When the biggest critic and enemy... is you.
Johns Hopkins University, April 15th, 2017
Homewood Art Program Project,
Projections by Benjamin Pierce
Funded by: The Homewood Arts Program, The Arts Innovation Grant, The Creative Use of Technology Grant
Song: Hey Nikki by Dawn Richards
About the Project:
2 sides of a shadow speaks to a form of violence rarely discussed unless it is expressed in extreme measures. It reflects a form of self-conflict where the abuser and victim are the same person. We live in a world of expectations, and often the worst critics live in our own minds, condemning us each time we fail. At times, we can handle ourselves externally: wipe the tears and frustration, clean up the outward mess, cover up and pretend to the world that we are ok. Yet if we don’t fight our inner demons it can kill on the inside, and it is only a matter of time before the inner reality is expressed externally. It is a form of abuse that we allow because deep down we feel we deserve it; it can push us to get it together. But how long before it reaches a breaking point?
A Deeper Look:
"I'm learning to love myself. And it's the hardest thing I have ever done."
When I look back at my time at Hopkins it was always work. We had this saying: You get two out of the 3 S's: Sleep, Study, Socialize. Our student lounge was the library, we had way too many memes about how our grading system was harsher than Harvard's, and the one thing we always had in common as students were about how hard our lives were and how "work" shaped everything. When coming up with this piece, I kept trying to be "deep" and "artistic." I wanted something that would touch the hearts of every college student that came to see this. I wanted them to cry their eyeballs out mentally screaming "Yes! Genius! So Intellectual! So Deep!" In my head, there was always a competition among the enlightened elite if you will: who said the most jargon, sounded the smartest and shut everyone else up. Me, being the overachiever that I am, decided I was going to make my statement through art: the one thing at the Hopkins Homewood Campus (I'm not talking about you Peabody) that was underestimated and to be honest, not really taken that seriously... at least when compared to research... typical. But utilizing the underdog? Extra points.
What should we talk about when it comes to struggle? Everyone goes to relationships, cultural differences, racism, age-gaps. Not a lot of people talk about mental health. At the time, I hadn't really understood the importance of mental health or yet tasted the consequences of a lack thereof (chai.. oh la la...), but I knew it would be a thought-provoking conversation starter: Concept is set.
So here we go on this journey of creating this piece. My imagination went wild. "What if you took the visuals of relational and domestic abuse and made it the same person?" Bingo! I had so much fun putting this together, and fantasizing about how I was going to rub "You didn't think of this in everyone else's face" that I didn't realize the trap I had set for myself wasn't for anyone else... but me.
Smack dab in the midst of choreographing and shooting the projections, I was frolicking around campus struggling to be superwoman: president of this, captain of that, working on 6 different school projects, putting a show together, and still trying to graduate on time with nothing less than accolades (For that tuition? I want to come home with C? and enter the house unscathed? As a Nigerian????)
The pressure this semester was more than anything I had handled previously. I always joked around and said it's for my good, and that If I could make it, that meant I was getting stronger. Well, sure, maybe in one case, but at what cost? I almost had my limit at this show though because I was slipping and things weren't at the quality I wanted. I hadn't slept the night before, and although I still love them to this day, my team had gotten on my last nerve. I went on stage to perform this piece, hair disarray, no makeup, angry. I just wanted to do a good job and finish. While performing, a part of me was thinking "Why didn't I choreograph the kicking part to be me on stage? Why am I getting beat down right now? After everything that's happened today? I have to now dance and be beat down again. There was even a point during a piece before where I was so angry and frustrated that I used my character to scream at the top of my lungs because that's just how I felt (and people thought it was part of the show..🤣)
I did the hurrah's, got the accolades, graduated. I didn't want to watch this show. It's like a grade paper, or your bank account. You don't look at it and just hope everything is ok. 2 months later, nostalgia got the best of me and I peeked.
I watched this piece.
All my foundations, my 4 years of struggle, the mentality I had that got me through Hopkins stared at me right back in the face as the form that was beating me down on stage. I na-na-boo-booed myself; and when reality hit me square in the face, I lost it.
It's still hard to write this as someone who is aware and is still deeply entrenched in their toxic mindsets. Watching this led to a year and a half of depression and anxiety (I write this two years later, and technically I'm still recovering). I'm not saying I became depressed because I watched a video necessarily, but for the first time, I saw an ugly version of myself that wasn't colored by "what I was trying to be or what I was trying to accomplish." It was a painful and harsh truth that I needed because, without it, I think I would have done much more damage to myself in the last two years, just by pushing myself hard and not forgiving myself for not measuring up (I still do it today though. Don't get me wrong. This is not one of those "Praise God I'm healed" testimonies.) I do thank God though because It did start a journey of healing. A painful one, but one nonetheless.
I am still hard on myself. Very much so. I'm still unforgiving. I still push myself to my limits, and unconsciously think that this is what it means to sacrifice yourself for what you want. As if this sort of backward tantrum will cause heaven to open and give me all the blessings while torturing the same body and brain that God gave me to work towards what he has in store for me. (I write this at midnight at my cubicle in the office. Bad habits die hard.) I still run the race like the hare thinking I can maintain it with the endurance of a tortoise. Heck, even the way I write this piece, I tear myself down for tearing myself down about tearing myself down. But through this piece, I am unconsciously begging myself to stop. This piece wasn't about telling others about themselves. It was about me, and how I almost killed myself to become perfect, because being human was uncharted waters, uncalled for, and not good enough.
Watch the Recap of the Live Performance Here: