October 24, 2013, by Malvika Johal

Art in the Asylum

Thanks to a Cascade fund grant of £10,000, students are learning more about mental health and creative activities which enhance mental well-being through the current exhibition at the Djanogly Art Gallery ‘Art in the Asylum’.

Final year medical student Chantal Pearman tells us about her experience of visiting the exhibition.

“My visit to the Djanogly Art Gallery’s current exhibition ‘Art in the Asylum’ gave a completely novel perspective into life as a psychiatric patient. The gallery offered a fascinating insight into the minds of patients within institutions from the early 1800s to the 1970s.

One artist who particularly struck me was Mary Barnes. After reading an anecdotal description of her work in ‘The Psychopath Test’ by Jon Ronson it was fascinating to see some of her pieces in the gallery.

Mary stayed at Kingsley Hall, a psychotherapeutic centre set up by the radical Dr. R. D. Laing. It was created as an alternative environment to a psychiatric hospital. It is moving to think that, before she was given pastels, she would go to such length as smearing her own excrement on the walls to express herself.  As her condition improved she began to exhibit regularly around London and even went on to lecture about mental health issues and the benefit of psychotherapy.

To me, her work not only demonstrates the value of art therapy to psychiatry but also to the patient. Mary once said,

My paintings are an important part of my life, which lay buried for 42 years’

As well as discovering the fascinating stories of the patients, this exhibition also explores the shift from invasive psychiatric treatments of the past to a more humane regime involving creativity. It left me wondering whether our current management of patients offers them the opportunity to express themselves creatively and what everyone might gain from this.”

Art in the Asylum is a free exhibition at Lakeside’s Djanogly Art Gallery curated by Dr Victoria Tischler and Dr Esra Plumer which runs until Sunday 3 November


Mary Bishop cri de Coeur. Image courtesy of the Adamson collection.

Posted in Cascade fund