March 20, 1998

Brain Week exhibit spotlights artists battling mental illness

Brain Week exhibit spotlights artists battling mental illness

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Ten-year-old Rachel Keener examines the art exhibit "Truth from Darkness," currently on display on the second floor of Vanderbilt University Hospital. (Photo by Donna Jones Bailey).

A nationally acclaimed art exhibition featuring 25 pieces by seven artists who battle mental illness is currently on display in the Vanderbilt University Hospital on the second floor.

The "Truth from Darkness" exhibit, part of Brain Awareness Week, is coordinated by Vanderbilt¹s Cultural Enrichment Program and Center for Molecular Neuroscience. It will be on display until March 31. The exhibit¹s tour opened in Washington, D.C. two years ago.

Nashville is one of 15 cities hosting the tour, which was organized by Sistare, a non-profit organization committed to education about and advocacy for people living with mental illness.

The seven artists, who battle diseases such as schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, attempt through their art and accompanying text to communicate the interrelationship of their work, their illness and their lives, said Donna Glassford, director of Cultural Enrichment.

"The artists bring an awareness about mental illness," Glassford said. "Many times people who are mentally ill can¹t articulate verbally how they feel. Through their art, however, they can."

Some of the art is representative of situations the artists have lived. Camille Holvoet of San Francisco, for example, paints herself leaving the hospital in 1987 with a social worker and undergoing acupuncture in 1993 to "help calm me down."

Like the other artists, she has written of her feelings about her work.

"I am an artist because I was born and grew up to be an artist," she wrote. "Most of my training has been in the last 14 years in the large studio at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, Calif. I show the people of my life and dreams like a photograph does, in my own way."

John Cadigan, another artist, began drawing as a child. As early as high school he received awards in painting and drawing.

"I was born an artist," the Durban, South Africa, resident writes. "It is all I have every wanted to be. The relationship between mental illness and the creative process in my experience is full of mystery. There are more questions than answers. I try to let my unconscious feed me. The creative process is cathartic for me."

Kate Monson, of Sacramento, Calif., sees art as self expression. She has had more than 30 shows in the last 15 years. She was 34 when she was diagnosed with bi-polar mixed type disorder.

"It is a challenge to talk about painting in words," she writes. "Painting is self-discovery. Internal experiences and external events become expressions of my inner vision. I paint what I am.

"My illness has had a profound effect on my life. It has placed limitations on me and has affected my perception and sensitivity to the world. It is part of my being, as is my painting. I don¹t know how I arrived at this idea of being a painter. I was moved in ways that led me to the development of my own language, my truth."

One of her paintings in the exhibit is "inspired by the anger and sadness I feel, that people with disabilities are discriminated against."