How art is being used to break stigma and create conversations

Cohealth Art Workshop
Cohealth Art Workshop
Cohealth Art Workshop
Cohealth Art Workshop
Kaylah Joelle Baker

A CBD street exhibition of images and artworks is set to shine a light on the highly stigmatised health condition of illicit drug dependence.

The Beyond the Stigma - Laneway Light will light up the streets of the city’s laneways, footpaths, and buildings with 100 paintings, photos and imagery created by people who have experienced drug addiction, and their family members.

Not-for-profit health agency cohealth is running the event in the lead up to International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31.

Melbourne will light up between 6pm and 11pm from August 25-31 with mobile projector bikes taking light installations around to public spaces, and with a fixed light projection displayed on a wall in Westwood Place.

From 6pm on the launch day, a digital installation will also be viewable online.

“Some of the contributors are homeless, some are in rehab, some are survivors of abuse, some are studying their PhD, some are family members of people who have died of drug overdose,” cohealth Chief Executive Nicole Bartholomeusz said.

“The one thing they all have in common is that they have been affected by drug dependence. It is our great privilege to be able to bring their stories and creative contributions to public spaces all over the CBD."

Actively involved in being a contributor for the Laneway Light project is Josh Sampson, who cohealth first connected with when he was staying in a city hotel during the pandemic.

After battling extended periods of homelessness and crises in his life, he has found himself today in his own unit and in a much more stable position, ready to do more in a field where he found fulfilment.

“I find solace in my art. Throughout my life I’ve been exposed to highly volatile, stressful, unreasonable experiences,” he said.

“You can withdraw to art and find a place you want to be. It’s about the darkness of being homeless, but that there is light. We need to embrace the light.”

The time to break the stigma and support people rather than push them away due to stigma is a heavily reflected purpose of the Laneway Light project and a subject of vital importance.

A 2021 Australia’s Annual Overdose Report from Penington Institute discovered that deaths from overdose outnumbered the road toll since 2014.

In Victoria alone, Melbourne also has the highest rate of heroin use of any capital city in Australia according to ACIC’s June 2022 National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report.

It is through projects like this one, which allow marginalised people to have a voice, that cohealth hopes to expand the conversation city-wide.

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