Now in its eighth year, Out of Sight Out of Mind is a multimedia, collaborative exhibition showcasing the works of 100 individuals who have experience of mental health issues. It is a beautiful continuation of the work started by a small number of individuals in 2013, and since then, new voices and experiences are included every year to make the exhibition more relevant. Not only does this exhibition feature works that focus on the depth of personal experience, but it also portrays art as an invaluable coping mechanism for these issues, all while producing pieces that are incredibly profound and moving to experience.
The exhibition is composed of paintings, sketches, sculptures, photography and film, all depicting the complexity of mental illness, and including voices who have largely been sidelined in mainstream art. ‘Free Speech/Hate Speech’ is a sculpture featured in this exhibition that captures this perfectly. Created by ‘Gypsy/Traveller Carers’ Project’, this piece features a mannequin plastered with cut-outs from newspapers and various comments on social media, all demonising and criminalising this community. This piece serves as a reminder that despite mental health issues being a universal experience regardless of cultural background, communities like these are affected disproportionately. In many discourses around mental health, this problem is often overshadowed by attempts to unite people in their struggle, with a “we’re all in it together” attitude. Although this can be helpful for some who suffer, it also overlooks how mental health issues facing these communities are exacerbated significantly due to discrimination, particularly online and in the media.
Another incredible piece that echoes this sentiment is a short film created by Fadzai Mwakutuya, titled ‘Serenitude’. Described as a “breathing project”, this was developed as a tool to support recovery and manage the anxiety felt by Mwakutuya in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and how people of colour are disproportionately affected by this. In her own words, Mwakutuya “identified a need to take control to support [her] breathing.” This incredible piece not only presents a real and raw depiction of anxiety, but also how it is substantially linked to political and social injustice.
Out of Sight Out of Mind is a beautifully crafted exhibition. It is designed and organised by individuals who have had direct experience with mental health issues, either personally or through their work. Importantly, it is a collaborative project. A key aspect of this exhibition is to collect feedback on what it means to you, the viewer or observer. It redefines how we all consume art; it is no longer a static and one-way process. It is an accessible and collaborative experience in which all voices are considered, listened to and respected equally.
2020 is the first year that Out of Sight Out of Mind has been digitised and made available to be viewed at home, presumably due to current lockdown restrictions. Although the pandemic has financially damaged the arts, it has arguably resulted in creative spaces becoming wider and more accessible. With exhibitions and creative projects being available online, it attracts a wider and more diverse audience, something that is so incredibly necessary in the arts. Art cannot be consumed only by small elite groups. It needs to be a diverse, wide and welcoming space, otherwise it risks defeating its own purpose: to understand and represent the human condition, whether through depictions of mental health, social injustice or personal identity. Organisers and curators of mainstream art need to look to smaller projects like Out of Sight Out of Mind as a reminder that creative spaces should not be elite or intimidating, and that art belongs to everyone.
Image: Naia McFarlane courtesy of Out of Sight, Out of Mind