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Student captures pandemic's 'chaos, anxiety' for ROM exhibit

'I left the face blank because I wanted to give it a bit of anonymity so other people could relate to it as well,' says Grade 10 student
2022-01-13 Kaia Artwork.
St. Theresa's student submitted this piece to the ROM's My Pandemic Story exhibit.

A Midland high school student may have effectively captured how many feel as the pandemic enters Year 3 with no end in sight.

Capturing feelings of hopelessness and despair, a piece of artwork by St. Theresa’s Catholic High School Kaia Knelsen is now part of a Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) exhibit called My Pandemic Story.

“I kind of wanted to feature myself just because it was my experience,” says Knelsen, who’s now in Grade 10. “But I left the face blank because I wanted to give it a bit of anonymity so other people could relate to it as well.”

Knelsen says her visual arts teacher, Annette Atkinson, often starts classes with a one-minute brainstorming idea where students sketch out a quick idea for their work.

“I kind of sketched out the outline from that,” says Knelsen, who lives in Tiny Township.

“And then from there, I just added the words in the background, because I thought there was too much empty space, and it needed a little more. So it kind of just built from there," she adds.

The 15-year-old recalls the assignment for that particular art class involved illustrating how the pandemic experience has been for each student.

“It was sort of drawn from my experience,” she says. “I’ve found it to be really chaotic, overwhelming, confusing. Everything.”

Atkinson encouraged Knelsen to submit the piece for the ROM exhibit.

“Last spring, the Royal Ontario Museum put the call out to all youth artists to ‘reflect on and express the pandemic through a work of art in any medium  using whatever materials they had at home  song, dance, sculpture, painting, drawing, or performance',” Atkinson explains.

Between last April and June, #MyPandemicStory received more than 2,300 submissions for their exhibition. A panel picked 60 for the face-to-face exhibit running now until March 27.

All of the artworks can be viewed at the digital submission gallery on the ROM site.

“The exhibit has a unique youth perspective and really shows the power of arts in having a voice,” Atkinson says. “Keep in mind that her art was completed during a school shutdown period and students were working with whatever materials they had at home.”