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The Embarrassment Show at Sheridan's Trafalgar Campus

The Embarrassment Show workshop is an approach to creative thinking developed by Dutch creative director, curator and artist Erik Kessels. Originally conducted with a group of second-year photography students in Switzerland, the Embarrassment Show has developed into a travelling exhibition. In May 2016 the project was brought to Sheridan College’s Trafalgar Campus for second-, third- and fourth-year Bachelor of Illustration students.

erik kessels with students

Artist Erik Kessels with Sheridan students

Kessels led a three-day workshop and oversaw the production of the final exhibition with Sheridan Illustration Professor/Coordinator Joe MorseStemming from the philosophy that artists learn best when they learn mistakes, Kessels believes that encouraging students to acknowledge what they are embarrassed, uncomfortable, or shy about will stretch their abilities to the limit. “Making mistakes and risking embarrassment, even failure, is how you make progress,” he says. “Without it, you’ll be stuck in the same old safe zone: not embarrassed, but not better either. In other words: boring. So if we want to do this thing we love – making stuff – we mustn’t be afraid of looking stupid.”

“Without it, you’ll be stuck in the same old safe zone: not embarrassed, but not better either. In other words: boring” – Erik Kessels

The resulting exhibition includes therapeutic and declarative works where students not only overcame their embarrassment, but addressed difficult subjects such as mental illness, identity, body insecurity, and bullying. In many cases, students boldly tackled “embarrassment” in the form of social stigma and trauma by presenting their stories to the public. “One of the most important parts of a Creative Campus is how creativity is expressed,” says Morse. “Erik described the process to the participants in that ‘we have a front garden where everything is tidy and we have a back garden where things are maybe not so perfect.’ We need to go to the back garden.”

“One of the most important parts of a Creative Campus is how creativity is expressed” – Joe Morse

Third year illustration student Kuma Pather stated that the workshop “dug deep” and helped him grow towards the type of artist that he strives to be: one that works from a sincere place. Kessels’ states that the intensive workshop was “quite emotional” as students confronted their individual hurdles. Morse adds: “The exhibition in the tidy courtyard is unruly, chaotic and absolutely imperfect and hopefully only the first step for the Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design into our back garden.”

joe morse with students and erik kessels

Sheridan Professor of Illustration Joe Morse (left) with Sheridan students and Erik Kessels (right)

The Embarrassment Show in Sheridan’s A Wing courtyard at Trafalgar is open to the public and will run until the end of September 2016.

Learn more about Sheridan’s Bachelor of Illustration program.

View more photos from the Embarrassment Show at Sheridan.


Pictured at top of page: The Embarrassment Show at Sheridan’s Trafalgar Campus

Written by: Shellie Zhang, Social Media and Communications Coordinator in Sheridan’s Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design.

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