When she is not wearing her dinosaur onesie, Arianna Warner looks like any other student on the Stony Brook campus. The cold and rainy weather has her bundled up in a winter jacket and a scarf. Warner, a 22-year-old studio art and art history and criticism major, wears a smile that makes others smile back, but those who walk past her on campus would never know that she is constantly in pain.
When Warner was a senior in high school, she was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy after a sports injury. She describes the pain in her two legs and one of her arms as feeling like “multiple fractures” with a “50 pound weight” on them.
The student athlete spent her senior year being home-schooled, and also at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Before going to the Mayo Clinic, Warner was looking for a onesie to wear to keep her warm during her stay in the hospital. In her search, she found a company that sold animal onesies, and from there, she chose a green dinosaur onesie for several reasons. One, her favorite color was green. Two, she liked the uniqueness of the dinosaur. Three, she is very close to her brother, who loved dinosaurs as a child.
Warner wore that dinosaur onesie during her month-long stay at the Mayo Clinic, and it is the same one she can sometimes be seen wearing on campus. But instead of being just something for her, her hospital attire—which was also the inspiration behind the Dinosaur Onesie Project—has become an inspiration to others.
Warner calls her dinosaur onesie the best stress reliever ever. “Everyone is smiling at you and you can’t help but smile,” she said. During finals and midterms, when the school climate is especially stressful, Warner wears her dinosaur onesie. After experiencing the happiness it brought to the children at the Mayo Clinic, she decided to bring it to Stony Brook. “It clicked that this could be more than something that just made me happy.”
In February of last year, Warner crafted 100 three-inch dinosaurs made out of wax, making each dinosaur unique. In March, she hid her dinosaurs around campus for students to find. Students who found the dinosaurs could upload pictures of themselves taking the dinosaurs on adventures to the project’s Tumblr, http://thedinosauronesieproject.tumblr.com/.
The 100 dinosaurs have ventured everywhere from Roth Café to the Berlin Wall. With only 100 dinosaurs to be found, students approached Warner for their own dinosaur sculptures. Because giving the sculptures out defeated the project’s purpose of finding happiness, Warner offered another way to get involved; in March, she set up shop in front of the Staller Center for the Arts to screen print t-shirts students brought in. By the end of the week, she had printed more than 300 shirts with the dinosaur logo and print reading: “I was extinct once before, you will not be the death of me.” The text describes the greater meaning of the project; Warner, who felt emotionally extinct during her illness, did not let it become the death of her.
While Warner has been criticized by some in the art world who say that what she is doing is not real art, she doesn’t listen. “It’s my life, so it’s not their right to judge it,” she said.
Despite some negative reactions, her project, which she calls social art, has created a community of very supportive people on campus. She says the dinosaur sculptures are just one part of the project, with the other part being people embracing the project. “The project brings people together to talk about their own experiences,” she said, calling those involved in the project a “support group.”
Though she still has good and bad days, Warner says she has an extremely supportive group of family and friends. Last summer, Warner did a tour of California promoting the Dinosaur Onesie Project, and she hopes to do a more extensive U.S. tour after she graduates in May and expand her growing project. This year, beginning Nov. 14, Warner will be sharing her artwork with the campus at her Dinosaur Onesie Exhibition.