Mental Illness | Mental Wellbeing: Visual culture and psychiatric health

Catherine Jolivette, Missouri State University,

This session invites papers on art, design, architecture and visual representations relating to individuals experiencing mental illness/seeking mental wellness.

The Lunacy Act of 1845 first recognised people with mental illnesses as patients (rather than inmates). Images before this date, such as William Hogarth’s Bedlam Hospital in The Rake’s Progress shock us with the barbarity of public spectacle, while Théodore Géricault’s Portraits of the Insane are haunting reductions of an individual to a diagnosis.

Asylums in Birmingham included All Saints’, Rubery Hill and Highcroft Hospital. While some 19th century hospitals were notoriously dilapidated and overcrowded, other designs were innovative and therapeutic, such as the plans of Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride who advocated for natural light and fresh air.

Since the 1959 Mental Health Act and the Hospital Plan of 1962, many old asylums have been sold, shuttered or demolished. Deinstitutionalisation has also expanded the archive, demonstrated by the Wellcome Collection’s series, Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond, while ‘mad studies’ has established an interdisciplinary field, concerning the experience and cultures of those who identify as mad, neuro-diverse or psychiatric survivors.

This session explores the visual, the tactile and the haptic in patient-centred experiences of psychiatric treatment and care. Studies may include the landscaping, architecture, furniture and fittings of psychiatric institutions; works by artists with mental illness; art by patients and healthcare providers; and the documentary visual record across a variety of media. Papers that address the intersectionality of age, gender, ethnicity, race, class and sexual orientation with mental health experiences are particularly welcomed.

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