Not Traumatic Enough for a Shock Blanket at the Grebel Gallery

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

In the Fall of 2019, artist Yasmeen Nematt Alla was finalizing preparations to install Not Traumatic Enough for a Shock Blanket onto the crisp white walls of the Grebel Gallery. The bright orange blankets with words stitched onto them would surely stand out in the thorough-fare space, a stark contrast from the drones and weapons of warfare exhibit that covered the walls for months prior. Little did she know that her exhibit, which highlights the complex nature of trauma, would be delayed due to a global pandemic that has generated unimaginable levels of anxiety, loss, grief, and hardship across the world.

Thomas Fraser sits in the gallery wearing a blanket wrapped around him

The exhibit references the iconic orange shock blanket, seen draped around the shoulders of survivors of tragedies. The shock blanket acts not just as a comfort but also an identity marker, signalling that the wearer has endured a traumatic incident and requires immediate support or assistance. Nematt Alla’s exhibit asks, what happens to trauma survivors when their experience is deemed not traumatic enough to warrant a shock blanket?

The blankets that hang on hooks throughout the Grebel Gallery have phrases and excerpts of stories embroidered onto them. These stories emerged from Nematt Alla’s online community when she posed the question, “what stories do you begin telling with, ‘I wouldn’t call it traumatic, but….’” Gallery-goers are encouraged to drape the blankets across their shoulders, feeling the warmth and weight of the words embroidered across their backs.

Despite limitations on in-person engagement due to COVID-19 restrictions, students from Grebel and UWaterloo had the opportunity to tour the exhibit through PACS courses, the MPACS program, the PeaceTech Living-Learning Community, and MATES. One of the student leaders for the MPACS tour, Jesse Matas shared how the exhibit prompted 17 MPACS students to engage with the art and reflect on their own experiences with trauma.

We were fortunate enough to have Yasmeen lead a participatory session where we all shared events that were 'not traumatic enough for a shock blanket', while simultaneously being comforted by the blankets upon which she had sewn her words. The event was wonderful, and we were very grateful for Yasmeen's show and for her making the trip to Toronto to engage us with her work.

Nematt Alla and the Grebel Gallery continued to expand the model of community engagement by

An MPACS student stands in the gallery with a blanket wrapped around their back

launching the If Trauma Could Echo project. The project focused on providing the exhibit’s experience to individuals who were unable to physically enter the gallery space.

The project asked the Grebel and UWaterloo community to finish the same sentence Nematt Alla had asked years prior, “I wouldn’t call it traumatic, but….” Individuals were encouraged to submit their responses to the Grebel Gallery, and in return for their story, Nematt Alla mailed them a small blanket with an excerpt from their story embroidered onto it. If Trauma Could Echo offered participants an opportunity to share their stories and feel heard, validated, and comforted by the artist herself.

If Trauma Could Echo concluded on December 20th, 2021. If you are interested in learning more about the project, please visit our Grebel Gallery website. Not Traumatic Enough for a Shock Blanket will be displayed in the Grebel Gallery until March 2022.