"NARTCAN" addresses addiction through artwork

One of the many works on display as part of the NARTCAN exhibition (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. – For registered nurse Justin Chaize, studying mental health and addiction is part of his job. But over the course of the year, addiction has also been a focus of another part of his life.

“Each person who is in recovery has a story to tell about their recovery,” said Chaize, “and their stories are very interesting and something we can learn from.”

Chaize is the curator of an exhibition titled, “NARTCAN,” currently on display at Axom Gallery in Rochester. The exhibition focuses on the impact of addiction on individuals’ lives, as well as on their loved ones.

“Some of the artists are in recovery. There is a mother with a son who passed away, or the relatives, friends who have been impacted,” said Chaize.

The show includes work from artists in our area, New York City and Toronto.

The exhibition was initially on display at the University of Rochester. As it approached the end of its run there, Chaize approached Rick Muto, artist and former director of Axom Gallery, to ask if there would be interest in continuing the show. When Muto saw the show, he said he was moved by it.

“Art is so broad. Sometimes, it is really very abstract, and an artist doesn’t really have a solid message other than tapping into his own subconscious and delivering that to others to interpret the way they see it,” said Muto. “Whereas this show definitely has a motive and addresses a very serious social issue, which happens to be, at the time, of course, a very current, high-profile issue. So, although we don’t usually do a lot of what I would call editorial-type of exhibits, this just felt like such a worthy cause.”

“Particularly, the show humanizes an issue we are all aware of.,” Muto added. “But often, I think we intellectualize it. We look at the statistics more than the actual personal and emotional impact that this issue has on people. Unless, of course, we ourselves are that close to it, through a relative or, sometimes, ourselves.”

Muto also says that one of the show’s strengths is its taking the topic of addiction away from stereotypes.

“For example, in this show, we have a very professional portrait of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in his stardom, in the company of some very serious images of other drug addicts,” said Muto. “In that regard, it gives us the stark contrast of the reality of the problem.”

Chaize hopes his show helps educate the community about addiction on a broad scale.

“It seems like everyone knows somebody,” said Chaize. “And also, addictions come in so many different forms, not just alcohol and drugs. Gambling, food, shopping, sex, so we can all learn something about addiction.”

“NARTCAN” closes at Axon Gallery Saturday. Chaize says he is looking at ways to continue the program in other forms.

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