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Unmasking a new exhibition

Masks aren’t just for Halloween – just ask Nancy Smith.

According to the local artist and occupational therapist, people have a penchant for concealing their true selves under a series of disguises; it’s something she hopes to reveal during her exhibition, Unmasked, at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre.

“We put on masks every day when we decide what clothes we want to wear and what that outfit will tell the world about us, or we’ll put on a smile when we don’t feel like smiling inside. The masks I use aren’t those kinds of masks,” said the Kingsclear-based artist, adding that “that superficial outer layer has been stripped off.”

“What’s shown in this show is all those basic hidden masks that we keep so private from the world, those private stories that aren’t told.”

Smith’s exhibition showcases a series of sculptural works made of found and mixed media, implementing cast-off objects and decaying materials to portray the dynamic relationship between strength and vulnerability.

She garnered much of her inspiration for the pieces over the course of a fifteen-year career in occupational therapy, as well as her own life experiences.

“As an [occupational therapist], you get to really get to know the people that you’re working with in terms of their own personal stories . . . especially [since] I work in mental health, where recovery is the focus,” said Smith.

“Recovery is a journey and that journey is all about twists and turns and ups and downs . . . In working with these people, I’ve discovered that people are so strong and incredible. My work tends to deal with a lot of the deeper issues and thoughts we don’t necessarily share, that we tend to keep inside.”

For Smith, one of the most important messages to take away from her work is that “all humans have vulnerabilities.”

“We all have our limits, we all have our trigger points and we all have the breaking point beyond which we can’t tolerate more. It’s an understanding that everyone is human, stereotypes need to be broken down and there needs to be acceptance and tolerance,” she said.

“It’s amazing what people have lived through. We don’t need to be ashamed of our vulnerabilities.”

Smith has been thrilled over the last few months to see these messages resonating with Frederictonians who stop by the Charlotte Street Arts Centre.

“At the opening, there were a lot of people going through and really looking at the pieces and [having] their own feelings. Some people are uncomfortable by looking at certain pieces, while some may resonate,” she said.

“As long as art causes someone to experience something, the art has done its job.”

Unmasked will be open for public display at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre until Jan. 20.

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