"Unmasking Brain Injury" pop-up art exhibit opens Nov. 16

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Carlos, a brain injury survivor who lives in Metairie, painted his mask blue and purple.

On the purple side, he wrote the words "tired," "misunderstood" and "hatred," while the blue side includes the words "strong," "love," "grateful," and "humorous." A brain he painted above the colorful face is ringed with flames.

"My brain surrounded by fire represents light and intensity. An important message I want to share with others is to 'listen to us,'" he wrote, in a statement accompanying the art project.

Carlos' mask is one of many on display at a reception at the Advocacy Center (8325 Oak St.) Nov. 16. The event, hosted by Brain Injury Association of Louisiana (BIALA), exhibits a number of masks created by people living with brain injuries throughout Louisiana.

"These masks, they really have a 'wow' factor," BIALA director of development Kathleen Mulvihill says. "The idea is to promote awareness of the prevalence of brain injury, while giving survivors a voice."

Brain injury is sometimes called a "silent" disability, because it's not always obvious when someone has one. According to Mulvihill, 1.4 million people in the U.S. experience a traumatic brain injury each year. 475,000 of those people are children.

To create this exhibit, BIALA distributed papier mache masks and paint kits to people all over the state, asking them to express their experiences, the aftermath of their injury or their emotions. Each person also wrote a few sentences explaining their work that will be displayed alongside the masks.

The masks have been traveling statewide and are being displayed at the Advocacy Center, which offers services for people with disabilities and seniors, to celebrate a new partnership between that organization and BIALA. After the reception Thursday, the exhibit will be mounted in locations on the Northshore, in Shreveport and in Baton Rouge before being displayed at Touro Infirmary next spring.

Mulvihill says she thinks people who attend the exhibit will find it very powerful.

"Collectively, when you start reading some of the stories that go with the masks ... a very poignant narrative emerges," she says.

The exhibit is from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. Participants should RSVP to kathleen@biala.org. It's free to attend, and light refreshments are served.


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