Celebrating the artists of The Laramie Project Digital Art Competition

On March 22, the Community Health and Social Innovation Hub (CHASI) celebrated the artists who created work for The Laramie Project Digital Art Competition and the cast and crew of UFV Theatre’s production of The Laramie Project at a gathering in the Hub. We were joined by many other members of the UFV and local community to appreciate the hard work of these creative students, and to reflect on the tragically still-relevant production.

After assessing each of the anonymized entries in the competition, a panel of judges selected artist Sharon Strauss’s entry, Night Sky, as the winner.

Illustration of an eye in extreme closeup. Strands of blond hair are visible in the edges of the image, and the eye is crying. It is looking upward, and reflecting stars of the night sky.
Writing about the piece, Sharon Strauss explained “Matthew Shepard’s father, at the trial of Matthews killers said: ‘You left him out there by himself, but he wasn’t alone… There were his lifelong friends… the stars and the moon.’ Matthew must have looked up those stars countless times, growing up in Wyoming. What dreams and hopes did he have then, cut short by hateful violence?”


The judges also selected three runners up: It’s okay to be yourself by Brenda Martinez Aguilar; Love Despite The Hate by Natasha Zilcosky; and Out of Order by an artist who requested to remain anonymous.

Illustration of a head. The person is crying, and holding a hand up to their face. A square of the image is overset with rainbow, and where it crosses the person, it acts as an x-ray, showing fractures in their skull.
It’s okay to be yourself.
By Brenda Martinez Aguilar

Artist statement: My goal with this artwork is to communicate how it can feel to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. As a member myself, I understand the difficulties that people face in order to feel free and live in peace. Movements like this help us gain confidence and feel understood.
My illustration shows how a person looks on the inside and on the outside. There is a face with tears in their eyes, representing how upsetting and unfair it can be how we are treated. The hand covering the person’s mouth represents how we sometimes try to hide our true selves when we go out into the world because we are afraid of being rejected by society.
The colourful square is intended to create an X-ray effect, revealing the inner self. The skull represents more than just death and mortality; it is also a spiritual symbol of strength, courage, and bravery. The variety of colours makes reference to the pride flag, which shows diversity and unity.
Overall, the message that I want to give to people is that we are warriors that won’t stop fighting until we achieve equality and respect. We should put an end to discrimination and hate crimes, because no one should be afraid to be themselves.
Illustration of a person crying rainbow tears. Behind them are headlines from news stories about anti-LGBTQ actions in Abbotsford.
Love Despite The Hate
By Natasha Zilcosky
Artist statement: As a queer youth in Abbotsford, I have found myself feeling unaccepted, isolated and in some aspects fearful due to my sexual and gender affiliation. Whether it be homophobic comments online, slurs yelled at me from across the street or harassment from peers,I am one of the many LGBTQ2S+ identifying people who have been hurt by our own communities. Living in a sheltered community such as Abbotsford, hate regarding sexual and gender identity runs rampant. In my own community I feel as if I need to hide who I am for my safety. Online I see hate regarding inclusive efforts in our community and schools, hate due to rainbow sidewalks, hate due to love, hate due to identity. No matter where I look, all I see is hate in the community. Pride flags destroyed, homophonic comments in our schools, all due by hate. Yet despite this hate, there are so many influential LGBTQ2S+ individuals who are able to overlook this hate and be themselves. Despite the threats online, the lack of media attention and physical destruction of our symbols, the LGBTQ2S+ community continues to flourish. Despite this hate, our love will continue to prevail.
Links to news articles used in background:
https://pridesource.com/article/33213/ https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/statscan-hate-crime-data-british-columbia-1.6538900
Illustration of two figures pushing a rotating door with three panels. One shows a graphing chart moving downwards. A second shows a gavel. A third shows a computer screen with more data and graphs.
Out of Order
By anonymous artist

Artist statement: I would like to acknowledge that this artwork was created on the unceded territory of the Sto:lo First Nations and I am grateful for their stewardship of the land where I live, work and play.
“Out of Order” was created to highlight the most challenging barriers when it comes to inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ2S+ communities across the world- Religion, Law and Media. Although it might seem there has been significant progress in LGBTQ2S+ representation in New Age media and there is, but often it is to appear “inclusive” by blatant culture appropriation and tokenization. Corporations are notorious for exercising a simple marketing ploy to attract the LGBTQ2S+ demographic- Queerbaiting, while not exactly having their interests on mind. Anti-Gay Legislation has been and continues to be responsible for the ongoing prejudice against LGBTQ2S+ groups and individuals. Plenty of North American institutions have been on the forefront of lobbying for and executing laws that not only affect LGBTQ2S+ negatively but other marginalized groups as well. Finally, Religious influence has impacted LGBTQ2S+ communities in parts of the world where and when Law and Media fail to. Societal pressure derived from common religious beliefs and sentiments against same-sex relationships caused many an individual to undergo identity crisis.
In my artwork, I have symbolized all three of them on the panels of a revolving door. The two individuals pushing it and the sheer disparity in their sizes and the doors’ depicts the stationary nature of the door. The theme of my artwork is that, even in this day and age, LGBTQ2S+ individuals and groups continue to face inequality of opportunity, stemming from hate and ignorance, at an alarming rate. Having a “Live and Let Live” philosophy is not nearly enough and we all need to join hands to appreciate and nurture the coming generations.

CHASI and the UFV Theatre department would like to thank these artists, and all of those who submitted work to the competition for their hard work, vulnerable reflection, and visible support for the LGBTQ+ community.

We’re also happy to share some photos from the event on March 22, and thank everyone who attended for an evening of great conversations and important work.

A crowded room of people mingling, talking, eating, and drinking wine in the CHASI Hub.
Photo of people speaking in a crowded room Photo of a table of charcuterie — meats, cheese, crackers, and grabs, arranged nicely on platters with serving tongs.
Dr. Shelley Libembuk gives a speech, standing near a podium with a glass of wine in her hand. Dr. Martha Dow leans on the side of a podium and gives a speech. Dr. James Mandigo stands behind a podium and gives a speech.
Actress Taya Viger kneels down in front of the podium while reciting a scene from the play. Two people lift a large set of makeshift angle wings on her shoulders.
Actress Taya Viger stands with the angel wings on, delivering a speech from the play.
Photo of people in an art gallery, speaking and surrounded by work. Upside down umbrellas hang from the ceiling.
Photo of a stack of zines displayed at the art exhibition, with a title that reads "The Laramie Project."