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The Artistic Voice of Isolation

September 15, 2015

A part of battling isolation is giving a voice to those who have felt the adverse effects of social disconnection. Those that are battling with isolation often find it difficult to summon a voice. To admit that they are feeling lonely or outcast because isolation is not simply about physical proximity or distance from people, it is also about emotional distance.


One way that people have come to find their voice in isolation is through artistic expression. At times people feel that their form of art whether it be dance, music, or drawing, tells the story they often find difficult to share.

From young to old, art has been one method of combatting isolation and feelings of loneliness because it allows someone to share that story. As David Cutler put it, “arts can breakdown barriers and inspire… they can give a voice to the previously voiceless” (The Baring Foundation).

Recognizing the importance of artistic voice in overcoming isolation, TakingITGlobal along with the Samuel Family Foundation, decided to highlight youth art pieces in our Moments of Inclusion: Youth Art and Action exhibit. During this showcase, high school student Chedi, presented a mixed media image displaying a wall of graffiti that had layers within layers of meaning.  

As he explained during the panel, “when you meet someone you only see the façade of their person”. Isolation is often suffered in silence, which is one of the reasons it is so difficult to address.  

In her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown explains that “in order for connection to happen, we have to be seen, really seen”. However, whether it is stigma, discrimination, depression, or lack of self-confidence, ‘being seen’ for someone struggling with isolation can be extremely challenging. This means that building those connections becomes an uphill battle. So, being able to show these forms of artistic expression can help those feeling disconnected to become ‘seen’.

However, even more than the form of expression itself, what people choose to share also tells another story. Breaking the silence of isolation can come in the form of urban art, such as graffiti, as Chedi illustrated in his presentation. Or, it can come in the way of traditional art, which has at times acted as a way to demonstrate community belonging and challenge oppression.  

In her paper, African American Music as Rebellion: From Slavesong to Hip-Hop, Megan Sullivan writes, “music became a way to remain connected to their African heritage while protesting the bleak conditions African-Americans faced throughout history”. In this way, art often goes beyond its form and tells the narrative of those that have become voiceless.

Overcoming Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness symposium held October 1-3 in Toronto
Overcoming Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness symposium held October 1-3 in Toronto

Likewise, Indigenous communities living in remote areas have continued to experience social disconnection and isolation. This is why cultivating attachments to culture and tradition can help to strengthen bonds of social connection between peoples, even throughout many generations of time.  For example, our panelist Owen, an artist and a Special Olympics athlete from the Yukon, brought a carving he made of the Special Olympics torch. On the torch he included a carving representing both the Crow Clan and the Wolf Clan.

For all of our panelist, their pieces symbolized their emotional connections rather than their physical ones. Art, whether traditional or not, can help to build relationships and a sense of belonging both at an individual and community level.

What captivates the attention in any room is having live art performed in a public context.  Megan from Art Battle joined our Moments of Inclusion Gallery walk as a live painter who chose bright and bold colours.  Initially, she intended to depict a towering city and part way through flipped her canvas, saw a bridge and decided that this image represented inclusiveness beyond her own perspective. 


Just as this piece represents, combatting isolation is about establishing bridges that connect people, and giving them the opportunity to share those stories of attachment. As Ensi, another one of our panelists put it, building social connection is about “making the voice of unheard human beings become a part of a choir”.