How do I make art about my relationship to suicide?


#HERcollective Contributor: Vivek Shraya

For me, the process of making art always involves asking a series of logistical, abstract and often unanswerable questions. These were a few of the questions I considered while I was making my new short film “I want to kill myself”:

How do I make art about my relationship to suicide? How do I make art about my relationship to suicide that isn’t (re-)traumatizing or romantacizing? How do I make art about my relationship to suicide that isn’t pathologizing of queerness and transness, while also drawing attention to the impact of homophobia, misogyny and racism on my mental health? How do I make art about my relationship to suicide that is respectful of a viewer who has thought about suicide or experienced loss through suicide while also being honest about my own experience? Do I need to provide my reasons for feeling suicidal? Do I need to provide preventative measures? If this project is a photo essay, how do I differentiate it from my previous photo essay? Should I photograph this myself or direct friends to capture what I am imagining? Should I hire a photographer? If I hire a photographer I have worked with before, how will we differentiate these photos from previous shoots we have collaborated on? How do I speak about the past through photography without trying to recreate the past? How do I convey vitality and resilience—living through wishing for death—as opposed to trying to recreate moments when I have thought of suicide? Where should this project be photographed? When should this project be photographed? Do we shoot with film or digital? Do we shoot in colour or in black and white? Does black and white impose an overly somber mood, an artificial sadness? Is the piece a photo essay or a short film or both? What can I wear that will appear casual enough that it won’t be distracting? How do I use clothing to convey a passage of time and change of setting without distracting from the content? Should I wear makeup? Should I be in all the photos? Should other people be in the photos? How might I involve my parents in this project? How do we photograph the religious sections of the piece now that I am no longer affiliated with a religious organization? Is the title “I want to kill myself” too sensational or will it be translated as attention seeking? Do I address this attention seeking reading of the title and suicide itself directly in the piece? Should I use a more subtle title? Should subtlety be a consideration in a project about contemplating suicide? How should the film end? What is a less obvious setting for the ending than a body of water? What is the point of this film? How do I disseminate a film about my relationship to suicide in ways that are respectful of a viewer who has thought about suicide or experienced loss through suicide?


Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. Her first book of poetry, even this page is white, is longlisted for CBC’s Canada Reads and was listed as one of the Best Books of 2016 by The Walrus. Her debut novel, She of the Mountains, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books, and her first children’s picture book, The Boy & the Bindi, was featured on the National Post Bestseller List. Vivek has read and performed inter­nationally at shows, festivals and post-secondary institutions, including sharing the stage with Tegan & Sara. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached.

Vivek was a 2016 Pride Toronto Grand Marshal, a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, a 2015 Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award finalist, and a 2015 recipient of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize Honour of Distinction.

You can connect with her via her Twitter or Instagram, and get to know her more via her website here.

All images courtesy of Zachary Ayotte.

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