CREATE: ART THAT BANISHES THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS

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By Quincy Malesovas

 

On a small alleyway off of Errol Street in North Melbourne lies Voltaire, an unassuming gallery cum performing arts club self-labelled as “sometimes eccentric, always inviting”.

 

The tagline doesn’t lie, as I got to experience firsthand on Thursday. That night marked the first of a three-day art exhibition the space hosted in collaboration with Inner West Area Mental Health. The works on display were all created by consumers of mental health and co-health services, with a specific focus on how each artist used their various mediums to manage mental health and wellness.

 

A range of different products were represented, from paintings to drawings to text. There were works to be seen, some to be felt and others to be heard. In one corner of the gallery, a small boom box sat on a table, playing thumping synthesiser beats – the work of one featured artist. In the adjacent room, two violinists and a cellist serenaded exhibitors and their guests. Drawings and sketches and paintings filled the walls, but were hard to get a clear view of through the crowd that had gathered in from of them.

 

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A short trip down the stairs led to more wall art and accompanying artist statements. Each individual had different intentions behind their art and varying messages that they wanted to share through the event. One theme, however, came up often: art as a means of relaxation – a break from the constant barricade of over-consuming thoughts or behaviours that may come alongside mental health concerns. To struggle with mental illness is to struggle with a brain that does not turn off, or one that is difficult to control. It was clear that art provided many exhibitors with a safe haven, either from themselves or from the world around them.

 

While the lay Australian may still have a knee-jerk reaction when they hear “mental illness”, events such as Create help to develop and shift how people perceive such a struggle.”

 

That sense of calm and even confidence was present throughout the opening night. Artists stood proudly with their work, eager to present it to visitors. Some of the exhibitors had been classically trained, while others completely self-taught. The work of the latter group veered more towards “outsider art” in substance and style. This was art that you may not see in other galleries, but spoke volumes through the time, precision, thought or creativity put into the pieces. That’s one of the most compelling aspects of Voltaire – they boast inclusivity, welcoming many types of work into their space.

 

As the night led on, refreshments were served and pieces were sold, with all proceeds going directly back to the artists. The primary intention of Create was to form a space where mental health consumers could have their voices heard. Through art, they were provided the optimal platform for conveying messages that they may not have been able to express otherwise.

 

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Exhibitor statements relayed one other common sentiment: the erasure of stigma from the world of mental health. Preconceived notions about mental health disorders affect not just the way those concerns are treated, but also the treatment of people whose identities are linked with their illness. While the lay Australian may still have a knee-jerk reaction when they hear “mental illness”, events such as Create help to develop and shift how people perceive such a struggle.

 

This exhibition has now ended, but will hopefully set a precedent for events to come. At the very least, you can expect as much from Voltaire, given that they maintain their stance of inclusivity and eccentricity.

 

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Keep up with Voltaire on Facebook for regular updates and events. You can also visit NorthWestern Mental Health for information on mental health management and treatment in your area.

 

Quincy is a self-identified writer/explorer with a penchant for all things culture sub, pop, alt, you name it. You can read her musings at shugurcan.net.

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