On October 5th, 2023, the Mass Art Art Museum debuted its new exhibition “The Myth of Normal” curated by Mari Spirito. The exhibit, inspired by Gabor and Daniel Maté’s book of the same name, is all about exploring things in Western culture that we have normalized despite their intense mental and physical damage to us. Each piece reveals ways that things like trauma, mental illness, stress, or inequality can manifest themselves while also offering ways to handle this toxicity, largely through exploring indigenous American and other non-white cultures. And behind all this beautiful artwork is a curator who found her own peace in making the exhibit and now hopes to pass that peace on.
Spirito, a Mass Art alumni, is the executive director and curator of Protocinema, a multicultural art organization that curates exhibits and public programs. Even with her impressive artistic resume, Spirito is incredibly down to Earth and humble. As she leads her audience through her curator’s walkthrough, she keeps herself out of the picture, instead telling us to clap for the artists and encouraging other people involved in the exhibition to speak with every piece she displays. When the walkthrough is over, she runs around the museum to greet and thank everyone who attended, filling the room with hugs, kisses, and laughter. Among all this socialization, Spirito was kind enough to talk with me for a few minutes and share her experiences curating the exhibition.
Spirito was first drawn to Maté’s literature as a way to understand why forms of hate like racism and homophobia exist and how people can heal in spite of them. As she worked more with this writing and art she felt reflected its message, Spirito came to her own healing, a process she’s still working on. “I want to get to a point where I feel more comfortable with myself,” she explains. “I didn’t value myself enough.”
This theme of self-value was central to Spirito’s experience in curating the exhibition. Not only did she learn to be kinder and more accepting of herself through the art, but she also learned the importance of trusting herself through the exhibit’s curation. The first thing she asks herself when selecting what work to showcase is simply if she thinks the art is good. This process comes with a lot of doubt, but Spirito believes she has to be true to herself to create an exhibition she’s proud of, saying, “I just listen to my intuition.” She echoes her literary inspiration and describes how Maté has found that people make better decisions when they just do what they think needs to be done. “You have to get in touch with [yourself] because we’re so conditioned by society not to be in touch.” In this statement, Spirito captures the purpose of her exhibition: authenticity against all conditioning to not be authentic. It is truly inspiring to see how her process and exhibition bleed together into one beautiful act of self-expression.
And at the heart of this self-expression, Spirito finds creation. She encourages everyone to create and embrace their creativity, whether that means making art or making dinner. “We’re all the results of creation,” she points out. “And we all create.” With this closing remark, Spirito inspires us all to go out and create, as truly and authentically as we can.
The Myth of Normal will be on view from October 5th, 2023 to May 19, 2024, at the Mass Art Art Museum.