Psychology and Art have been two equally attractive but mutually exclusive interests for me. That was until I enrolled in the Inktober challenge for 2017 on Instagram, and became a witness to the stunning work done that year by American illustrator Shawn Coss. He illustrated one mental health issue every day for the entire month and I was astounded by the impact those images had on viewers, especially me. Another series of illustrations done by Italian artist Frederico Babina represented mental illness as houses.
These illustrations are attempts to visualise that which is very hard to create a dialogue around, leading me to the idea for ‘Paintings Inside My Head’. Paintings Inside My Head is an attempt to visualise the realities of 13 individuals, living with issues including Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, High-functioning depression, and Autism. Mental Health issues are primarily non-visual in their manifestation, thereby much more challenging to identify and understand when compared to physical injuries. The individuals experiencing these may not exhibit their struggles glaringly, and due to the obscure nature of these struggles there exists a lack of dialogue and empathy around them.
To address this opacity, the narratives from these 13 individuals were curated into eight paintings, each representing a different aspect of living with mental health issues. The text accompanying these paintings include the questions that were asked, followed by how the answers were represented, and finally, a reflective question that the art aims to direct to the viewers.
The left half of the face depicts all the colours associated with fear while the right half portrays colours that calm.
An individual represents both sides of the face. Why do we embrace only one half?
These phrases have been spoken by people in response to the daily struggles experienced by the participants. Others include:
“It’s not real.” “It’s your parents’ fault.” “This is a made-up means for selling attention.”
Can you imagine meeting someone with a chronic medical illness and directing the same language at them?
Some of these messages were discovered in books, others in people. Nearly every person who talked about hearing painful verbal attack also found words that healed.
How often, through our words, are we sensitive to the effort required in battling mental health issues? When was the last time you used any of these words?
The people who responded to this question galled about the things they struggled to do on a daily basis, including: multi-tasking, staying in one place, looking like an “ideal girl”, being angry, washing hair, having a healthy sleep cycle, balancing emotions,and being able to talk to people, specially in a gathering.
How would we feel if we woke up tomorrow and struggled to do things we can do so easily today?
People responded with:
“Someone who can let go of things“; “A zookeeper taking care of pandas!“; “Someone who has support“; “Someone who has love to give“; “Goku, who paints occasionally“; “Someone who can choose to not be born“; “A performer“; “A succulent on someone’s desk“; “A footballer“; “A thestral“; “A singer“; “Someone who can dye their hair bubblegum pink!”
(Responses: a scared cat, a lonely beach at night, fish bones, a dark cloud covering the head, sharp shapes like a triangle, a bowl of spaghetti so knotted and messy that you can only devour in one go, a lone tree,how water feels coming out of a pipe when pressurized, boxes and arrows coloured black, a clenched fist, a half empty cup of coffee, and a black and white picture of a crowd with only me coloured in)
This was one of the most essential questions during the project. For someone who has never experienced any mental health issue, it can be hard to conceptualise. Imagine looking at an object that makes us very uncomfortable. The response is usually to close our eyes, and we want to distance ourselves from the source of discomfort. Now what happens when that object is a feeling inside our mind and closing our eyes is no means to escape?
(songs: Parachute by Coldplay, Love you Zindagi from Dear Zindagi, Cheap Thrills by Sia, Move by Saith Motel, Peace by Schiller, Moora from Gangs of Wasseypur, NaJa by Pav Dharia, Flag Song by Rock n’ Roll Soldiers, and Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars)
This was the more fun one. I spent time listening to the songs sent in response to this and most were already a favourite! You know how your heart beats maybe just a bit faster when you know the words, your adrenaline is on a tiny bit of rush when you know the song is about to peak, and there is that tiniest bit of movement in your body when it’s in sync with the beats? Think of that moment when you look at these sound waves. These are sound waves of happiness, excitement, hope, and in more than one case, the NEED to dance.
The final one and the most important too! EVERY single person replied to this, no matter how difficult their journey had been so far. Says a lot about human will.
I feel immensely grateful to all the people who took a leap of faith and participated in the project. And I hope these visuals and accompanying narratives can create greater sensitivity and empathy.