Revealing the Silent Fight – Epidemic: Art and Medical Action
By Jarrett Gelsinger
Over 50 years since the start of the war on drugs across the United States of America, the state of Pennsylvania remains one of the biggest epicenters for the ongoing Opioid Epidemic in the U.S.
There are many comparisons to be drawn when likening the issue of drug use in the U.S. to a “war,” with some more obvious ones being the physical and mental damage that it can leave on an individual, and the impact a loss has on their immediate friends and families. An aspect that we might not want to recognize however, but arguably is just as damaging, is the stigma that surrounds people suffering from addiction to opioids. Many times, when looking at those who suffer from addiction and those who have passed away as a result of opioid overdose, people stereotype them and immediately make judgements how they look and act, without realizing the hard truth that anyone could be suffering from addiction.
Another similarity to war, is that of a Call of Duty, one that both printmaker Dr. Eric Avery and Professor Adam DelMarcelle sensed as they installed their Exhibition inside the John Stewart Memorial Library: Epidemic: and Art and Medical Action. And it is definitive action that Adam DelMarcelle propels audiences to take, encouraging them with the pieces of art on display at Wilson. The pieces recount and depict many striking designs and artwork that utilize many different artforms: molding woodcuts, screen-printing, mixing physical and digital medias, and applying a lifetime’s worth of graphic design and social justice experience to ask viewers to bear witness to the ongoing injustice happening. Dr. Avery takes spectators through the broader context of the epidemic throughout history and Prof. DelMarcelle reveals the destruction happening as local as his hometown of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
1v1 with Adam DelMarcelle on Epidemic: Art and Medical Action
In cases like these, it’s not that you necessarily don’t care about issues that plague yours, mine, our communities. But, it may be that you don’t necessarily know what’s happening, until it comes barging in unannounced, and at that point, it probably might be too late….
The moment in which Adam DelMarcelle’s Call of Duty began was the sudden passing of his brother Joey, having found him deceased due to an opioid overdose on September 19, 2014. His death correlated with the rising cases of opioid-related overdoses.Within the confusion and agony in the wake following his brother’s death, two officers began to interrogate DelMarcelle about the details of his brother’s death, including his addiction to heroin, and the events leading up to his passing. With him and his family grieving, and the police alleging that DelMarcelle had deleted messages from Joey’s phone after his death, he turned to art, using printmaking and design as a means to process, grieve, and ask questions.
The opening day of this exhibit on campus was the complete package for everything that social justice strives to do. On that day, standing inside the Coolley gallery, I heard the community of Wilson College doing exactly what both Prof. DelMarcelle and Dr. Avery wanted, taking part in the ongoing discussion and debate about the ongoing epidemic against opioids and addiction.
“It’s a juxtaposition between the AIDS Epidemic, the Pandemic, and the current state of the Overdose Crisis and the Opioid Epidemic in America, and there’s a lot of similarities between the two of those,” said DelMarcelle.
It’s easy to point out just how much COVID-19 exasperated the ongoing inward struggles of everyone in our community who has been suffering. As a result, the combined number of reported deaths in the U.S. alone rose from 78,056 to 100,036, with around ¾ of those related to opioid overdose (Legg 2022). Still, knowing all too well the suffering to which many people are succumbing in these hard times, stigma and prejudice continue to impact the conversation around those who either visibly or secretly suffer from addiction. This is evident in light of recent news concerning the Biden Administration’s executive order to administer safe smoking kits to help lessen people’s addiction to opioids, and to gain access to cleaner needles and reduce risk of infection and disease. The order was subsequently met with swift pushback before it even begun its legislative journey. As the Epidemic Exhibition travels across the America, its missionary statement is to repel those stigmas, as doing so can hopefully lead more people to having a more educated understanding of the price of succumbing to addiction, and hopefully, lives can be saved.
“We massively value what art can do. Both of us have this grand idea that art can save lives… I say this often to students, but the dark ages of human existence are marked when the writing and art stops… Artists record what it means to be alive, they record the times, they make the record, and that if they’re honest, it might do something for us,” said DelMarcelle.
And honesty is exactly what filled through the gallery halls as I saw people openly communicate their experiences, past history with addiction, and their roads to recovery. DelMarcelle’s art brings people together in order to share and collaborate. Renowned artist Eric Avery has played an instrumental role in this conversation as well, being both being an artist, mentor, and friend to Prof. DelMarcelle.
“Eric I learned about when I was an undergraduate… my teacher taught me about him, and when I started doing this Opioid work I started to remember that work, and how important it was to me even as a student. So, I reached out to him totally randomly, and then he got back to me random; I never would’ve assumed someone of that stature… his work is in every major art museum in the world, he’s a very established-working artist, but he got back to me and we sparked up a friendship. He was very interested in the work I was doing, which was very similar to why and how he did his work around Aids,” said DelMarcelle.
As the old saying goes: It’s about sending a message. The artwork on display was nothing short of impeccable, mixing multiple medias together into intricate compositions. Pieces include woodcuts, monoprints, the blending traditional art forms with digital design, and even some poignant use of sculpture. But as DelMarcelle states, the artwork itself is none other than a vessel for conversation about the stigma that addiction causes for those who are not yet aware or informed about those suffering from addiction in the wake of the ongoing battle against the Opioid Epidemic.
“The focus of the show and why it’s important,” Prof. DelMarcelle puts it, “is not the art that’s in the show. That’s not important. It’s about how much community outreach we can do, about the communities we go to. So, it’s how much can we do, how many different areas on a college campus can we attract to come in to think about the issue: Nursing, Medicine, Sociology, Psychology, Art students maybe, Science students, and we all need to think about the landscape of the problems we’re talking about, and to think about how we can use our individual skill sets from any one of those areas to be able to tackle the issue.”
Epidemic travels all over the United States, from the University of Tenessee, to New York, and beyond with the goal of having as many people as possible hear the stories behind the many excellent works shown in the exhibit.
“The idea is that it keeps changing a little bit, it builds, and we engage with the local community as much as possible. We’re gonna try and educate as many people as we can…. That’s how epidemic came together. I thought it was only gonna be one show, but then we talked and then we decided to try and keep this thing going… The art is really just a subversive trick, just to bring people together,” DelMarcelle concluded.
Legg, Josuhua, “Epidemic: an Exhibition by Dr. Eric Avery & Adam DelMarcelle.” Wilson College, 14 Feb. 2022. Print.