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Art project takes new look at Stations of the Cross

by Luanne Williams
Kelli Wiles

Readers of the Gospel who picture Simon of Cyrene helping to carry Jesus’ cross along the road to Golgotha have probably never connected the scene with a mental health hotline. But art student Kelli Wiles, a senior finance major from Statesville, gave Simon’s role a new interpretation in a Stations of the Cross display in Wingate University’s Dickson-Palmer Center.

The interactive exhibit, which has now moved on to Hickory Grove Baptist Church, was created by Charlene Bregier’s Art 404 class at the request of the Rev. Dane Jordan, minister to students.

A collage-covered cross next to a cross with a backpack.

“The station where Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross really spoke to me,” Wiles says. “When looking at it and thinking of things I could tie in to modernize it I immediately thought about mental health awareness.”

Wiles created a cross covered with a collage of news reports about mental health and surrounded with rocks that feature encouraging words on the topic. On a nearby stand she placed a spiral bound notebook featuring hotline numbers from all over the world.

“I wanted this piece to show people just how wide-scale mental health problems are, that it could be affecting someone around you, someone like a friend, a family member, or even the stranger standing next to you,” Wiles says. “Through this piece I wanted to convey to everyone that there is a ‘Simon’ out there for you — whether that be through one of the hundreds of hotline numbers out there, a friend, a family member, your church community, a support group — there is someone out there that is there to help.”

Wiles titled her piece “Madeleine,” to honor a friend who courageously shared her mental health struggle. The two grew up together before Wiles moved away during high school. Then, coincidentally they each ended up at Wingate and now live together with Wiles’ sister and a fourth roommate. 

“Madeleine, unknown to us, was suffering silently through mental health issues that would ultimately lead her down the road of trying to commit suicide,” Wiles says. “Luckily enough, after her attempt she immediately told us, and we were able to get her the help she needed.”

Wiles says she felt terrible that her friend had struggled alone.

“Madeleine, like so many others, was wearing a fake smile and trying to be happy for the ones around her,” Wiles says, “I'm not going to say it's all been OK since she tried. There have been ups and downs. However, I do think us being there for her every step of the way has helped.”

Wiles says she doubts that most people know that one in five adults suffer from a mental health condition.

“To everyone out there that sees my piece or reads this article, I want to challenge you to be someone’s ‘Simon.’ Ask someone if they’re OK, and if they aren’t, be there for them, talk to them and offer some help,” Wiles says. “For the people who see my piece that are suffering from a mental health condition I hope that it gives them the inspiration or strength to talk to someone and get the help that they need.”

An African American girl looks at a backpack hanging on a cross.

Although Wiles’ is the only portion of the Stations of the Cross exhibit dealing explicitly with mental health, other works also challenge visitors to consider the burdens they are carrying and how they view themselves. At one stop that commemorates Pilate’s washing of his hands to disassociate himself with the forthcoming bloodshed, they are invited to wash their hands to remove themselves from their present situation to more deeply connect with the stations. Another stop features a cross on which hangs a heavily loaded backpack. Students are encouraged to strap them on and try to walk while considering the types of burdens that they carry while in school. Further along in the exhibit are a pair of mirrors surrounded with sticky notes. Viewers are asked to write their negative self-talk on notes around the first mirror and then create new all-positive statements to counter them at the next.

In addition to Wiles, others whose work is featured in the exhibit are Michela Verpelli, Heather Hudson, Anna Earnhardt, Taylor Hinson, Mary Katelyn, Delaney Smith and JoAnna Rudasil.

April 18, 2019