2021

exhibition by the artists of the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre.

039 – Elephant in the Room

Megan Moses

Acrylic paint and mixed media on canvas

76cm x 76cm

In memory of my mother who died last Christmas due to Parkinson’s Disease.

My entire life, for as long as I can remember, my Mama said that I was “creative”. She kept every scribbled picture and misshapen craft project that I made in school, telling me I had inherited her father’s artistic talent. I would look at her askance, bewildered how she could see something that I knew did not exist, often angry at her inability to see me as I really was – dull, unimaginative, useless. I would argue my case with her, pointing out that I don’t create anything, so how could she possibly be so biased – and in typical Mama style, she would reply “you will see”.

Early 2018 was probably the most desperate paint of my life: I was completely trapped in the cycle of addiction, trying to free myself, but like someone caught in quicksand, only sinking deeper, and feeling the spark of my spirit dimming every day. One night, I was rummaging in a garbage bin looking for anything of value that i could swap for drugs, and found some paint and canvases. Painting became my lifeline, a reason to keep functioning, a form of meditation where I could lose myself for a while, a way to occupy my brain in the noble struggle for constant improvement. And a way to reconnect with my mother, recently diagnosed with her illness, which forced me to recognise that using drugs or not, I had to start seeing my parents again. Time was running out.

My Mama celebrated every painting I produced, gave valuable feedback, and although her voice was now barely a whisper, kept saying to me “see, you are creative, brilliant, fabulous”. Like all skills, I suppose, my artistic skills seem to occur in leaps, usually preceded by painful plateaus of stagnation. This particular painting marked the biggest of such leaps – it was by far the largest canvas I had used, terrifyingly huge I remember thinking, and for the longest time I was just pushing paint around, growing ever more despondent that I was ruining yet another canvas. Then, I saw a shape that looked like an elephants ear and my brain shut up, and whatever it is in me that paints took over. When I was finished, I had produced something so unlike my previous art, so daring by my standards, that I didn’t know if it was good or rubbish.

With great trepidation, I took it to show my parents, and I will never, for as long as I live, forget the look on Mama’s face, she beamed, muttered “brilliant, brilliant” and carefully examined every single mark and brushstroke. She insisted I hang it in her room, where it stayed until she died, and one of her favourite things to do after I would put her to bed was to look at the elephant and point to all the things she liked about it. One of her last moments of consciousness was looking at the painting with a smile on her face, whispering “fabulous, you are fabulous”.

“The elephant in the room” is a phrase that refers to something big or obvious that no one wants to discuss, specifically a negative situation or a problem. But I think there can be another kind of elephant, the positive kind – my Mama’s unshakeable faith in me, her unconditional love and encouragement and support, her ability to see me as I really am, not the shrunken self-hating image that I hung onto for so long, has been the elephant in my room. Anything that is good and strong about me is thanks to her. And dammit, she was right, as usual. I am creative.

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