>Words – Karla O’Connor

Photos – Karla O’Connor and J Forsyth

In The Garden Of My Mind is showing at Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran

I was on a tram in Melbourne recently where I was faced with an awkward situation. The lady sitting across from me was put in the uncomfortable position of having a man with mental illness sit right next to her. That poor lady! And the way she handled it was really a testament to the bourgeoisie attitude she exuded. This woman, in her mid forties continued to snigger, roll her eyes and look completely disgusted at the man next to her as he just sat, trying to get from point A to B. The women pretended to keep reading her book, Weathering Heights (I know, right?), all the while looking over her glasses at me, searching for someone to show solidarity towards her and her mockery of the man. I ignored her. I was angry with her, but I ignored her.

Sure, the man was dressed in ratty clothes and had an uncontrollable twitch, but I’ve seen far less attractive visions of the human race walking down King Street early on a Sunday morning. But this man wasn’t doing any harm to anyone; just getting from A to B, just like the rest of us, just like the woman he was sitting next to. The only difference was; he wasn’t casting judgment on anyone else. When the man got off the tram the woman was relieved. She let out a deep breath, smiled and looked up at me. I still ignored her, but I wish I had of told her to grow up. I chicken out and I regret it.

Because of the obvious prejudice that woman afforded the man and my absolute dissent towards her, I have to say I felt a little guilty when I walked up to the mezzanine level at Chapel off Chapel to check out ‘In The Garden Of My Mind,’ an exhibition put on by Prahran Mission, which presents the works of over 60 artists who have mental illness and recognise the valuable role art plays in their recovery journey. My guilt came with the fact I was surprised at how bright and colourful many of the artworks are. I had to ask myself why I thought they would be dark? Why should they be dark?

There is such a diverse mix of art being shown, using an array of different media. From mosaics, pottery, life drawings and china painting, among many others, what I found most significant was the artists’ attempts at linking the creative process to the spiritual realm, and even more so that this – I felt deeply connected to much of the works. My favourite piece is probably the darkest of all on display. It’s a self-portrait titled “Moods,” which is a group of six pictures done with black marker on pad paper that were done in one sitting during the night when the artist, David Carroll, couldn’t sleep. He calls it a ‘compilation of moods. An expression of his fractured self.’ I want to share with you the poem he wrote that goes with the collection.

I’ve got a mixed up mind, It says to me, I can and I should. It’s such a mixed up mind it says to me, If I do should I? The thoughts and feeling of not knowing which way to go. I could turn left, I say to myself. My mixed up mind it says to me, I could turn right I say to myself. Whichever way I choose, it must be the choice “I make” for my mixed up mind. My mind is only mine to mix.

It’s true these artists might be struggling, but aren’t we all? Don’t we all feel as though our minds are a little mixed up and sometimes we don’t know which direction to turn? I bet the woman on the tram even feels this way sometimes.
‘In The Garden Of My Mind’ is an exhibition about people and art. It validates the importance of creativity in the recovery process from a diagnosis of a mental illness and helps build self-confidence, creates social networks and the rediscovery of the joyful side of life.

I urge you to take a visit, and do it quickly as the exhibition ends on Sunday the 28th Oct. I also urge you to reflect on the way you think about people with mental illness. That’s what I’ve been doing and the funny thing I’ve realised is that I don’t know how many people I know that have a diagnosed mental illness, but what I do know for sure is that I don’t know one single person that is ‘normal.’ And maybe that’s what we should think about before we discriminate against someone else that acts a little different to ourselves.

In The Garden Of My Mind is showing at Chapel Off Chapel
12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran
Free Entry
Closed Sunday 28th October