Talent Within: Julia Caston

At the North Carolina Museum of Art, we are surrounded not only by extraordinary works of art but also by extremely talented colleagues. On view through February 13, 2022, Talent Within: The NCMA Staff Art Exhibition features 24 works by staff members in departments as wide-ranging as security, exhibition design, and programming and in practices as diverse as drawing, photography, and sculpture. Three participating artist-staff members spoke to Circa about their contributions to the show.

Julia Caston:

Mental illness can be very lonely. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in college and have been taking medication for a decade. When I first started, I had a lot of shame and would hide the meds from my roommate, thinking she would judge me. In graduate school, after years of therapy, my relationship to my anxiety disorder was much healthier, and I was able to talk about it more openly. The summer after the first year of my MFA, my cohort went to Mexico City. We visited Frida Kahlo’s house, and I was amazed to see all her back braces and casts beautifully decorated and proudly displayed.

Inspired by Kahlo’s courage, I returned to my program with an interest in examining my own illness and learning more about it through insight into other people’s histories. I collected 42 empty medication bottles from 26 anonymous people, along with a notecard with the name of their medication, the dosage, and a few sentences detailing their thoughts. The bottles are displayed in a glass vitrine and titled Medication Artifact. The cards describe a range of experiences—positive and negative relationships with meds, self-love and self-loathing. Learning about these stories and the parallels with my own made me feel significantly less lonely.

I am extremely grateful to have this installation displayed at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The Museum has been the most supportive place I have worked while managing my anxiety disorder. I have had conversations in the gallery with visitors interacting with my installation, who speak to me about their own experiences with medication and mental illness. I look forward to learning more from visitors about their reactions and interpretations of the artwork.

Julia Caston
Julia Caston is the outreach assistant and internship coordinator at the NCMA.

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