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Local high school student captures pandemic's 'chaos, anxiety' for ROM exhibit

St. Theresa’s Catholic High School Kaia Knelsen's artwork part of Royal Ontario Museum's My Pandemic Story exhibit
2022-01-13 Kaia Artwork.
St. Theresa's student submitted this piece to the ROM's My Pandemic Story exhibit.

A local high school student may have effectively captured how many feel as the pandemic enters year three with no end in sight.

Capturing feelings of hopelessness and despair, a piece of artwork by St. Theresa’s Catholic High School Kaia Knelsen is now part of a Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) exhibit called My Pandemic Story.

“I kind of wanted to feature myself just because it was my experience,” says Kaia,  who’s now in Grade 10 at St. Theresa’s Catholic High School.

“But I left the face blank because I wanted to give it a bit of anonymity so other people could relate to it as well.”

Kaia says her visual arts teacher Annette Atkinson often starts classes with a one-minute brainstorming idea where students sketch out a quick idea for their work.

“I kind of sketched out the outline from that,” says Kaia, who lives in Tiny Township.

“And then from there, I just added the words in the background, because I thought there was too much empty space, and it needed a little more. So it kind of just built from there.”

Kaia, 15, recalls the assignment for that particular art class involved illustrating how the pandemic experience has been for each student.

“It was sort of drawn from my experience,” she says. “I’ve found it to be really chaotic, overwhelming, confusing, everything.”

Atkinson encouraged Kaia to submit the piece for the ROM exhibit.

“Last spring, the Royal Ontario Museum put the call out to all youth artists to ‘reflect on and express the pandemic through a work of art in any medium - using whatever materials they had at home - song, dance, sculpture, painting, drawing, or performance,’” Atkinson explains.

Between last April and June, #MyPandemicStory received over 2,300 submissions for their exhibition. A panel picked 60 for the face-to-face exhibit running now until March 27th.

All of the artworks can be viewed at the digital submission gallery on the ROM site.

“The exhibit has a unique youth perspective and really shows the power of arts in having a voice,” Atkinson says.

“Keep in mind that her art was completed during a school shutdown period and students were working with whatever materials they had at home.”

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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