Showing posts with label Bethlem Museum of the Mind. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bethlem Museum of the Mind. Show all posts

Monday, 16 March 2015

The new Bethlem Museum of the Mind

I've been looking forward to writing this post, just as I was looking forward to seeing the new Bethlem Museum of the Mind. It has been closed for a couple of months, moved building and undergone a considerable transformation. It is still housed in the grounds of the hospital, the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. 
I went with friends, the same friends who I visited the old museum with last December just before it was about to close and we loved it. You can read about that visit here. The old site was tiny, and what we remember most was that it was full of artwork by patients depicting their stories and experiences of their own mental health.

Things have changed.
You're drawn into the museum by this compelling portrait, Numb by Lisa Biles.
Looking at it, I felt anything but.

In this new incarnation of Bethlem Museum of the Mind, there is more of a focus on the history of Bethlem Hospital, told through the 'lens of mental health issues'. But that is slightly misleading, leading you to believe that this is all about the past. For me it was all about the now, as every object, quote, painting and photograph evoked the most powerful of emotions right here in the present. I couldn't just situate things historically, and think, 'that's OK, that's what happened in the olden days' and leave it there, parked in my 'olden-days' file. Throughout this exhibition we were asked what we thought, asked to contribute, contemplate and decide.

 The first thing I had to think about was my language.

Labelling and diagnosis.

The language surrounding mental health has changed over centuries. Some words are now acceptable, some can cause offence. These words are being collected and you are encouraged to add to the collection. I didn't. I felt uncomfortable, quite rightly, challenged by the insensitive words I have probably used over the years, particularly as a child. I don't think that this was intentional, to make me feel uncomfortable, so it was reassuring to read that in recent years the words 'mad' and 'bonkers' have been reclaimed for positive use. 

In the 19th century, it was believed that facial expressions and physical appearance provided clues about people's mental states. With this in mind, these photographs were commissioned to document different states of mental health, I assume to help with future diagnosis. These two individuals were noted to have chronic melancholia (above) and acute melancholia. We now know that the camera 'often' lies, but imagine having your photo taken for these reasons. I'm struck by the fact that they are patients, this is for real, they're not modelling melancholia.

I feel uncomfortable looking at much of the treatment from the past. But I'm in no position to criticise, I've never worked in this profession. I can only think about it from the perspective of a potential patient, thankfully not an actual patient.

The walls of an isolation room contrasted so beautifully against the tree outside.

Physical restraint.

ECT Electro convulsive therapy.

Not all therapy made me feel uncomfortable. Occupational therapy, time spent doing something 'useful, purposeful and worthwhile'. I know how it feels to be involved in something, to do something, useful, purposeful and worthwhile. Good for the soul and my self-esteem, rewarding.

Here I read about sewing, carpentry, ceramics, music and gardening.
There's a place for these therapies in most of our lives.

Then there's social therapy, talking.
Finding the right person to talk to.

This portrait is a testament to mutual respect. The individual who painted this was reassured, thinking his social worker was "crazier than he was". I liked the hope in this painting. He dedicated it to "friends, family and mental health professionals who... have given me perspective on a journey through to the other side where there is hope in being able to cope with my illness".

More opportunities to contribute, to have your say. But these are decisions not to be taken lightly. After hearing from a girl with mental health issues, her family and the healthcare professionals in this film, you get to have your say, to experience the weight of decision making. In making her decision, one of these students faltered and turned to my friend for reassurance, had she done right by the girl?

Not all stories end well,

but for some they do.

With this in mind, I found it it important to reflect on the World health Organisation's definition of mental health, which is
'a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his community'.
Who ticks all these boxes, all the time?

The Bethlem Museum is aware of it's impact and the need to reflect. It provides a space right in the heart of the museum to do this. In this space you get a chance to reflect on some of the artwork made by patients that has been produced to explore their own state of mind or to provide a chance to escape.

Visitor comments, what you think, is important to Bethlem Museum. Your voice will be heard and displayed on the museum walls.

Bethlem has hosted visitors for centuries. In the 17th century the well-to-do came to see the 'lunatic poor'. Coming to the Bethlem myself, I was not only inspired and challenged, but had questions about my place here. Were we like those 17th century visitors? Well meaning onlookers? The Bethlem Museum says not, they tell us their work at the hospital and the museum is for everybody, it is 'important, not only for the future of mental healthcare, but for the future of us all'. 

Bethlem Museum of the Mind is open to the public Wednesdays to Fridays, and the first and last Saturdays of the month. details on the website, here.
I urge you to visit, there is so much more than I have mentioned, including an art gallery.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Bethlem Museum of the Mind

There is only a week left to see the current incarnation

Louis Wain

At present it is a very small museum.

Showing some of a huge collection of works of art,
part of the (hi)story of mental health care in the Maudsley Hospitals.

All the work has all been produced by current and former patients
whether they have had any formal art training or not.

Next to the paintings are labels,
which along with the artist's name and date,
tell us why, when and how they came to be patients of the Bethlem Royal Hospital.
Very moving.

I'll just tell you about a couple of the artists in the museum
who do happen to have have gone to art school,
however this is not a prerequisite for having your work on display.

Louis Wain.
Three years into his marriage, he began painting their cat,
who at the time gave great comfort to his wife with breast cancer.
Sadly she died, but not before encouraging him to sell his work.

His cat paintings captured the public's imagination.
His work was published in children's books, magazines, in the papers and in journals.
He also had his own annual published, over a period of twenty years.

He was recognised as a public authority on cats
with his theories about them giving off electricity, being magnetic and hating orange peel.

It wasn't all cats though,
as these beautiful gouache paintings of nature demonstrate,
produced during his struggle with his mental health in later years.

During our visit we comment that this painting reminds us
of brightly coloured embroidered tablecloths,
lots of small brush strokes that could well have been stitched in thread.

These two paintings were produced by Marion Patrick.

Admitted to hospital at only fifteen years old,
she later went to art college.

Even in this small space,
there are so many painings to look at.

Each with a story and challenge for the viewer.
This is especially true for 'The Maze' by William Kurelek.
which leaves us speechless with the portrayal of his mind.
His painting depicts a compartmentalised cross-section of his skull.
A labyrinth of scenes from his life,
with a rat trapped right in the middle with no way out,
who seems to have abandoned his escape and has stopped gnawing at the walls.

The Bethlem Museum of the Mind temporarily closes mid December.
It will move house and is set to reopen in a new building in February 2015
with a new gallery and learning spaces.

It will be worth a visit as it continues to follow its remit
of campaigning for access to the arts in healthcare environments.

As we left the Bethlem Museum I was struck by two things;
the opportunity that the patients had to create
and the value the hospital gave the patients and their work
by providing a place to exhibit it.
Art training or no art training,
I loved that!

More information on Bethlem Museum of the Mind
on their website, here.

I will be back in February to post about the new incarnation of
Bethlem Museum of the Mind.
Very much looking forward to it.
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