News / Vancouver

Stark portraits 'break stigma' around LGBTQ, mental health, HIV and racism

Black-and-white photo exhibit opens Tuesday evening.

One of the entries in photographer Rainer Oktovianus' Break the Stigma exhibit, which opens at Burnaby's Shadbolt Centre on Tuesday, translates from Spanish 'what a faggot' or 'that's so gay.'

Supplied/Rainer Oktovianus / Metro Web Upload

One of the entries in photographer Rainer Oktovianus' Break the Stigma exhibit, which opens at Burnaby's Shadbolt Centre on Tuesday, translates from Spanish 'what a faggot' or 'that's so gay.'

In the wake of boisterous celebrations of Pride weekend, a Burnaby photo exhibit opening Tuesday is reminding Metro Vancouverites that LGBTQ pride is not all about partying.

It's also a reminder that, when all the parties wrap up, stigmatizing words still hurt and society still has work to do to end oppression.

The Break the Stigma exhibit will bring local photographer Rainer Oktovianus' work to the walls of Shadbolt Centre. It's an ongoing project he has expanded since its inception in 2015 when he displayed it in his native Indonesia, as well as Timor Leste, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

"As a person coming from south-east Asia, we've faced a lot of discrimination and stigma surrounding LGBTQ issues and also HIV," he explained in a phone interview. "But I realized when I moved to Canada that stigma still exists here — but it also expands to racism and mental health."

Each photograph in the exhibit features an individual who shared their story of discrimination, oppression or abuse with Oktovianus — and then inscribed a word or phrase they associated with that stigma on masking tape over their mouths in silent protest.

"The words people have thrown at me or my community or anyone else are really hurtful," he said. "They leave scars.

"Each volunteer shared their story with me, and one simple word. I needed to really listen to them and put myself in their shoes even though sometimes I can't … It's a symbol of the weapon you used against me, it's a weapon over my mouth, it's a peaceful protest."

And while each of his subjects' has chosen a word used hurtfully against them — often in their mother tongue where insult can sometimes "have far greater effect," he explained, they are not defined by those words.

"They're still a human being," he explained. "They're more than just the label of 'a victim' or 'traumatized' … They need to have their voice heard."

Break the Silence opens at Burnaby's Shadbolt Centre for the Arts on Tuesday 6-9 p.m. (6450 Deer Lake Ave.)

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