Until feminist scholars began documenting the nuanced ways colonial conquest sanctioned sexual violence against non-white indigenous women at a rate higher than that of white western women (1), historians rarely conceptualized how gender and sexual violence were intrinsic to all aspects of Colonialism. The work of Cuban artist, Ana Mendieta provides insight to the complex relationship this, white-passing, ’third world woman’ had with gendered colonialism and institutionalized ‘gendered racism; forms of oppression, namely sexism, endured by ‘women of color’ that dehumanizes them by denying them gender (2). For Mendieta, this came in the form of discrimination based on her Cuban identity and experiences of sexual violence against women. Though the artist’s experience is nuanced, as she came from a family of privilege, and her ethnicity was white-passing, the artist’s experience with colonial sexual domination and discrimination in the United States culminated in her use of the female form to theorize third-wave feminist post-colonial issues pertaining to gendered racism directed at ‘third world women,’ a term used by Mendieta in 1980 to address white global feminism’s avoidance of fights of non-white women at her curated show, ‘Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists in the United States’ at A.I.R. Gallery, New York (3). The use of the term ‘third world women’ is controversial, as Western feminists often misappropriate its use to lump together vastly different places, and women of multicultural ethnicities as singular monolithic subject. I will be using the term as Mendieta self-identified as third world woman, in the context of postcolonial and transnational feminist theorist Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s definition of third world people, outlined geographically as ‘The nation-states of Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-east Asia, China, South Africa, and Oceania constitute the parameters of the non-European third world. In addition, black, Latino, Asian, and indigenous peoples in the U.S., Europe, Australia, some of whom have historic links with the geographically defined third worlds, also define themselves as third world peoples.” (4) Mohanty uses the term ‘third world women’ in exchange with ‘women of color,’ in context of the alliance of common struggle, the same way I apply the term gendered racism. Knowing I run the risk of further homogenizing such terms, potentially increased by my racial positioning as white, I will avoid the use of the term ‘women of color,’ in favor of ‘Third World Women,” as self-defined by Ana Mendieta. Using post-colonial third-wave feminist theory, which stresses the uniqueness of third world women’s condition, I will examine Mendieta’s experiences with sexual violence against women and gendered discrimination in relation to her use of female form as site to bring awareness of gendered colonial issues, concluding with a discussion between the impact of Mendieta’s body of work compared to death in relation to the coloniality of gender embedded within the art institution, informed by gendered colonialism.
Ana was born in Havana, Cuba in 1948 to a wealthy aristocratic family. Her father, Ignacio Mendieta had worked closely with Fidel Castro until the late 1950s, when Cuba became riddled with conflict, and Castro confirmed his communist ideologies. Ignacio parted ways with Castro, and aligned himself with counterrevolutionary activity. As the fate of Cuba grew increasing uncertain and violent, the Mendieta family made the the difficult decision to send Ana, 12, and her sister, Raquel, 15, to the United States through a covert program established to protect Cuban children whose parents were being targeted by Castro’s new regime. Operation Peter Pan airlifted over 14,000 unaccompanied children to the United States, to escape repression during the height of the Cold War (5). Ana and Raquel arrived in the US not long before their father would be confided in Cuban political prison for 18 years.
Without any relatives, the girls were sent to Iowa, there they would live between foster homes and orphanages during the most influential years of their adolescence. The new environment, combined with the racial climate of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, heightened Ana Mendieta’s awareness of, what Cesaire would equate as, colonial ‘thingification,’ as both girls would experience targeted gendered discrimination from their high school classmates. In the form of derogatory ethnic terms and sexualization, Mendieta remembers being told, ‘Go back to Cuba, you whore.” (6), This form of oppression directed towards young third world women, encrusts gendered colonialism in the lived experience of becoming a woman, especially within racist colonial governments, such as the United States, that have long histories of state-sanctioned violence against non-white women with total impunity. Mendieta would soon begin addressing these gendered colonial issues at the University of Iowa, where she received her Masters in Painting, and then enrolled in a more experimental MFA program where 1970s feminism, performance, and earthworks were introduced into her work.
Rape-Murder, (1973) was one of Mendieta’s first performance pieces that she conceptualized to bring attention to sexual violence against women, after nursing student, Sara Ann Otten, was found brutally raped and murdered on the University of Iowa campus. Ana invited other students from her MFA program to her apartment, where she had left her door purposely ajar, viewers could easier pear into the dramatically lit space to see Mendieta bent over her kitchen table. Upon entering the space, her apartment was in disarray, as if it was the location of a violent sexual assault. The dimly lit space, created a closed composition directing the audience to the central core focal point of the performance, Mendieta’s body, which was striped from the waist down, bent over and tied to a table. The lighting highlighted the side ofAna’s body, and legs, as her head, and tied arms disappeared into the surrounding darkness. Strong shadows casted on the wall behind her, and bloodied clothes appeared in the shadows on the floor to her right, the scene displayed a type of tenebrismo, that heightened the emotional tension, and isolated Mendieta’s form. All visible parts of the artist’s body were smeared in animal blood, dripping from her buttock to her calves, and pooling in a puddle at her feet. The addition of blood would become a dominant element of Mendieta’s art practices in which its inclusion offered multiple meanings. In this context, not only did the substance allude to a violent act, but also was in reference to Mendieta’s personal interest in the religious rituals of the Afro-Cuban practice of Santeria. Santeria attributes blood to Goddess Ochun who symbolized female sexuality, power and spiritual life force. Ana believed blood was not negative, but empowering, and aligned herself with Goddess Ochun to present the female subject as in control of her own representation. Though Mendieta is playing the position of victim, she has taken control of the composition by asserting her body as form, a living subject rather than a gendered colonial representation as naked woman’s body as object. Mendieta’s use of her female form in place of the white victim, Sarah Ann Otten, is particularly significant to this work, in constructing a third-wave feminist post-colonial narrative regarding sexual violence against third world women. Sexual violence was a an integral aspect of colonization, Martinican poet, Aime Cesaire wrote ‘between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation , theft, and rape,” going on to say there is “no human contact but relations of domination and submission.’ (7) Much like the domination and sexual violence perpetuated against modern ‘third world women,’ these acts were ignored, and took root within society. Cesaire continues, ‘in order to ease his conscience [the colonizer] gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal.” If colonized man is treated as animal, then the colonized women is treated as object, having no agency in the fight against gendered colonialism. Mendieta therefore used her body through performance to interrupt the relation of domination and submission, to give the dehumanized third world woman an identity that demanded recognition of women as subject. The intimate location of her home, forced the audience’s attention on their own contributions to the oppression of non-white women, causing them to empathize with Ana, creating a space of awareness where sexual violence could be addressed. She would later comment on the events that jolted her early performance, stating the murder of Otten frightened and moved her, “I think all my work has been like that- a personal response to a situation.” (8) Mendieta would continue to respond to situations of violence against women, exacerbated by her increased awareness of her own identity as being ‘non-white,’ and the gendered racism that was growing to inform present day interactions in Ana’s life.
After her sister Raquel divorced from her husband in December of 1973, citing the demise as attributed to domestic violence, Mendieta performed Blood Writing two months later in February of 1974. Filmed with a Super 8 camera in Iowa, Mendieta once again deployed the use of her body, as form, and blood, as subordinate element of performance, to not only bring attention to violence against women, but subvert the gendered colonial identification of third world woman as object, and unleash years of sorrow and pain attributed to her displacement from Cuba in exchange for the gendered colonial discrimination and lack of agency experienced in the US. This performance, I relate to the post-colonial studies of critical theorist, Frantz Fanon who observed the desperate struggle of blackness driven to discover the meaning of their identity that, similarly to that of third world women, has been forcibly deviated by white society. In Blood Writing, 1974, Ana digs her hands into a pan of red liquid and begins making rough gestures on a white wooden barn, reminiscent of her body gestures made iconic by her series, Body Tracks (1974), that she would perform later in the year, in which she stretched her arms above her head and dragged them down a banner pinned to a wall. An integral part of the performance, the motion turned Mendieta’s body into a living paint brush that gave the artist complete control of the composition while restoring her agency as third world woman, paralleling Fanon’s prognosis that ‘war must be waged,’ with justice residing ‘in the hands of those who are willing to get rid of the worm-eaten roots of the structure.’ In this way, Ana’s body became a site of resistance to subvert the gendered colonial structures embedded in society. The use of blood, again attributed to Santeria religious practices, symbolically refilled her identity with the elemental fluid, which carries sacred power and life force, asking the question, what is the real substance of identity? But also in relation to grief over the lose of her homeland, symbolized by the shedding of blood. The saturated red liquid, continued to drip down the barn walls, between each of the artist’s motions, within three minutes the gestures become a sentence, spelling out the phrase, ‘SHE GOT LOVE,’ with the visual weight asymmetrically distributed from the center of the barn wall. (9) The sentence, is in reference to violence against third world women, as ‘SHE’ is denied agency by the verb ‘GOT’, in turn, becoming object of ‘LOVE’, or colonial male aggression. The circumstances of her sister’s divorce in parallel to the performance, addressed marriage as bondage once the relationship loses its reciprocal love, and women are subjected to lack of agency and domestic violence. When Mendieta completes the piece, she appears in the shadows to the right, with her back to the camera. The viewer is left to stare at what remains of her movements, the performative text. The artist successfully produced an economy of means, by eliminating all non essential information to carefully narrow down what the piece is meant to communicate.The insertion her own body as performance element, constructs third world women identity, particularly significant for post colonial feminist art practices as it subverts the maze gaze and female body as object, instead presenting the artist as subject, supporting Fanon’s conclusion that ‘reality requires a total understanding. On the objective level as on the subjective level, a solution has to be applied.” Mendieta’s body in performance offers solution as, a closeness to reality. Viewers more easily relate to the presence of a body as opposed to static image, making the medium suitable for addressing issues that provoke shock and raise awareness. Mendieta’s body of work waged war against the patriarchal ideologies at the center of gendered colonialism, inserting her body as form in performance to restore agency and retrieve the bodies of women from inherited gendered discrimination and violence.
Before concluding, It is important to touch on Ana Mendieta’s excruciatingly ironic death, as popular consciousness has often equated it as a culmination of her performance work. This has produced a toxic effect that misappropriates Ana’s work as a construction of the female experience as victimization, reducing the artist’s rich symbolic performance language into a flat signifier for her murder. Ana Mendieta- ’s body of work deserves to resonate independently of its maker’s tragic end, with separate acknowledgment that circumstances pertaining to her death revealed the coloniality of gender embedded within the art institution, as informed by gendered colonialism, should never be forgotten.
Ana met artist Carl Andre through mutual friends in 1979, dating for many years before marrying in January of 1985. Andre was born and raised American. He grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, attended school at Phillips Academy, and then enlisted in the U.S. Army all before moving to New York City in 1956. Andre would come to make a name for himself in the art world as one of the pioneers of American minimalism sculpture. He worked along side artist Frank Stella, and had his sculpture in the New York Guggenheim by 1970, nearly a decade, (and two wives), before crossing paths with Mendieta. (10) The couple’s acquaintances described their relationship as explosive, with news of their drinking and fighting overshadowing conversations of their work. In autumn of 1985, less than a year after getting married, Ana fell to her death from their 34th floor apartment window after a night of drinking and arguing, Andre was arrested and charged with second degree murder. The trial wouldn’t take place until 1988, leaving years of polarizing opinions from friends and associates that were split over the question of his guilt, as Andre sympathizers pushed a suicidal narrative surrounding Mendieta’s fall. Unsurprisingly many of those who maintained his innocence were prominent white male artists, gallerists, and collectors who favored protecting patriarchy over bringing light to the injustices and erasure of Ana Mendieta, a displaced marginalized woman. This stance is informed by gendered colonialism’s history of systematically concealing and legitimizing violence against non-white women, who resist the relations of domination and submission imposed on the marginalized by the colonizer, or in this instance, the patriarchal art world.
What Mendieta’s murder did, was reveal that the underlying patriarchal inferiority of colonial conquest, was also fundamental to the art institution. Cesaire and Fanon both point to the basis of gendered colonialism as being white man’s taught inferiority complex with Fanon expressing its root stemming from increased economic opportunities and internalized inferiorities of colonial plunder.(11) For the patriarchal art world, the accusations towards Andre, was a ‘crime of humiliation’ (12) on the art institution, and for many, the question of whether or not Andre killed Mendieta was unimportant to the tragedy of the endangerment of Andre’s career, one of his partisans stating, “the poor guy is being victimized by a feminist cabal.” (13) By the time the three week trial of Carl Andre came to a close, it was apparent patriarchal inferiority still ruled the American legal system as well as its art world, as Andre was acquitted. In the absence of a jury, a single judge found there was not enough evidence to convict Andre beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ana’s family members were unswayed by the verdict, actively professing Andre as guilty. Ana’s mother and younger brother had been able to move to America by 1966, and witness the artist’s short lived exploration of her displaced identity, and objectification, while her father Ignacio was released from Cuban political prison in 1977 and was only able to experience the last five years of his daughter’s life. Her sister Raquel was certain Ana was far from suicidal as her career was on an upswing in 1985, also expressing how terrified of heights Ana was, in regards to the manor of her death. Raquel’s daughter, Raquel Cecilia Mendieta, would grow up to become a video artist and filmmaker like her aunt, overseeing the restoration of Ana’s work and responsible for creating a film documentary about her life’s work that aimed at de-linking perceptions of Mendieta’s work from her tragic end.
Mendieta’s death, separate from her body of work, had a wider legacy within feminist art circles who related the reduction of Ana’s memory to coloniality of gender, her death, extrapolated as a symbolic vehicle to question male artist’s veneration. (14) The Guerrilla Girls distributed posters in 1994 that dubbed Carl Andre, ‘the O.J. of the art world,’ and female artist’s spoke out against the patriarchy, like African American artist Howardena Pindell who stated, “if Ana had been an Anglo and if Carl had been black, the art world would have lynched him.” (15) The activist group, WHEREISANAMENDIETA now appear in protest to Andre’s work being shown in art institutions to demonstrate that the coloniality of gender embedded within the art institution, needs continual addressing. As recently as 2016, protestors gathered in front of the retrospective of Carl Andre at the DIA Art Foundation building of Tate Modern, London in protest of the inclusion of 10 of Andre’s works in the museum’s new extension, and the exclusion of Ana Mendieta, in which none of her works are on display despite the Tate owning 5. Some protestors have gone as far as to smear blood and chicken remains on the sidewalks outside, in reference to Ana’s work with blood, symbolizing the violence towards women. Others in the art world believe Mendieta’s legacy is best remembered through her work, rather than the notoriety she received post-mortem. Curator of the exhibition, ‘Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta,’ at the Jeu de plume in Paris has said, "I am not interested in using Mendieta's work as a comeuppance for Carl Andre, or for any other purpose, I am interested in sharing Mendieta's work with others, so they can have the kind of deeply meaningful experiences that I have had with her work.” (16) Mendieta’s performance work unknowingly would parallel the artist’s tragic end, and the documentation of those performances would live on, finding new meaning surrounding the circumstances of her death.
Ana Mendieta’s early works were deeply connected to the inherited gendered discrimination of colonization on the world that surrounded her that exacerbated feelings of alienation and displacement as a third world woman. Aime Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, defines colonialism as a way to civilize barbarism and justify relations of domination and submission. (17) Neither Cortez or Pizzaro would be obliged to admit to plunder, placing blame of continental savagery on paganism but the truth remains, no one colonizes innocently, and its effects have not produced a single human value but universal regression and ‘thingification.’ Through a third-wave feminist post-colonial lens, Mendieta’s body of work subverts this deep history of domination against third world women, especially prevalent in the US, bringing attention to gendered racism. Mendieta’s documented performances combined with her tragic death revealed Gendered Colonialism still lives on through the coloniality of gender with nearly 58% of multiracial women encountering some form of sexual violence in their life time, as perpetrators still count on the systematic and historical silencing and erasure of non-white women, specifically in relation to efforts to name and resist sexual domination. (18) Her legacy addresses gendered racism while her death lit a spark within feminism circles to resist the coloniality of gender. Her story is an important reminder that sexual violence and discrimination of ‘third world women,’ needs continual addressing for those responsible to be held accountable.
8. Ana Mendieta, exhibition catalogue, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona 1996, Pg. 90.
9. Cabañas, Kaira M. "Ana Mendieta: "Pain of Cuba, Body I Am”"
10. Chave, Anna C. 2014. “Grave Matters: Positioning Carl Andre at Career’s End.” Art Journal 73 (4): 5–21, doi:10.1080/00043249.2014.1016342.
11. Fanon, Frantz. “Black Skin, White Masks.” 10-16. London: Pluto Press, 1986. Accessed March 6, 2021.
13. Robert Katz, Naked by the Window p.383. Simon and Schuster, June 28th 1990
14. Moroz, Sarah. 2018. “The Connections and Burdens of Ana Mendieta.” Modern Painters 30 (11): 132–33. http://search.ebscohost.com.jpllnet.sfsu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=a9h&AN=132736135&site=ehost-live.
15. Robert Katz, Naked by the Window p.385. Simon and Schuster, June 28th 1990
16. Moroz, Sarah. 2018 “”
17. Cohen, Joshua I. “The Black Art Renaissance: African Sculpture and Modernism across Continents,” 127-148. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2020. Accessed March 6, 2021. 8.
18. Pérez, Laura E. Eros Ideologies: Writings on Art, Spirituality, and the Decolonial. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2019. Accessed April 28, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv11sn1n9.
19. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010. CDC
EXHIBITION OVERVIEW: This exhibition aims to archive the contributions and evolution of Diasporic women’s identity through art with emphasis on women artist’s from the Dutch-, English-, Spanish-, French-, and Creole-speaking Caribbean from the 19th century to the Modern Century, who are still cultivating art practices and impacting Contemporary Art in Latin American. The focus is on female artists who frequent the Diasporic female body within their work as an emancipatory space, confronting issues faced as women in the Latin American diaspora from takes on feminism, gender, sexuality and identity to the variety of conditions that led to fights for independence from colonial rule.
The presence of the Diaspora Woman in art can be seen as an evolution from foreigner interpretations and Eurocentric sexualized representation to the rise of the Lain American female artist’s push for recognition, using the body as a marker of resistance to earlier colonial representations, evolving to include empowering representations of multicultural identities excluded from art histories past.
1. GALLERY WALL 1| 19TH CENTURY
2. GALLERY WALL 2| 20TH CENTURY
3. GALLERY WALL 3| MID CENTURY
4. GALLERY WALL 4| INSTALLATION
5. GALLERY ROOM 2| MODERN CENTURY
19TH CENTURY OVERVIEW: At the turn of the 19th century, the decentralization of government within the colonies, led Latin America to believe they were capable of self-governing, this, mixed with Napoleon’s invasions of Spain and Portugal initiated wars of independence in Latin America. The surviving 19th Century imagery of diasporic women were flooded with Eurocentric stereotypical notions reminiscent of colonial rule, and enslavement. Portrayals of Latin American women, by women, were limited, as they were forbidden from attending art academies in Europe until the late 19th century, Latin American institutions were nearly non-existent and biographies of many Diasporic Women artists were lost being forced to paint as past time. The majority surviving representations of diasporic women, by women, were of European decent, depicting bodies as object of the European gaze, fascinated with sexualizing and eroticizing the diasporic woman.
1. Guadalupe Carpio, Autorretrato Con Su Familia / Self-Portrait with Her Family, 1865. Oil on canvas, 119.5 x 84cm, Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City, Mexico.
Guadalupe Carpio was the daughter of poet, Manuel Carpio and grew up in 19th century Mexico where art schools, especially, Academia de S. Carlos, were based on a traditional European art curriculum and forbid women to register as students. Women who pursued an art education were generally Criollo (Spanish American), and of upper middle class, and still had to receive private tutoring from outside the academies. Many biographies of Latin American female painters have been lost as women were forced to paint as a pastime, rather than profession. This self-portrait depicts Carpio’s identity between artist and homemaker, as she paints a portrait of her husband, the children interrupt and her tension filled stare breaks the forth wall as to communicate to the viewer the difficulties of artistry and motherhood. This work was exhibited in the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876.
2. Abigail de Andrade, Untitled, 1881. Oil on Canvas, Private Collection
Andrade was a Brazilian artist born in Rio de Janeiro, 1864. While women were reduced to working on ‘decorative painting,’ Abigail portrayed daily life scenes and self-portraits using her own body as reference as women were not allowed to sketch living models. Her work is a testimony of being a woman artist in Brazilian society. Andrade studied at Licua de Arts e Oficios in 1882, only one year after the institution first admitted women, and won two metals at the Salon of 1884, but was still considered amateur, as women were rarely acknowledged as professionals. She left Brazil for France permanently in 1888 with Angelo Agostini, Italian painter and father to her children and shortly after died of Tuberculosis in 1891.
3. Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of Madeleine (formerly known as Portrait of a Negress), 1800. Oil on canvas, 81 x 65cm. Musee du Louvre.
The sitter in this portrait, Madeleine, is thought to have been bought to France from the island of Guadeloupe by the artist’s brother-in-law, a ship’s purser. Madeleine likely had little influence on how Benoist represented her, painting the women bare breasted. No respectable women would display themselves in this manner, the portrait potentially recalling slave market inspections of Black women by potential buyers. The bare breast was used in allegories, symbolizing the riches obtained though political conquest, while the colors of Madeleine’s clothing are reminiscent of the flag adopted by the French Revolutionary Government in 1789. This painting made its debut at the Salon of 1791 and was deemed to be beyond women’s capacities, as rendering of dark skin flesh tones were considered especially challenging, and unusual politically contentious subject matter.
4. May Alcott Nieriker, La Negresse, 1879. Oil on canvas, 24 x 18in, Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House.
American Painter, her sister was Lousia May Alcott, writer of Little Women, and her father was Amos Bronson Alcott, a Transcendental Philosopher. While living in the abolitionist town of Concord, Massachusetts, her family participated in the Underground Railroad, hosting runaway families in their home. May’s childhood is said to be responsible for her respectful depiction of a black female sitter while in Paris for an extended stay in 1879. The sitter keeps her identity, as her breast is unexposed, alluding she is not an object for others pleasure, but a dignified woman. May provides social commentary celebrating Emancipation and the scorning of institution for enslaving women as lovely as she. Comparisons have been made to Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People depicting Liberty as a woman figure, who wears the red Phrygian helmet, symbolizing freed slaves of Rome, a commonly used symbol of freedom in France.
5. Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz, A Negress, 1884. Oil on canvas, 25 x 20in, National Museum in Warsaw.
Portrait study by Polish artist, Anna Bilinska while a student at Academie Julian in Paris. The model is seen from below perhaps due to limited studio space. The sitter’s breast is exposed, and she is wearing a red scarf, similar to that of May Alcotts’ Le Negresse. This interpretation presents a very frightened, and dehumanized young woman. The artist paints her as an object, a personification of the exotic cannon of beauty, a popular subject for portrait study by the end of the 19th century. The painting was stolen during the Second World War from the National Museum in Warsaw, appearing at an auction in Germany in 2011.
20TH CENTURY OVERVIEW: Many 20th Century female Latin American artists begun emerging as ‘pioneers’ of art in the Caribbean, although a majority still had Colonial roots as foreigners settling in the region or upper middle class natives returning from European art institutions, since opening their doors to women artist’s in the late 19th Century. The global art market was still refusing to consider women as professional artists, despite winning awards at Paris Salons, they were still amateurs. In Latin America however, female’s began asserting their roles as leaders, establishing artist collective, curating spaces, and, founding and teaching at art institutions that encouraged subject matter pertaining to local Indigenous landscapes, genre painting, and portraiture. Latin American women artist’s began exploring what it meant to be a Diaspora artist, and using their bodies in art as a response to the oppressive political climate around them.
6. Tarsila do Amaral, A Negra, 1923. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 32in, Museo de Arte Contemporânea de Universidade de São Paulo.
Until Tarsila, no artist had been acknowledged for venturing into Brazil’s precolonial roots and establishing a multicultural identify, as portrayed in her art, and shedding light on the country’s marginalized histories. Tarsila was deemed, “inventor of modern art in Brazil,” although she was an educated, upper-middle class woman who studied in Europe and was highly influenced by European avant-garde movements. Such influence is seen in her portrayal of a female slave living on the artist’s family farm in Sao Paulo, inserting Eurocentric ideals with that of Brazilian Black women. The naked woman possesses exaggerated proportions, her breast is exposed as Tarsila replaces the prevalent European nude with an idealized version of an Afro-Brazilian woman.
7. Anita Malfatti, Naked Seated, 1925. Nankeen on paper, 500 x 272.5cm, Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Malfatti is a Brazilian painter born in Sao Paulo, 1889. She studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin from 1910 to 1914 then moved to New York to take classes with Homer Boss at the Independent School of Art where she made friends with many artists who had fled the war, and became deeply influenced by expressionism. When she returned to San Paulo, she began painting Brazilian themes from the perspective of having been educated in European and American traditions, and quickly became recognized as one of the pioneers of the modernist movement in Brazil. Malfatti was instrumental in Brazil’s 1922 Week of Modern Art, despite much negative criticism. This work least resembles the well known “Malfatti style,” but gives incite to her conflicting identity of a multicultural female artist in a critical patriarchal society, having to hide parts of herself all the while being exposed, as evident of her nude breasts.
8. Edna Manley, Eve, 1928. Mahogany, 2006.6 x 508cm. Graves Galley at Museum Sheffield.
Despite being born in England, Manley is considered, “the mother of Jamaican art.” The artist met her future husband, and founder of the Jamaican People’s National Party, Norman Manley at an English University and moved to Jamaica. Her work became centered around adapting to her new home, documenting the people around her, and expressing Jamaican themes in physical qualities of the people. Manley returned to England for exhibition opportunities, showing work that would have been rejected if produced by a Black Jamaican Artist. During the years of struggle against English colonial rule, Manley stopped exhibiting her work in Europe. Her work depicted themes of Jamaican people’s fight to break free from colonial rule, urging people to develop national pride and strong statements of women’s role in society. This dark mahogany statue is the depiction of mother-kind, with all masculine qualities removed, sexual and a departure from imagery of feminine weakness with her traceless expression. This piece recalls the positioning of ‘Venus Pudica,’ and is in reference to Eve leaving the Garden of Eden.
9. Nola Hatterman, Non-European, 1948. Lithograph, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Nola was born in Amsterdam to a well-off, white colonial family. She claims this as the cause of her rebellion. Afro-Surinamese immigrants from former colonies were painter’s novelty at this time, and the artist found herself nurturing young Surinamese students in Amsterdam helping to grow a Black beauty ideal, and identify their own Surinamese culture. Hatterman emigrated to Suriname in 1953 and became the director of School Van Beeldende Kunst in Paramaribo. She was committed to help develop a Suriname artistic style, and taught students to distinguish between ‘European’ and ‘Non-European’ ideals. Their are mixed opinions in Surinamese art circles, as first generation knew of her shared ideals from her emigration from Amsterdam, while younger Suriname generations were raised with the ideals of 60s Black Power Movements and viewed Hatterman as ‘foreign,’ In Suriname today she is seen as a Surinamese artist.
10. Sybil Atteck, Self-Portrait, 1943. Oil on canvas, 21 1/2 x 16 1/2in. Chinese American Museum.
Sybil Atteck self-portraiture evolution is an a rare representation of the overlooked Chinese Diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean that occurred in three waves, beginning in the 1600s. The second wave during the nineteenth century saw more than seven million Chinese settlers to Cuba, the British West Indies, and the Panama for labor on sugar and tobacco plantations, and the Panama Canal Railroad. Atteck is a native of Rio Claro, and lived her teenage years in the Port of Spain before traveling to London in 1934 for artistic training. Atteck returned to Trinidad and founded the Trinidad Arts Society in 1943. This self-portrait is evidence of Atteck’s early European expressionistic education, with her heritage identification defined by the folds of her eyes and skin tone. The artist sits tense, as she an object of multicultural identity to study. Exhibited at the 1955 Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.
11. Sybil Atteck, Self-Portrait, 1970. Oil on board, 17 1/2 x 23 1/2in. Chinese American Museum.
While Atteck’s earlier portrait attests to her English training, her postcolonial works show proof of the predominance of Latin American influence and her identity evolution. Following Trinidad and Tobago’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, Atteck produced vibrant works representative of island culture. In this portraiture, the artist choose to make her identity less identifiable and multicultural, making her native heritage less apparent. This work is her right to assert her own identity, conjoining her with her surroundings, no longer an object for study.
MID CENTURY OVERVIEW: Mid-Century Latin American Female artists began evolving their artistic expression through use of experimentation with style and medium, such as the introduction of video art. Women were seeking to identity themselves outside of the patriarchal societal gender norms thrusted upon them within the politically charged decades of the 1960s and 70s. Many played an important role in cultivating social change in Latin American art, establishing a Caribbean aesthetic with common themes as representation of natives, and porto-feminist imagery, although still not absent of European modern influences. Diasporic women bodies were used in art as a symbols of resistance against nationalist consciousness, and the empowering acceptance of their multicultural identities. Women at this time were participating more frequently in international biennials, spearheading initiatives with the goal of pushing recognition of female Latin American artists in international art institutions.
12. Karen Lamassonne, Patio Bonito, 1976. Watercolor on paper, 56 x 76cms. Bogota, Colombia.
Lamassonne is a Colombian painter and video artist, born in New York, 1954. The artist spent her childhood in Columbia, returning to the US in the late 60s to study with artist, Charles Garoian. Karen spent to years in Europe in the late 70s, then returned to Columbia and established a reputation of being an artist who did not follow rules typical of her gender. Lamassonne’s art confronts sexuality from the woman’s perspective, depicting moments of intimacy and identity from her person experiences. The series of works entitled, Banos, gained notoriety from the censorship it received while on exhibit at the Galleria del Club de Ejecutivos, where an executive stopped a conference and wouldn’t continue until the ‘obscenities’ were taken off the walls.
13. Luce Turnier, Nude Woman, 1977. Oil on masonite, 32 x 24in.
Turnier was born in the southern coastal town of Jacmel, Haiti, and as soon as Haitian artists appeared on the global scene, notions of how their art should look like began. Haitian artists were viewed as ‘primitive,’ and unaware of the broader art world. Turnier was considered part of the middle class, affording her the opportunity to study art, although women were not encourage to pursue the arts. She was one of the few women artists at Haiti’s Centre d’ Art, the same year as the Haitian Renaissance art movement in 1945. This portrait illustrates Turnier’s fusion of Haitian culture and modernist style, being confronted with her identity as a Haitian female artist and having to chose between art made for her, and the pressures she faced surrounding what it meant to be an Haitian artist in the global art market.
14. Josely Carvalho, A Espera (The Waiting), 1982. Silkscreen and crayon on paper, 76.5 x 56.5cm, Grunwald Center for Graphic Arts, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
Carvalho was born in Sao Paulo, and began her formal education at the Fundacao Armando Alvarez Penteado. She left Brazil for America two months before the beginning of the military coup which lasted until 1985. Carvalho attended the University of Washington, and began photographing women seeking to highlight diaspora memory, women’s identity, and social justice issues. By 1976, the artist was largely working and living in New York, feeling separated from Brazil but not belonging to the United States lead her to actively confront her identity in art during the 1980s. Her work navigates around belonging as a bi-national feminist artist, and rejecting labels such as Hispanic, Latina, and LatinX as disgusted racism used to categorize her as a radicalized object. In 1984 she joined activism efforts with the Artists Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America campaign.
15. Leticia Parente, Marca Registrada (Registered Mark), 1975. Video, 10:19mins
Parente was born in Salvador, Brazil, and settled in the city of Fortaleza until moving in 1969 with two of her five children to Rio Janeiro to attend graduate school. Parente’s work displays themes of the body, the female condition, and questions gender roles of the domestic space while taking on the behavior of those struggling though the state-sponsored terror of Brazil’s military dictatorship in the late 1970s. Leticia Parente was part of a group of artists that pioneered video art at a time when the medium was not commercially available in Brazil. In this video, Leticia uses her own body as the primary material, representing a product of Brazilian origin, and stitches the heel of her foot with the trademark, ‘Made in Brazil.’ Her own nationality, and identity provide a source of pain, while also recalling torture practices used on civilians by military officials during the Brazilian dictatorship, such as electric shocking the soles of the feet. This piece also acknowledges the difficulty of openly discussing the country’s socio-political situation, at this time the dictatorship ha been in power for over a decade.
MODERN CENTURY OVERVIEW: The Modern Century continued to see an exceptional level of women leadership as directors and chief curators of most educational and national art institutions. The era saw a number of artists born in the 1950s and 60s, that had been trained in Latin America, travel aboard, further establishing a dialogue between the Latin American and European art market. Caribbean women artist’s in the 1990s were still struggling for recognition in the international art world and saw the first regional feminist exhibition, ‘Lips, Sticks, and Marks,’ which stimulated broader conversations regarding race, gender and challenged domestic roles and the question of who had the right to create ‘Latin American’ art. The diasporic woman’s body maintains its resistance but transforms by the modern century to include imagery of resilience, no longer presented as an object of sexuality but the subject of Diasporic women’s empowering identity obtained through centuries of colonial oppression, and patriarchal discrimination.
16. Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints), 1972. Photography during performance, 20 x 16in. Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection.
Mendieta was born in Havana in 1948, and is well know as a Cuban American artist of many mediums, from painting to video production and performance art. At age 13, Mendieta was exiled to America from Cuba, her childhood being responsible for future works pertaining to themes of cultural displacement, identity and body politics. The artist is most well known for a series of ‘earth-body’ works created near the end of her life. Like many women of this generation, she had a goal of removing the female figure from the patriarchal gaze, taking claim of her body as her own, an empowering theme throughout her works. With these photographs the artist distorts the appearance of her body, and youthful beauty taking control of its portrayal and using it as a tool. Ana Mendieta was a rising figure of feminist performance art until her mysterious death in 1985.
17. Patssi Valdez, Artist Portrait of Patssi, 1975. Photography, 24 x 36in. Private Collection.
Patssi Valdez is an American Chicana artist living in Los Angeles, a region of great diversity where Mexican immigrants make up the largest group of Latinos in the city. Valdez’ art career was launched by her activism in the Chicano/Chicana political art movements of the 1970s and 80s. Hispanic artists have long struggled with the duality of participation and separation, often finding it difficult to express a collective identity. Valdez wok tells the narrative of growing up angry not seeing beautiful depicts of Mexican women on the film screen, and using her art to confront the expectations of women’s role in society and express her self-realizations. She belongs with the finest of Chicana avant-garde expressionists.
18. Sandra Eleta, Edita (La del Plumero), 1978-79. Photography, 30 x 30in.
Eleta is a Panamanian artist that studied at the international Center of Photography in New York, before returning to Central America. She focused her work on connecting the art world with the reality of immigrants, setting her subject on the relationship between the sitter and their environment, social roles and race. During 1977 through 1981, Eleta documented the lives of women in Portobelo, on the Caribbean coast, that presented a side excluded from artistic representation, the domestic space. Originally included in the series entitled, Servitude, this image depicts a woman posed with contradictions of the social roles of women. While holding cleaning objects, the woman’s pose is not submissive, but strong, challenging the hierarchy of her social status as authoritative. This series evokes the nation during occupation of the United States, and Canal Zones were Panamanians were only welcome as service workers.
19. Liliana Maresca, Untitled (Lilian Maresca and her artworks, with Marco Lopez), 1983, 16 x 16 Silver gelatin print on fiber paper.
Maresca is an Argentine artist born in Buenos Aires, 1951. She was born into a middle class family, and studied art at the Escuela Nacional de Ceramic. Maresco worked in a variety of mediums from sculpture, painting, and art montages to installations. She felt the disappointment caused by the neoliberal policies of President Carlos Saul Menem fuel her principles of resistance, using her body and erotism central to her art to display the intimacy and tragedies of her country.The impulse to overexpose herself came from the idea in order to be seen she had to use her body as the canvas, and connect to her surroundings, and other’s gazes, commentary on gender and women’s identity within society once saying, “I am rescuing the possibility of enjoying my body, which was not made to suffer but to enjoy.” Liliana Maresca died of AIDS in 1994, a few days after the opening of her retrospective, Frenesi, in Buenos Aires.
. 20. Irene Shaw, Clear Headspace, 1992. 32 x 32in, oil on board.
Shaw was born in Trinidad in 1963 and attended the Maryland Institute College of Art at age 20. The artist painted themes related to her personal identity and the domestic experience, seeing the subject matter as a defiance of masculine modern art. Shaw returned to Trinidad with husband and artist, Christoper Cozier, in the late 1980s and became established for her ability to create unusual portraits. Her work invited the audience to dwell on her personal struggles of identity along side her, as she tries reconciling with her nude female body. The southern Caribbean art scene was male-dominated and her expressively painted self-portrayals were mocked as being full of herself. Shaw turned to other women artists in Latin America, creating an art scene of their own.
21. Susan Dayal, She Structures, 1998. 38 x 13in, Galvanized Wire, Recycled Copper Wire, and sheet. Susan Dayal Art.
Dayal is a Trinidadian artist of Chinese and Indian decent, her work a representation of Caribbean creolization culture’s marginalization of the Asian diaspora. Dayal confronts the female diasporic identity, and what constitutes feminist art in latin America, finding inspiration in the Trinidad Carnival, folklore and tropical flora. The artist uses the location tradition of wire-bending to create beautiful wire sculpture and carnival costumes. In a series of five torso constructions entitled, She Structures, Dayal creates corsets of wire alluding to the torture of fashion and body image of women and the need to possess standard gender normalities in order to receive approval in society. This series also provides social commentary on the rape of women, the wire torso containing a serrated labia as protection. Dayal’s work was displayed at the Lips, Sticks, and Marks Exhibition in the 1990s, a show curated by women for Latin American Women.
1. Mechthild, Fend. Probing the Skin: Cultural Representations of Our Contact Zone. Marie-Guillemine Benoist's Portrait d'une Negresse and the Visibility of Skin Color. Newcastle : Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015.
2. Davis, A. “ART as Caribbean Feminist Practice .” Small Axe, March 2017, 276.
3. Dr. Susan Waller, "Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of Madeleine," in Smarthistory, September 26, 2018, accessed October 18, 2020, https://smarthistory.org/benoist-portrait/
4. Beal, Abby, and Martha Peacock. “Portrait of a Negress: Post-Colonial Studies of a Black Female Subject .” Journal of Undergrad Research, BYU , January 28, 2014.
5. James D. Herbert, “Passing Between Art History and Postcolonial Theory,” The Subjects of Art History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998) p. 214
6. Albert Boime, The Art of Exclusion: Representing Blacks in the Nineteenth Century. (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990) p. 47.
7. Carneiro, Sueli. “Black Women's Identity in Brazil.” In Race in Contemporary Brazil: From Indifference to Inequality, edited by Rebecca Reichmann, 217–28. University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 1999.
8. Flávia Santos De Araújo. "Beyond the Flesh: Contemporary Representations of the Black Female Body in Afro-Brazilian Literature." Meridians 14, no. 1 (2016): 148-76. Accessed October 14, 2020.
9. Vega, Marta Moreno, Marinieves Alba, and Yvette Modestin. Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press, 2012.
10. Hehmeyer, Lauren. “‘Let the World Know You Are Alive’: May Alcott Nieriker and Louisa May Alcott Confront Nineteenth-Century Ideas about Women’s Genius.” American Studies Journal 66 (2019). Web. 13 Nov. 2020. DOI 10.18422/66-03.
11. ZAVALA, A. Becoming Modern, Becoming Tradition: Women, Gender,and Representation in Mexican Art. University Park, PA, 2010.
12. Choudhury, A. Review of Circles and Circuits I. Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art (2018). California African American Museum, Los Angeles) 4, no. 1 (Spring 2018)
13. Fitch, Nick, Dinant, Anne-Sophie, “‘Situações-Limites’: the emergence of video art in Brazil in the 1970s.” Moving Image Review & Art Journal 1:1 (2012): 59-67
A possible link between madness and artistic genius is one of the oldest and persistent cultural notions. This perceived relationship stems as far back as the pre-Grecian myth of Dionysus, son of Zeus who afflicted with madness while young, inflicted frenzied ecstasies, madness, and brutalities on those around him. Rituals of worship in his honor therefore symbolized the emergence of new life and creation from chaos, brutality and destruction. This myth setting a precedent for the ties between the nature of manic-depressive illness and creativity. By the time of Plato and Socrates, common lore held that poets communicated with the gods through inspired ‘madness’ which was obtainable only during particular states of mind. Socrates, in his speech on divine madness, Phaedrus, “If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.”(1) Of course, this ‘madness’ Socrates spoke of encompassed a wide range of emotions, not just psychosis, but emphasized a profound altered state of consciousness and feelings. The link between madness and art continued into the Renaissance where there was a renewed interest in the relationship between genius and melancholia, there after emerged the masterpieces of troubled Baroque artist, Michelangelo Caravaggio, a leading Italian painter of the early seventeenth century. Into the nineteenth-century, emphasis was again placed on the melancholic side of art along with the more spontaneous, inspired, and swept-by-the-muses qualities of genius. In 1812, Professor Benjamin Rush of the University of Pennsylvania wrote the first major psychiatric treaties in the United States including observations between certain kinds of mania, and artistic talent, “From a part of the brain preternaturally elevated, but not diseased, the mind sometimes discovers not only unusual strength and acuteness, but certain talents it never exhibited before… Talents for eloquence, poetry, music and painting, and uncommon ingenuity in several of the mechanical arts, are often involved in this state of madness.”(2) From this state of madness artist Edvard Munch, one of the founders of the Expressionist Movement, produced his world famous piece, “The Scream” (1891), only one year after genius Post-Impressionist, Vincent Van Gogh, would take his life by self inflicted gunshot wound in 1890. Both scholars and psychiatrists began acknowledging links associates with certain kinds of “madness” and speculated on its ability to produce extraordinarily creative and accomplished artists. I will further examine the research of late twentieth century art historians and current psychiatric studies to prove there is indeed a link between the mad artist and masterpiece. Using the biographical method I will compare the lives of Michelangelo Caravaggio, Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh in association with mental illness and the fragile state of each artists’ psyche at the time works were produced. I argue, these artists hypomanic temperament joined with high ability is more effective than the union of high ability with normal temperament and drive, and it is this combination that abled their art to emerge as genuine works that spoke directly to the audience, withstanding generations of critics and analytical approaches, to remain some of the most treasured masterpieces of our time.
To understand how masterpieces have emerged from madness, one must first examine the madness. The controversy surrounding the “mad genius” arises from a lack of understanding about the nature of manic-depressive illness. “Madness” derives from extreme forms of mania and depression, a rather common mental illness that for most people does not translate to psychosis. Manic-depressive, or bipolar illness encompasses a wide range of mood disorders and temperaments. Symptoms are characterized by changes in mood and behavior, thinking, sleep and energy levels. In severe cases becoming a life-threatening, or psychotic form of the disease. An early example of this behavior is evident in the life and works of Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Marisa da Caravaggio (1571-1610). Caravaggio is of great interest to psychiatrists and psychoanalysts studying the relationship between emotional illness and creativity.(3) There is little to no documentation from Caravaggio’s private life but extensive Italian criminal reports and his art, has been able to provide graphic glimpses characterizing the artist as having a severe mental imbalance. Caravaggio was a dangerous person that was easily enraged, engaging in many brutal fights, including the murder of at least one man. His voluminous police records of unruly behavior and reckless disregard of human life has led psychiatrists to make a biographical diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, with an onset of a paranoid subtype of schizophrenia evident in a change within his work around 1599 with his painting, Judith Beheading Holofernes, the beginning of the artist’s obsession with decapitation. Phycologist Ronnie Mathers writes, “Schizophrenic symptoms and delusions are the result of the projection of objective physiological processes occurring in discrete organs of the body, or at least body-systems, it interprets the changing nature of Caravaggio’s paintings as reflecting him own suffering in the eyes and throat.”(3) This painting is more than just a depiction of the biblical event of Judith slaying Holofernes, but Caravaggio’s search for self-understanding and coping with illness. The degree of violence and portrayals of trauma inflected to the throat continued in his work, in 1609, painting his own severed head into David with the Head of Goliath. Despite mental imbalance, Caravaggio remains one of the most exciting and popular painters of all time, achieving revolutionary realism and dramatically intense tenebrism, light that dramatizes and highlights the most important aspects of the narrative while alluding to the presence of the divine. The first artist to exploit symbolic light to such an extent in narrative painting.” (4)
Caravaggio is an unusual case when examining the writings of Psychologist William James and scholar Emil Kraepelin who emphasized the positive features associated with certain kinds of madness, but also accented the debilitating extremes of psychiatric illness underlining the need for sustained attention, discipline, and balance within the artist in completing works, made difficult in extreme cases of mental illness. The notion of the artistic genius temperament involves a sense of grande, quick intelligence, the ability of capturing a vision accumulated within grim thoughts, and bouts of madness. The link of increased artistic ability is more specifically attached to the milder manic states associated with mood disorders that ables a more reflective, philosophical melancholias rather than debilitating psychiatric psychosis. While many ideas are generated during manic states, structuring, editing, and fine tuning of artistic work is best carried out during normal or mildly depressed periods, evident in the case of artist Edvard Munch.
One of the founders of the Expressionist Movement, Edvard Munch (1863-1944) had a biographical diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychosis based on his own diary entries, documented behaviors, and a psychiatric hospitalization in 1908. In 1891 Munch recorded his initial concept for his most famous work, “The Scream,” that stemmed from a visual hallucination of hypomania, “I was walking along the road with two for my friends. Then the sun set. The sky suddenly turned into blood, and I felt something akin to a touch of melancholy.. A great scream pierced through nature.” (5) Over a period of eighteen months, Munch transformed the experience into a work of art, the phases illustrated by a series of preliminary drawings exhibited at the Munch Museum in Oslo. In the final version, first done as lithograph and later as a painting, Munch integrated a critical change and presented the screaming man connected to the scene around him rather than turned profile and observing like in all of his initial drawings. This change demonstrating the use of a creative homospatial process, using two or more images occupying the same space leading to the articulation of new identities. “The creative homospatial process involving superimposition of images that is a conscious, intentional healthy form of cognition and not a product of the pathological condition. It is used to bring about innovation and unifications.”(6) Munch’s flexible thinking and focus over the years span is an example of mental illness transformed into masterpiece. A transformation he acknowledged writing, “Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder.. my sufferings are part of my self and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”(7) Though the need for clear and logical thought is crucial, these characteristics are compatible with manic-depressive illness and associated mood disorders. The case of Edvard Munch demonstrates mental instability as asset, transforming his internal conflict into the motor that drives the work forward.
It is this interaction between inherent artistic genius and mental instability that gives power to art born this way, capable of speaking directly to the audience to remain as masterpiece. This is evident in works of arguably the world’s most famous ‘mad’ artist, Vincent van Gogh. The life of van Gogh is well documented through a steady flow of letters to his brother Theo and others. A self taught artist who went on to change Post Impressionism forever, van Gogh’s expressive and emotive use of color and brushwork became hugely popular, massively influencing Expressionism, Fauvism and various 20th century artists. Van Gogh worked at a furious pace producing more than 2,000 works during his 10-year career, selling only one painting during his lifetime. In a 1956 study, Henri Gastaut agreed with the diagnosis originally made by the French physician, Felix Rey who attended van Gogh in Arles and concluded his major illness as temporal lobe epilepsy precipitated by the use of absinthe with episodes of reactive depression sustained by periods of high energy and enthusiasm. Apart from episodes of madness brought on by absinthe, he maintained a remarkable degree of lucidity during his final years producing some 300 works while institutionalized at Saint-Remy, including the transcendental masterpiece, Starry Night (1889). Set in the familiar surroundings of soft hills and flame-shaped cypresses of Provence, van Gogh placed his native village of Brabant under an apocalyptic twilight sky. Undoubtedly the artist’s most famous and mysterious artwork, he never revealed the origin of the spectacularly transfigured sky. Art historian Tralbaut wrote he seemed to be telling us, “This is where I come from, this is where I am now, and here is my universe of overpowering storms.”(10) When discharged from the asylum in May 1890, van Gogh spent the last 10 weeks of his life north of Paris in Auvers-sur-Oise, completing 70 paintings during this time. Heavenly skies were replaced with immense fields of wheat under dark, stormy skies writing to his brother Theo, “It is not difficult to express here my entire sadness and extreme loneliness.” In one of his last paintings, that some consider to be his suicide note, Wheat Field With Crows (11), black birds fly in a starless night, with three paths below leading nowhere. Three days later, in the field he painted days before, Vincent shot himself in the lower chest, dying two days later with Theo by his side. Theo wanted nothing more than to raise the profile of his late brother but died only six months after. His widow, Jo van Gogh-Bonger took on the task of raising awareness of the artist, selling his work, and organizing exhibitions. By 1905 Jo was behind the largest Van Gogh exhibition ever, shown at the Stedeliik Museum in Amsterdam and in 1914 published the letters between Theo and Vincent revealing Vincent’s fascinating and troubled life story, which increased the artists popularity, his art taking the world by storm.
Van Gogh is arguably the best example of mental illness to masterpiece. His definite brushwork and contoured forms influenced Expressionism, Fauvism and early abstraction and his personal life and mental struggles still captivates audiences to this day. Great art embodies values of Beauty, Reality and Truth. Vincent left his truth on the canvas bringing the viewer “into contact with aspects of himself that are fleeting, distant, or disorganized and often fear laden.”(12) This truth perhaps popularized by societies fascination with the cultural notion of the mad artist. “The “mad” artist create outside the discourse of “normal” people and herald a new episteme, claimed Foucault. The insights of these artists force the world to question itself.”(13) Art capable of standing the test of time must be open to various interpretations, though socially and historically grounded, above all they are personal.
What is to be made of the link between these artist’s work and their mental imbalances in relation to genius works of art? Does mental instability define artistic genius? Not all great artists have suffered from mental illness, in fact unless effectively dissociated, mental illness tends to complicate and deteriorate artistic production. The missing link between mad artist and masterpiece is high artistic ability. Inherent genius along with the capacity of sublimation through artistic creativity is required for production of great artworks that are not flawed. Artists, such as those discussed, have possessed natural artistic talents in combination with mental instability that proved advantageous. It is this interaction, and tension between changing mental states, mixed with discipline drawn from periods of health that ultimately gives power to art that is born in this way. When hypomanic temperament joins high ability, the combination, I argue, is more effective than the union of high ability with normal temperament and drive. Perhaps their artwork’s notoriety is influenced by the age old cultural notion of the “mad” artist fulfilling society’s expectations, but the transformation of mental turmoil, unveiling of inner truth, and the various interpretations it provides solidifies these artist’s works as world treasured masterpieces.
The Artists’ Mental Illness and Their Masterpieces Resources
1.Plato, Phaedrus and the Seventh and Eighth Letters, trans. Walter Hamilton. (Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1974), pp. 46–47.
2. Benjamin Rush, Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon the Diseases of the Mind. (Philadelphia: Kimber and Richardson, 1812), pp. 153–154.
3.Touched With Fire
4.Chessick, Richard D. Emotional Illness and Creativity: A Psychoanalytic and Phenomenologic Study. International Universities Press, 1999.
5.Mather, Ronnie. "Caravaggio and the Physiology of Schizophrenia." PSYART (2007): N_A. Web. 6. Langdon, Helen, and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Caravaggio: a Life. Westview Press, 2000
7. Heller RH Edvard Munch: The Scream. New York, Vking Press, 1972, p.109).
8. Rothenberg, Albert. "Creativity--the Healthy Muse.(connection between Mental Illness and Creativity) (Essay)." The Lancet 368.9554 (2006): S8. Web.9
9. Edvard Munch’s Writings, The English Edition, published by the Munch Museum. https:// www.emunch.no/english.xhtml (February 2020)
10. Dietrich Blumer, The illness of Vincent Van Gogh American journal of psychiatry 519-526, 2002
11. Tralbaut ME: Vincent van Gogh. Lausanne, Switzerland, Edita SA, 1969
12. Leeuw, Ronald De, and Arnold Julius. Pomerans. The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. Penguin Books, 1997.
13. Chessick, Richard D. Emotional Illness and Creativity: A Psychoanalytic and Phenomenologic Study . International Universities Press, 1999.
14. Oremland, J. D. (1997). The origins and psychodynamics of creativity: A psychoanalytic perspective. International Universities Press, Inc
After the rediscovery of the Parthenon following years of neglect from an explosion during the Turco-Venetian War of 1687, British aristocrat Lord Elgin, appointed as British envoy to the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinope, instructed his agents in the removal of the building’s sculpture. Leaving behind the West section of the frieze, forty metopes on the northern, eastern and western sides, two free-standing figures on the West pediment and components unintentionally overlooked as they were buried deep beneath Acropolis bedrock. In 1816 due to sheer financial pressure, Elgin negotiated the sale of the Marbles to the British Parliament. Since the British museum’s acquisition of the sculptures, nearly 190 years ago, one of the world’s longest running debates has existed; whether the Elgin Marbles should be reunited with the remaining Parthenon sculptures at the Acropolis museum in Athens, Greece or should remain in the British Museum in London? The controversy resides in a contest between the universal and the local and the conflicting but “mirror-like” agendas of the opposing side.
The removal of the Parthenon sculpture by Lord Elgin in the early nineteenth century was undoubtedly vandalistic. The detachment of the frieze-blocks were impossible without first removing the cornices and other architecture elements responsible for holdings up the ceilings and roof of the Parthenon. Elgin was prepared to sacrifice these components with no hesitation, as he and his men resorted to the use of saws to gain access to the sculpture and reduce the weight of the sculpted blocks. They simply removed the cornice by dashing it to pieces, dropping the ruins to the ground below, leaving the remaining sculpture with greater exposure to the natural elements for the next two centuries. There is clear documentation that Lord Elgin’s motivations were purely self-serving, as he initially sought out the marbles to use as decoration for a Neo-Classical mansion he commissioned at the family seat at Broomhall in Fife. Only once the cost of transportation vastly exceeded Elgin’s expectations, did he negotiate the sell of the marbles to the British government in 1816.
Although the legality of Elgin’s original acquisition of the Marbles is questionable, The British Museum has had valid legal ownership of the Marbles since Parliament’s purchase of them from Lord Elgin nearly 190 years ago, and the Museum has had no intentions of retuning them to Athens. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum from 2002 to 2015 spoke of the equal division of the Parthenon Marbles between the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the British Museum as a ‘happy accident’ explaining, “They can be seen both in their Athens context and here, where they can be seen against the sweep of the whole of human history.. Each is valuable.”1 The main argument for keeping the Marbles in London is the benefits of having these treasures on display alongside works of other civilizations, exhibiting the sculptures in a context of world cultures, where millions of people and scholars can study and appreciate them. Claim to retention resides in the Marble’s central place in world culture. European Museums hold ‘an extraordinary repository of the high points of human achievement across many different cultures,’2 and before the marbles acquisition, greek sculpture was weakly represented in the British Museum’s collection. Current Director of the British Museum, Hartwig Fischer claims the Marbles as part of European history itself stating, ‘The rediscovery [of The Parthenon, 1687] is obviously part of European history.”3 Fischer believes The Parthenon ‘tells different stories’ which at various times throughout history served a variety of purposes such as a temple of Athena, a Christian church and a mosque, adding to the debate that the sculptures were no more made for the Acropolis Museum than they were for the British Museum. For the Greek and Roman Department of the British Museum, the marbles have become subject of detailed scholarly research embedded deep into British cultural consciousness and uprooting the Elgin Marbles would be devastating as the Trustees of the museum say the “marbles are the very jewel in their crown.”4 The repatriation of the Marbles would be robbing the British Museum and international publics of their display as a monument of Ancient Greece among universal world cultures.
The conflicting but ‘mirror-like’ agenda of The Acropolis Museum, in Athens stresses the local over the universal as it is “the most natural understanding of the word ‘context’ in connection with the Marbles.”5 The main scholarly approach, for art historians and archaeologists alike, is to study the original context of deposition of an object, and investigate the original design as a whole. In the case of the Elgin Marbles that means reuniting the architecture of the Parthenon with its sculpture. The British Museum has taken steps in detaching the Marbles from their architectural setting by exhibiting the Marbles inside-out, disregarding their original context. Professor Mary Beard author of, ‘The Parthenon’ states, “The real trick of the arrangement is to present the Elgin Marbles as if they were a complete set... In order to bring this off, [the display] must effectively dismantle the original shape and layout of the sculpture as it was on the temple.”6 British press and public often refer to the marbles as “statues,” or independent works of art though this was not their intended purpose. The Marbles themselves were built into the Parthenon, not just as decoration, but functioned to keep the ceilings up. There are very few architectural components ripped from living buildings and exhibited in any other major Museum collection. Since the first recorded request for their return in 1835, the Greeks have contributed their feelings for the Parthenon to national identity and a majority of the Greek population share the hope of the Marbles return. The Parthenon is a national icon appearing on postage stamps, coins and currency. Primary school education includes lessons on the Parthenon and field trips to the Acropolis. The Greeks argument for the Marbles return centers on their place in the presentation of Greek history to their own public. More concerned with the actual pieces of stone, quarried just ten miles from Athens on Mount Pendell, than the cultural benefits of the prearranged ‘universal’ selection of civilizations on display at the British Museum.Which some see as a way of putting not only ancient but modern Greeks in their place. The Greeks would much rather take care of there own heritage, and believe the best solution is reunited the Marbles and exhibiting them in full view of the original Parthenon from the New Acropolis Museum, an ode to the Parthenon.
The New Acropolis Museum founded in 2003 opened to the public in June 2008 and houses more than 4,250 objects found on the rock and surrounding slopes of Acropolis, Athens. Its top floor was designed to permit visitors the chance to view the Parthenon sculptures up close, against the backdrop of the Acropolis itself. On display is the remaining Parthenon architectural components and sculpture with blanks left for the missing Marbles. If returned the sculptures would be restored to their correct, outward-facing positions, reunited with the West Pediment. Greek President, Prokopis Pavlopoulos found an ally in its campaign to bring the Marbles home in President Xi Jinping, of China as they too have had pieces of artistic heritage fall into foreign hands.While touring the Acropolis Museum he made remarks in support of the Marbles repatriation. While some question the potential costs of moving the Marbles to Athens, Greeks would pay anything to get them back, the last Greek government offering to never ask for the return of anything else from Greek land in the British Museum. In 2018, The Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Country of Origin (ICPRCP) met at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and for the first time, released a statement taking a stance on the highly debated topic that acknowledged the arguments of both sides. The committee called on both side to “find a mutually acceptable solution to this long-standing issue.”7 In a 2019 interview with the Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea, British Museum director Hartwig Fischer stated that ‘the government would have to rewrite laws in order to return the sculptures because their legal owners are the British Museum’s trustees.’8 There is currently no active discussion between the British Museum and Greek officials.
I one hundred percent support the reunification of the Elgin Marbles with the Parthenon sculpture at the Acropolis Museum. Like most archaeologists and scholars I believe the study of an object’s original conception is most beneficial in understanding its original meaning. Having nearly all surviving artifacts in one location is crucial, especially the Elgin marbles, which served as architectural components built into the monument itself rather than detached works of art. The way in which the British Museum has arranged the Elgin Marbles is insulting to their original presentation and the argument of ‘universal’ reach is pointless if historically inaccurate, in which the display is. There has been a number of uncontroversial repatriations through history such as the fragment of Sphinx’s beard and the Stone of Scone, and pressure on museums to return artifacts acquired under colonial rule is increasing, including support of, Leader of UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn who promised to reunite the marbles if elected Prime Minister. Currently only one-quarter of the British Museum’s attendance includes the Marbles in their visit and opinion polls show 81% of the British population is in favor of the Marbles return. The majority of the British public, and possible elected officials understand the importance of returning theses treasures, so why are the trustees of the British Museum still holding them hostage? While researching this heated debate I kept in mind the three questions Tiffany Jenkins asks in, Keeping Their Marble, that should govern where significant artifacts should be kept, “What is best for the objects, for scholars and for the public? Where are they best cared for and displayed? How do they best serve the development of scholarly Knowledge and public interest?”9 The reunification of the Marbles to Athens is the answer to these questions, as it is the most historically accurate way of displaying the Parthenon sculpture, allowing for the study of its original conception in its intended context on the Acropolis.
1Snodgrass, A. (2004), “What do the Parthenon Sculptures embody? Working Papers in Art and Design 3”
2Earle, W. (2018) “Why the British Museum Should Keep the Elgin Marbles?”
3Rea, N. (2019), “The British Museum Says It Will Never Return the Elgin Marbles, Defending Their Removal as a ‘Creative Act’”
4Snodgrass, A. (2004), “What do the Parthenon Sculptures embody? Working Papers in Art and Design 3”
5Snodgrass, A. (1997), “THE ADVANTAGES OF REUNITING THE LONDON AND ATHENS MARBLES”
7 Ana, M. (2018), “UNESCO Committee Discusses Return of Parthenon Marbles in Paris”
8Rea, N. (2019), “The British Museum Says It Will Never Return the Elgin Marbles, Defending Their Removal as a ‘Creative Act’”
9Earle, W. (2018) “Why the British Museum Should Keep the Elgin Marbles?”
Brief History on Systematic Racism within Art Institutions: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 Exhibition at de Young
From left to right: “Early Works #25: Self-portrait” by Faith Ringgold, “Carousel Change” by Sam Gilliam, “Blood (Donald Formey)” by Barkley Hendricks, “Unite” by Barbara Jones-Hogu, “Fred Hampton’s Door 2” by Dana C. Chandler, and “Non-Violence” by Mike Henderson as part of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963- 1983” at the de Young Museum. Aubrey Davis/ aubrey-annedavis.com)
Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is an internationally acclaimed exhibition organized by the Tate Modern of London that celebrates the work of Black American artists in the two pivotal decades following 1963. During this period the Civil Rights movement was sparking conversations about race and identity, highlighting national politics, and social constructs. This exhibition features over 60 African American artists from 1963-1983 who articulated their calls for black power through artwork promoting cultural pride, collective solidarity and empowerment all while addressing profound questions such as, what is ‘Black Art?,” where it should be exhibited, and the choice of addressing the black community or an universal audience. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, was exhibited at the de Young Museum from November 9, 2019 through March 15, 2020 with a focus on artists honoring the legacy of Black Power in the San Francisco Bay Area including musicians, activists, civic leaders and special guest speakers committed to bringing Black Power to the forefront.
The importance of this exhibition is significant for it can be seen as a response to the exhibitionary discipline of a historicized framework that was established in early-nineteenth century museums, as discussed in Tony Bennett’s, The Exhibitionary Complex, which aimed to “depict the development of people, states, and civilizations through time conceived as a progressive series of developmental stages.”( Bennett. 89) These developments on display, however, were dictated by museums that became fundamental instruments of the nation state in educating the public from the point of view of the capital. This point of view was in the context of late-nineteenth century imperialist’s employment of anthropology and was responsible for the separation of the histories of Western nations and civilizations of “other” people that lead to new forms of classification and display ordered by race. This order dropped ‘primitive people’ from history into a “twilight zone between nature and culture.” (Bennett. 90) This separation evident in exhibitions such as that of Saartjie Baartman, the ‘Hottentot Venus” whose large buttock invited a flurry of scientific speculation citing it as proof of the claim that black people were indeed a separate, more primitive line of decent or the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876 which zoned pavilions into racial groups that denied black people and aboriginal populations any space of their own and “represented as subordinate adjuncts to the imperial displays of the major powers.” (Bennett. 95) This overview of the colonial power structure put in place within the exhibitionary complex is crucial in understanding Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power as a response to overturn an imperialized historical framework in offering a more equitable space for Black art and to provide the public with an accurate representation of the historical obstacles of artists within the black community.
Shown on the lower level in the Herbst Special Exhibition Galleries at de Young museum, the exhibition was divided into nine sections grouped by the art movement the artist was associated with, addressing important sub-topics such as the rise of the Black Power movement and the social impact of the Watts Rebellion in Los Angeles in 1965.
Some sections of the exhibition served to highlight members of the black community, such as section six: Black Heroes, which displayed nearly a dozen Black portraits by Black artists. Using a combination of historical, formal, social justice and ethnic identity conceptual frameworks the viewer is lead through the gallery chronologically at first, by work influenced directly by historically significant events that took place in America during the 1960s and 70s in the Black community.
The gallery was brightly lit, work that was hung was well spaced apart, and if possible had a wall of its own. Sculptural work was exhibited center of the section it occupied. The museum provided an introductory statement at the beginning of each section elaborating on its theme, most pertaining to social justice and ethnic identity. The artwork’s information plaque expanded further on the historical and formal context of the piece. Occasionally there were quotes inscribed high above the art on the gallery’s walls by reputable institutions associated with the Black Rights movement like The Organization of Black American Culture, 1967, or of the Artist themselves, “ I feel it my moral obligation as a Black artist to try to graphically document what I feel.” A quote from David Hammons in 1992 reads above his piece, The Door (Admissions Office) 1969, providing points to ponder in a historical context of the work on display.
Section Eight: Abstraction, was particularly appealing to me for I am drawn to the emotional gestural strokes of Abstract Expressionism. I was pleased to see one of second generation Abstract Expressionist, Ed Clark’s irregularly shaped canvas pieces as he was one of the first to experiment with this style in 1957. Yenom (#9) was painted in 1970 on his studio floor where he swept acrylic paint in blue and green hues across the surface of the canvas with a household broom. A beautiful symphony of complementary colors emerge providing a serene and tranquil viewing experience. On the adjacent wall hung Peumbra (1970), one of Frank Bowling’s Map Paintings, defined as large works with acrylic and spray paint that involve pouring, washing and spraying pigments on to canvases. After becoming interested in global impact of the African Diaspora and the Middle Passage of the trans- Atlantic slave trade, Bowling sought to “deconstruct a colonialist gaze that privileges Europe and North America and relegates colonized continents, countries and cultures to the shadows,” (deYoung) through his work. This, supporting the idea that the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibition can also be interpreted as a response to the imperialized historical framework of the Exhibitionary Complex in finally giving a civilization of ‘other’ people to display a history of their own. This large rectangular piece reminiscent of a galaxy, is set on a backdrop of dark blue and black hues with large areas washed of teal, pink and orange acrylic paint along the canvas’ perimeter edge. A powerful piece that encompasses the viewer when standing center.
Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is not only a poignant display of art used to spark, or rather, continue the conversations pertaining to race and identity within the Black Community but also a stand against the imperialized historical framework deployed within the exhibitionary complex. A chance at representation within institutions that for so long have denied them museological display of their own history. I see it as an attempt of rebranding the art institution with an opportunity to deploy exhibitionary disciplines such as the principle of spectacle, as Foucault describes it, “of rendering a small number of objects accessible to the inspection of a multitude of men.” (Bennett. 98) Its time a for rendering of a large number of objects from unrepresented civilizations be accessible to the inspection of a multitude of men. This exhibition is only a snapshot of the history that is still absent from museums on a permanent basis.
Right now, there is an open letter circulating directed towards New York City's culture institutions demanding, "the dismantling of the systemic oppression that the aforementioned institutions readily participate in while demanding the back-breaking work product of Black/Brown employees." This letter focuses on the racism and mistreatment of employees of color within cultural institutions starting with New York facilities. Visit #fortheculture to read the open letter and sign your name as an ally.
Hi there, it’s been a while. Unfortunately this return is in the wake of a series of unfortunate events. I must not be the only one who feels the weight of the world crashing down upon them, while trying to maintain pieces of life before quarantine. My departure from posting came with an increase in school work, and growing lack of focus to my mental health journey. Since the last time I wrote, I have completed my AA in Studio Arts, and got accepted into Mills College. Then cried like it was a breakup once I realized I could not wrap my head around the debt that came with a private college. Instead, I decided on San Francisco State University, and am currently working towards a BA in Art History/Studio Arts. I’ve been working on my first collection of oil-paintings, and progress has been slow during semesters. I have ramped up the painting, and plan on having the first of seven up soon. In the mean time, I have compiled the work I’ve done over the last year and look forward to sharing the research I’ve collected pertaining to contemporary art from the 1960s to today, as well as my thoughts on the Classics Greek sculpture debate of the Elgin Marbles return to Athens.. And despite not having much growth in regards to my own mental health journey, the emphasis of my art, and art history research, remains rooted in mental health awareness. The last five months my main focus has been on the connections between mental health and artist. I can’t wait to share my findings titled, “The Mad Artist and Masterpiece: Examining the Link Between Madness and Artistic Genius,” as well as artwork of my own created from data collected after tracking my emotions over a period of three months…
In regards to one of the current most unfortunate events… The Murder of George Floyd has sparked outrage within the black community, and disgust of people who stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement that have been educating themselves on the history of systemic racism within the United States and the terrible injustices Black people have been subject to at the hands of our nation’s high school educated police departments. George Floyd’s name now sits along side Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christopher Whitfield, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Frank Smith, Walter Scott, Troy Robinson, Janet Wilson, Randy Nelson, Mary Truxillo, Aaron Bailey, Paterson Brown, Atatiana Jefferson, Calin Roquemore, Darius Robinson, Emmett Till, and many more as a list of Black lives lost due to ramped police brutalities and racism. Although George Floyd’s murderers have been charged, the fight has just begun, especially for those of us who have been ignorant to the battle Black people have been fighting since this country’s establishment. The recent publicized death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality is a reflection of a much larger issue that stems from institutionalized racism that this country was founded on. Slavery turned to mass incarceration, criminalizing people of color, dehumanizing and stereotyping an entire community. Now is the time to dismantle institutional racism by abolishing the police, and white supremacy. This platform is small, but as a a person whose white privilege has abled me to live comfortably in this country, I think it's best I try using it for those who have been robbed of that comfort. I think it is appropriate to begin my new uploads with a short history of systematic racism within art institutions, accompanied with artwork and critique of the exhibition, Art in the Age of Black Power 1961-1979 at the de young museum from March 2020.
I am a pro at concealing the sad. A lot of people who struggle with mental health live life trying to hide the symptoms and many succeed, myself included. Choosing to discuss my experience with depression and anxiety leaves the impression that these thoughts are out in the open while I am experiencing them, a very false assumption.
At first documenting my journey here was enough. I was on a high of empowerment, I was unaffected by the stigma associated with mental illness and I was proud of myself for sharing it but this honeymoon phase has come to an end.
So I told the internet that I am depressed but that’s really the extent of it. As my life became increasingly focused with school I had little time to reflect on my mental health. My peers had all met the Aubs who was stoked about mental health awareness and whose art incorporated those themes. As time went on and depressing moments arose, I slowly began pocketing those emotions again. Being overly aware of what it looks like to be happy or sad makes concealing depression easier to do.
I was inspired by the symptoms of Hidden Depression in creating a series of pieces that would reflect my personal experiences with it.
Too Many Thoughts, February 2019.
Concealing depression is made for those who are conditioned to deal with their inner demons in a way that’s not visible. These people are capable of storing a ton of shitty thoughts in their fragile heads. Depression is not a “mood” and those who do not realize that are easily fooled. Living with depression has taught me how to alter my apparent mood in order to conceal my inner thoughts. Hidden depression can look reeeal happy or outgoing, a word my peers would use to describe me. In reality the energy it takes to project myself in this way is exhausting. This sculpture represents all the thoughts and apparent moods concealed within a fragile mind.
Triggers, March 2019.
Another symptom of hidden depression is avoiding triggers entirely. I found out what my triggers were last year and this year I have been avoiding them. Safe but not affective for personal growth. People who mask their depression always have an exit strategy. We have all had to put on a “happy face” in situations we didn’t want to be in. This happy mask wears down the longer you spend with the person who’s wearing it. Someone with hidden depression knows when to leave the party or what events to avoid to reduce the chances of others seeing them without their happy mask.
This piece represents my triggers. If I could bottle the scents of certain people, I would. Instead I chose common scents to help demonstrate another concept, those who live with masked depression interpret the world differently than those who don’t. Depression invokes a complex way of looking at life. Whether it be internal conversations regarding mortality or searching for life’s biggest answers. Depression comes with pessimism. Choosing to store negative memories rather than positive ones. Feeling hopeless instead of hopeful. I asked my peers to try placing each scent with a memory, was it a positive one?
Sensory Overload, March 2019.
The symptom that inspired this series was the one I learned I couldn’t control this year, abandonment. Anyone with depression knows how much of a burden it is. Can you blame people for leaving when you show them the darkest parts of yourself? The fear of abandonment creates the need for secrecy. A trait that contradicts another symptom of depression, the need for love and acceptance. The struggle to not burden the people I love while constantly crying for help, then retracting it is basically a hobby of mine. While trying to conceal depressing emotions, in fear of being neglected, other feelings start leaking over the edges. I have been telling people that I feel things more deeply than normal for a while now, turns out that’s a pretty large aspect of hidden depression. This is the combination that always creates the explosion. This piece represents when all of these symptoms cross paths.
In Bloom, March 2019.
After the lowest lows there’s really only one direction to go. A symptom of hidden depression overshadowed by the rest is the unique creativity and expressive qualities people with mental health struggles possess. Having a deep depth of emotions can lead to profound concepts and creations. Some of the most inspiring artists and world leaders suffer from hidden mental struggles. Being on a constant pursuit to fulfill an empty place inside, that may never be filled, fuels perfectionism and over achieving tendencies. Always overcompensating for feelings of inadequacy within. This may come in forms of striving to achieve the absolute most out of a career, or a never ending competition within to be better at their lives purpose whether it be changing the world or creating works of art. People who live with depression invisible to the naked eye express themselves in incredible ways. I know that living on the dark side has taught me how to create my own light and I guess that’s why I created this project with a buttload of lightbulbs.
My Own Light, Oil on Canvas, April-May 2019.