Elise Bernal

I am an interdisciplinary artist and educator exploring the transformation of the pain and sadness of depression, caretaking, and loss into empowering and supportive tools for others. Most of my practice has been shaped by my experience acting as a part-time and full-time caretaker for my mom as she battled cancer, and my recent need to try and understand her absence. Throughout these processes she and I both had depression, and because of our family and cultural background we lacked space to be honest about these emotions and get care. I was determined to help her feel better and supported. As I became more involved in the creation of art, especially within the zine community, I gained tools and openness to support her and build the resources I couldn’t find. Many pieces of my art are made with the intention of creating necessary tools for others to explore emotion and have access to tools to understand mental health and navigate illness.

Through the creation of experimental community spaces and workshops, I have been able to invite opportunities for others to heal from and learn about mental health, trauma, and grief. I host these spaces to experiment with how spaces can impact the audience’s honesty, safety, and openness in the exploration of these emotions.

My wall hangings, soft sculpture, and clay works are included in these community spaces, as interactive focal points in communicating with the viewer. As part of the interactive arts festival, Good Mourning I displayed a large, interactive wall hanging with multiple pockets. Viewers were asked to choose a body part/s they felt needed to heal, and could retrieve a small zine, note, or object out of it. Each item retrieved connected with that body part. For example, the pockets that correlated to breasts or lungs contained a zine that shared resources for those affected by cancer and their allies.

My zines and illustrations offer resources for those experiencing illness or loss, and positive mantras or interviews/stories that act as tools/reminders for the viewer. Loss and Found is a recent self-published book that offers interviews, illustrations, activities and resources for those who are caretaking and/or have recently experienced loss. I hope by sharing knowledge and creating space to explore these emotions, others can gain tools to understand and navigate them, or at least find a small moment to feel joy and safety.