Amidst the (cold, damp) post-exams revelry I had the pleasure of visiting a pop-up exhibition curated by Alice Christie for The Perspective Project, a charity working to destigmatize mental health through art. ‘Personal Perspectives on Mental Health’ offered fresh insights on illness, awareness and recovery, and reinforced my own belief in the potential of the arts as a tool for change.
The installation, set in Christie’s living space, aimed to take viewers on a ‘journey through the mind’ –– and that it did. The first room was bright and busy with illustrations and energetic canvases. I was excited to see depictions of ‘fringe’ mental illnesses; Kat Shave’s bold and accessible representations of Borderline Personality Disorder, an illness often demonized in popular discourse, were incredibly relatable.
The installation, set in Christie’s living space, aimed to take viewers on a ‘journey through the mind’ –– and that it did.
Meanwhile, Ted Lavis Coward’s poetry offered a sexy and impulsive look at the world from the intersection of queerness and mental illness.
The next section, ‘Lauren’s Room’, was incredibly intimate with makeup paraphernalia fanned out on the desk and towels on the radiator; I felt I was stepping into my own bedroom. On the walls, Lauren Drinkwater’s ineffably cool artworks showed familiar bodies – women with stretch- marks, scars, and sexual hang-ups –– and her self-portraits conveyed the instability of selfhood in times of mental ill-health.
The most ‘immersive’ experience was in the third and darkest room, where the viewer was plunged into the unlit depths of mental illness and the problem of stigma through the evocative works of Siri Hill and Eva Charkiewicz. The use of sombre piano to accompany an eerie reel of photographs – Charkiewicz’s series ‘My Four Walls’ – was particularly successful in conveying the all-encompassing distortions of depression.
Her self-portraits conveyed the instability of selfhood in times of mental ill-health
The exhibition finished on a lighter note in room four where viewers were encouraged to draw their own pieces and stick them to the walls, resulting in a beautifully vibrant sprawl of doodles.
By giving time and space to each creator’s story, the ‘full picture’ of the ‘Personal Perspectives’ was incredibly diverse, offering a range of personal stories which shed light on the complexities of the issue. It was refreshing to see nuanced representations of mental health as opposed to media depictions which can oversimplify and lack the understanding necessary for real change.
Christie is keen to express that the exhibition is a celebration: ‘The Perspective Project shows that art is power –– art has the potential to help people grow and change their lives for the better.’
“The Perspective Project shows that art is power”
Despite improvements in mental health awareness, Mind states that 1 in 4 people in the UK still experience mental illness each year. The issue is especially prevalent in working class, BAME, LGBT+, and otherwise marginalised communities –– more so for individuals who exist at the intersection of these groups.
In light of this, I asked founder Mark Anscombe what’s up next for The Per- spective Project. As well as continuing to work in student spaces and holding ‘wellness workshops’ the charity is keen to broaden discussions about mental health in the corporate world, using art as a ‘hook to get the conversation rolling’.
If the recent exhibition in Durham is anything to go by, I’m sure the Project will be successful in driving change and sparking new discussions on mental health –– this very article is indicative of the impact art can have on thought. Creativity must be used to its full potential as a vehicle for change as, in the immortal words of surrealist Salvador Dalí, ‘it can propel people toward social emancipation.’
Photograph: Charlie Norton