From the 10th-16th May, Mental Health Awareness Week will be taking place. This is a week where we are all encouraged to speak out about mental health and, through the continued talking, hopefully break the stigmas surrounding mental health. The weeks also helps raise awareness about the lack of support and money given to mental health services which often leaves people on long waiting lists for therapy, counselling etc.
At Hundred Heroines we want to help raise awareness by choosing five artists who are all using their art, their creativity to speak about mental health. I hope this list inspires you in some way – whether that is to make your own art, to have an open, honest conversation about mental health or to join the fight to get mental health services properly funded. The stigma around mental health needs to end and you can be a part of that ending.
Joana Choumali is a photographer who explores identity and diversity within different African cultures. Within her series ‘Ҫa va aller (It will be ok)’, Joana looks at the aftermath of the 2016 Grand-Bassam terror attack and how Ivorian people dealt with the trauma of such an event, along with the mental health issues it, unsurprisingly, brought forth. The photographs for this series were taken on her iPhone, three weeks after the attack, and then she embroidered on to them. Using her phone to be discreet, she wanted to capture people acting naturally. As she walked around, Joana could feel the sadness that now filled the town. Within her work, Joana is looking at and addressing how Ivorian people deal with mental health, whilst also using it as a way to deal with her own emotions surrounding the event.
Ça va aller by Joana Choumali
Anna Fox has been working in photography since the mid-80s, with her work often constructing narratives around the extraordinary nature of every-day life. Anna has a fascination with small town life and this led to her collaborative project with Linda Lunus, a punk musician and friend to Anna, called ‘Pictures of Linda’. With the series Anna wanted to challenge the myths surrounding the representation of women, showcasing Linda in her extroverted, care-free world. However, in the 1990s, Linda was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was hospitalised. She allowed Anna to continue taking photographs of her, which led to Anna reconsidering the way she thought about mental health illnesses and the people who experienced them.
Heather Agyepong is a visual artist and performer whose work looks at the themes of mental health, identity, visibility and diaspora. Her 2020 body of work ‘Wish You Were Here’ is being exhibited at ‘A Picture of Health’ along with Anna Fox. Within ‘Wish You Were Here’ Heather has taken inspiration from the work of Aida Overton Walker, a celebrated African-American vaudeville performer who challenged the problematic narratives of how black performers were seen. Aida was known as the Queen of the Cake Walk – a dance craze which swept America in the 1900s. During the turn of the century, postcards were made depicting Cake Walk dancers. The postcards were often grotesque and offensive. In ‘Wish You Were Here’, Heather has reframed the narrative of these postcards as one of self care and mental well-being.
Arnolfini UWE Bristol: Art in the City Heather Agyepong by Arnolfini Arts
In ‘Today is Hard’, Paola Paredes documents contracting COVID-19 and how this made her feel physically and mentally unwell.
The past year with COVID-19 hanging over us all, keeping us away from loved ones, isolated, has increased the amount of people experiencing problems with their mental health. This is further increased within those who have caught the virus and had to go through the arduous symptoms, hospitals stays and the on-going problems which can follow it. Within ‘Today is Hard’, Paola has been able to fully capture the world we have been living in – the anxiety, the loneliness, the fear. In documenting her own experiences, she is being open and honest and allowing people to see they are not alone in the way they have been feeling.
Paola Paredes, 2020. From the series Today is Hard. © Paola Paredes, courtesy the artist.
Laia Abril is a multidisciplinary artist, whose work focuses on psychological disorders, misogyny, rape and mental health illnesses. With a degree in journalism, Laia uses extensive research to gather information so her work can truly echo the collective voice of women who have gone through trauma.
Laia also uses her own personal experiences for her work such as with her project ‘On Eating Disorders’. Within this project she looked head on at the daily life of someone with an eating disorder (‘The Epilogue’) and also looked into the terrifying world of pro-ana (‘Thinspiration’). Laia’s work shines a light onto the tragic and uncomfortable aspects of the most fatal of all mental health illnesses.
The Epilogue by Laia Abril
If you are struggling with your mental health, please know that you are not alone and help is out there:
Samaritans: 116 123, www.samaritans.org.uk
Sane: 0300 304 7000, www.sane.org.uk
Mind: 0300 123 3393, www.mind.org.uk
Mental Health Foundation: www.mentalhealthfoundation.org.uk
Beat: 0808 801 0677, www.b-eat.co.uk
For more information about Mental Health Awareness week and how you can get involved, please visit the links below: