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Vancouver art exhibit aims to raise awareness of male suicide

When Foster Eastman’s friend took his own life two years ago, the Vancouver multimedia artist had difficulty grasping the seemingly senseless death.

“He struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, but it still was shocking,” Eastman told Metro. “The most difficult part I had was what’s left behind, the families and the friends. I have a hard time understanding how someone could do that.”

It wasn’t until Eastman became involved with a University of B.C.-led multimedia photography exhibit, Man-Up Against Suicide, that he finally started to understand the dark thoughts that must have run through his friend’s mind.

 Foster Eastman

Foster Eastman

The exhibit, which launched Thursday, features a series of photographs and art installations put together by 25 men and women affected by male suicide. Some of the men had attempted suicide, while the others had lost a friend or relative.

Funded by Movember, the exhibit aims to raise awareness of men’s suicide for the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network non-profit group.

“What we’re really trying to do is de-stigmatize men’s mental illness so that we can talk about prevention strategies,” said John Oliffe, a nursing professor at UBC who led the project.

Although the suicide rate for males is three times higher than the rate for females, according to 2012 data from Statistics Canada, Oliffe said male suicide is still highly stigmatized.

“It’s one of those things that … suicide is just such a hard issue to talk about, it just drives it underground,” said Oliffe. “Some people see it as weak, as giving in, or a slight on the family.”

As lead investigator of UBC’s Men’s Health Research program, Oliffe interviewed the project’s participants and asked them to take photos about their experiences.

From there, Eastman became involved and worked with each of the project’s participants to develop their photos into art installations.

Eastman said he wanted each installation to explore a different aspect of suicide. One of the displays, a series of nooses made up of different materials like diamonds and safety pins, reflect the different reasons why people choose to take their own lives, Eastman said.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFoGr6b8iQ0&w=560&h=315]

Oliffe said the project turned out to be a therapeutic experience for the project’s participants. But Eastman said it also helped him come to terms with his friend’s suicide.

Soon after he died, Eastman said he created an art display— a noose made up of Hermès neckties— to honour his friend’s memory and show that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. His friend came from a privileged background, said Eastman.

“I chose Hermès because it’s the most expensive neck ties that there are,” said Eastman, adding with a sigh: “He lived in a world where everything was at his fingertips. He was super talented and had everything, and still took his own life.”

Man-Up Against Suicide runs from May 29 to June 29 at the Foster Eastman Gallery, located at 1445 West Georgia St. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

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