Most of us know someone who has suffered from depression or a mental health problem. In fact, one in five Australians will experience some form of mental illness this year and about 30% of those will be seriously affected. Whatever their condition – depression, anxiety, post natal depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia – people with mental illness can experience deep suffering and disability, and even discrimination based on misconceptions about their illness.
To coincide with 2012 Mental Health Week, over 50 self portraits from the Cunningham Dax Collection are on exhibition in Hide and Seek at The Gordon Gallery. The self portraits, created by people suffering from mental illness or psychological trauma, have been brought together for the exhibition to foster a greater understanding of mental illness through art.
Like the children’s game Hide’n’seek, where the tension exists between the desire to remain hidden and the desire to be found, so the self portrait both reveals and conceals. The artist must choose what to make public, and what to keep private; what to seek out and what to keep hidden. Hide and Seek explores this tension and raises the question as to how much we can tell about an artist from their self-portrait.
A clear sense of self is a delicate thing, easily bruised or even ruptured by mental illness and in some of the portraits, the emotional pain is palpable. A recurring theme throughout the exhibition is the depiction of internal body parts such as the heart, tongue or bones. While this may reflect the artist’s desire to show their innermost feelings, many of the works have an accompanying sense of trauma or wounding, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for psychological injury.
Co-curator Juliette Hanson writes in the catalogue essay, “Many of the artworks included in Hide and Seek deal with the themes of transformation, metaphor, masks and mortality, with a constant tension between what is revealed and what is hidden, and in this way they fit well within contemporary art practice. There is room for ambiguity and the works presented encourage subjective readings, however, at the heart of this exhibition is a genuine endeavour to communicate, to draw out internal states, to reveal personal realities and stories, and the emotional effect of these works is undeniable.”
The self portraits effectively convey a range of feelings : some plummet into grief, fear and despair, while others suggest a tentative optimism. If the strength of an artwork can be judged by its capacity to make the viewer feel emotion, then many of these self portraits are powerful – the viewer really gains an insight into what mental illness can be like.
Hide & Seek is curated by Juliette Hanson and Dr Anna Takács. The exhibition is on until 26 October 2012 at The Gordon Gallery, 2 Fenwick St, Geelong. Ph: 5225 0852. Open hours are 9.00am – 4.00pm Monday to Friday. The exhibition is supported by The Dax Centre, Barwon Mental Health Week, Medicare Local, and Headspace Barwon.
Note: Kaleidoscope Gallery at Courthouse Arts is also hosting an exhibition of artwork to mark Mental Health Week but it closes on Friday 12 October 2012 so you will have to be quick.