PEABODY — One woman’s success in pulling herself out of darkness by shining a light on other lives is on display in the Northshore Mall.
Arranged on panels set up in the middle of one of the mall’s broad corridors, Amy Kerr’s “I am more: Massachusetts,” is a collection of 20 portraits by the Cape Ann artist and accompanying narratives written by the portrait subjects.
Taken together, the first-person accounts and the portraits are snapshots of depression and hope, illness and recovery, a veteran’s struggles and pride, and a family’s enduring memories of a woman who committed suicide.
“I am more: Massachusetts” is on display at Northshore through Jan. 30.
Kerr has exhibited “I am more: Massachusetts” in 22 locations since 2018.
The exhibit’s next stop is the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Kerr said she will bring her exhibit to the State House May 11-15.
“I’ve learned so much from people and it’s definitely given me something positive to focus on,” Kerr said.
Kerr turned to art in 2017 to pull herself out of her deepening depression. The title of her exhibit sprung from the decision she made to help herself.
“I was in a very low moment. The idea came to me, ‘I am more than depression,'” she said.
She started talking to people she knew who would be receptive to having her create their portrait, including Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken.
She invited each person to pick the setting for their portrait and found herself drawing on highway overpasses, in the woods or in someone’s living room. She also asked each subject to write an introduction to their portrait.
“I gave them ideas — ‘What do you love?’ or suggested their childhood and told them, ‘you can see your portrait when you are finished writing,'” she said.
Each portrait took about three weeks to create and her first collection of 16 portraits displayed in Gloucester were embraced by Kerr’s friends and the city’s residents.
“They were so well received, I said, ‘Let’s do the whole state,'” she said.
Using “I am more” as her creative theme, Kerr divided Massachusetts into five regions, including the North Shore. She credited U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton’s office staff and Simon, Northshore Mall’s owner, with making the Peabody exhibit possible.
Lauren Dalis, Area Director of Marketing Business Development for Northshore Mall, said the feeling about Kerr’s work is mutual.
“We are pleased to showcase Amy Kerr’s “I Am More: Massachusetts” exhibit in the Macy’s wing for the month of January, which places a focus on the important subject matter of mental health and overcoming obstacles. This is a vivid visual that also provides information about mental health resources available in our community,” Dalis said in a statement.
Malden resident and author Grimai Kahassai said he has viewed Kerr’s exhibit more than once and credits Northshore for inviting artists into its public spaces.
A Vermont native, Kerr, 48, studied writing at Emerson College and said words were an outlet for her depression before she began drawing. Her “I am more” subjects include a Brooksby Village woman identified as “Margot” in her portrait introduction who chronicled living in France during World War II.
Other exhibit subjects include “Donna,” a childhood sexual abuse survivor, and “Ryan,” a veteran who struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“He walked me into the woods to a place where he goes to get in touch with himself,” Kerr said.
The exhibit includes mental health referral information, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater North Shore, (617) 984-0504.
Kerr said the exhibit project has proven to be a “lifeline” pulling her away from depression.
“I did it for survival,” she said.