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Galleries: Confronting the reality of mental illness through art

The Fragmented Mind, The Mac, Belfast - Until July 29

By Elizabeth Baird

Taking the dual form of an art exhibition and an open civic forum, The Fragmented Mind examines perceptions and experiences of mental illness and the current state of mental health provision in Northern Ireland", as the gallery notes state.

The civic forum is delivered in collaboration with Paula Larkin, University of Atypical (formerly Arts & Disability Forum).

The exhibition features a selection of works from the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection, on loan from the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, one of the largest collections of artwork by artists working outside of mainstream systems of art education and galleries, including artists with mental and physical disabilities.

Some of the images are quite exceptional in their beauty and insight. Oswald Tschirtner’s drawing Viele Menschen (or Many People) is strong and emotive. A bold, semi abstract head stares at you from a dark red background looking alone and lost within the frame of the image. It appears to be sinking slowly into the red pigment, as if saying “I am here but vanishing before your very eyes”.

There is an honesty about works such as these deserving of your attention and your active response to what they appear to saying. These must not be lost or disregarded as voices in the wilderness.

Rather, they should be seen as Edvard Munch’s Scream, of which he said in his diary: “I was walking along the road with two friends, the sun was setting, suddenly the sky turned blood red. I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence — there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city. My friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety — and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”

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