there deserved great attention and suicide was one of the problems that I cared to put forward to people to examine. Yes, I risked bringing up a topic that might affect certain people in the class personally because there are many people who’ve lost loved ones due to suicide, or there are those who have friends of friends who have lost those who are close to them via suicide. Presenting those pieces was bound to get me into a lot of trouble but I went with my decision anyway because when a problem continues to persist in such a large scale, why not confront and talk about it?
My professor didn’t tell me to my face about how she felt at all. I didn’t appreciate it when she went to the university chaplain to express her worries about the possibility that I was perhaps thinking of ending my life. When the chaplain called me to tell me about what the professor thought, I was disappointed and, while I understood why she did that (because it’s not every day that people start a conversation about suicide and that was the point of my work, to start a group discussion on it for once), I thought that she was ridiculous because I thought that in an academic environment there wasn’t any limit to what could be spoken about. I knew how little suicide was talked about and also knew that it was an enormous and silent problem when it shouldn’t be and I only intended to speak up about it. The professor was ignorant for thinking only one way about anyone who begins a conversation on suicide: such a person must be suicidal. Period.
When I was in high school, I wrote poetry that were a bit heavy but “beautiful” according to my classmates. I wrote about love, relationships and unhappy people. A few teachers were concerned about me at the time too and referred me to see a counselor to speak about any depression I might feel. I also thought that it was absurd that one counselor told me that I was ‘too young’ and ‘it wasn’t typical’ of individuals my age to speak about love in the way I described in my poems.
Feelings, curiosity and an interest in social change know no age.
I wasn’t in high school to make any friends either. What I cared about most was to address societal problems. Maybe I didn’t express myself clearly enough. Maybe I haven’t met the appropriate people in my life to talk about all I wanted to talk about. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my state of mind in high school. I began to think, at the time, that I was probably mentally older than almost everyone in school, even the staff, and that time was also the time when I thought that I was probably meant to be born in a different time (of which I don’t think so at all anymore. There have been so many people who lived in every era and plenty of people were as misunderstood as me. People who were inquisitive about things existed in any period of human history. It’s fair to say that I’m definitely meant to be born in this time). It meant a lot to me to attempt to talk about what was supposed to mean most to people.
I personally felt insulted when I was 15 and my history teacher told me, after asking me my age, that I was supposed to love shopping and talk about clothes, makeup and shoes not think so deeply about how people should be with each other. I got into the habit, then, to write. I couldn’t comprehend how someone could say that to someone who has been reading intensely since age 6. Since childhood, reading has connected me very much to how people feel in all kinds of situations: when they lose a friend, when they divorce, when they fall in love, when they end a relationship, when they are intimate, when they experience racial discrimination, when they are treated unjustly for something they can’t control, when they live in filth, etc.
I still read with the main purpose of connecting to those that I read about. I find this to be a wonderful thing and I think it’s sad that there are many people who disagree with me. I also remember when the same counselor I mentioned earlier said that I should write about happy things like everyone else because happy things made others feel good. I agree that writers and artists should bring light and happy things up but I also think that there’s no point in writing and painting when issues aren’t being acknowledged. I have learned throughout my life that people are generally uneducated (regardless of economic and educational background) about how to deal with touchy subjects, but these subjects come with circumstances that happen so much that people need to start dialogues about how to approach these circumstances, and people associated with these circumstances. Instead, necessary discussions are kept away from dinner tables. It looks clearly to me that people are afraid to feel. They are afraid to tackle what matters. Society could be so much healthier if people were more open about talking about all those things that exist and recur.
I managed to get an A on my display of pieces illustrating suicide but getting a good grade wasn’t my main goal. I wanted to talk about hard topics. Even when I don’t know much about a topic, I have questions that I would like answered. Asking questions is informing in itself.
Since as far back as I can remember, I have always been ‘odd’ for wondering outside what other people preferred to stay close to. I’m all about people knowing about the world fully and that includes coming face-to-face with problems that any part of humanity faces.
Suicide has made an impact on a lot of people.
It would be nice if people knew how to communicate with someone who’s lost someone to suicide, or someone who’s reflecting on how to kill themselves. Most people are ignorant as to how to communicate in either situation. This is much-needed knowledge. It shouldn’t be hard to talk about suicide.
I spent some time talking to the university chaplain every week feeling obligated to do so but the sessions didn’t last. I honestly didn’t feel bad. I simply wanted to bring up something new to discuss and I introduced my topic to the wrong people. It’s been a recurring theme in my life to talk to people who don’t care to hear what I would like to ask about.
I’m not going to stop, though.
I think that suicide is a legitimate issue to speak of. Thinking about and feeling for people is a good thing.
I stand by this.