Peter Haugen (Davidson, NC)

Until very recently, I found great comfort in concealing my sources of shame and strife from other people. Most of the time, the idea of exposing my feelings or my secrets was unthinkable, but sometimes I wanted to let someone know what it felt like to be me—even just to see if they had ever felt the same way. In those situations, though, I would imagine myself hammering a nail through the bottom of my mouth. However, early last year, I was sexually assaulted, and I came to realize how important it was for me to use my voice. In the aftermath, I felt self-doubt, a lack of agency, and occasionally I felt afraid to walk alone at night. For several months, I closed in on myself and didn’t look at my body because it didn’t seem to belong to me, but making art that purposefully made myself vulnerable helped me to love myself again.

Allowing myself to recognize my own pain and emotions opened me up to recognizing other people’s pain and emotions. I appreciated that a lot of other people had felt the same pains that I had, and this abrupt entrance of empathy into my emotional vocabulary forced a vocation on me—by letting myself be vulnerable instead of hammering a nail through the roof of my mouth, I might be able to help other people with similar experiences feel less alone. The small figures that I draw are isolated, their bodies are fragmented, and they have difficulty being vulnerable sometimes, but they find ways to be content with themselves.