The exhibition Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists is currently being held at the Acme Project space in Bethnal Green London. The exhibition represents a collaboration between artist Gemma Anderson with consultant psychiatrist Dr Tim McInerny. Dr McInerny has kindly agreed to be interviewed by Frontier Psychiatrist
What should visitors to Portraits: Patients and Psychiatrists expect?
The exhibition is of etched portraits and recorded interviews with patients and psychiatrists at Bethlem Royal Hospital, London. All the etchings are drawn directly from life onto copperplate and also show objects and imagery which reflect the sitter.
Where is it being held and what dates?
The Acme Project Space is found at 44 Bonner Road, Bethnal Green E2 9JS and the exhibition runs until 6 December. Details
Acme Studios was established in 1972 and is a London based charity that provides affordable studio space, residencies and awards for artists
How did you meet Gemma Anderson and begin work on this project?
I met Gemma Anderson at the Royal College of Art Degree Show, and soon after we began to discuss the concept of a series of portraits of psychiatric patients and their doctors. The project has taken three years and was originally part of an exhibition at the Jerwood Space in London in 2008. Subsequent to this in 2009 we received funding from with the Wellcome Trust and there have been exhibitions of the work in non-gallery venues such as the Freud Museum and Globe Theatre in London.
What did you wish to achieve with the project?
Our approach was borne from a wish to move away from a written representation of mental illness and a view that the connection between a doctor and patient is through words. Instead we wished to develop images that provoke the viewer into creating their own language to understand how a patient might be experiencing symptoms of mental illness and how the doctor listens, formulates and treats.
With the portraits we wished to create works that reflected relationships in psychiatric care towards recovery and a return to society. In psychiatry the stories that patients carry with them are often distressing and sometimes violent. In the exhibition the visitor is invited to consider how a psychiatrist hears these narratives and how they can process them into meaningful therapy.
In the exhibition sitters are identified only by their first name – why is this?
Neither doctors nor patients are identified by their status when exhibited. Patients and doctors are thus equals, and patients are not seen solely as visual objects or objects for the doctor to treat.
How did Gemma go about making the portraits? And what was the reaction of your colleagues and of patients?
Gemma Anderson was given the opportunity to attend psychiatric services to hear the stories of patients and their doctors, and to discover the therapeutic process of rehabilitation.
Both the doctor and the patient were drawn in the same process, following an interview with the artist, which explored favourite personal objects, preferred landscapes, and what doctor and patient shared.
There was strong support from the clinical teams involved and psychiatrists from different specialties, gender and ethnic groups became interested in the project. The publication of one image on the cover of the British Journal of Psychiatry has indicated the support of a leading scientific journal in this field.
Patients who have visited an exhibition of their own and the other portraits described feeling empowered by the experience and the public exhibition of the portrait series has now furthered the dialogue which now includes artists, doctors, patients and the public.
On a more general note, I know that you have long been interested in using the creative arts to inform your practice. Why do you think that the creative arts are important to psychiatry?
Psychiatry has always had an association with the arts. Its most important creative relationship has arguably been with visual art, which has served as a means of representing mental disorder, as a form of treatment and as a channel of expression for patients.
Over recent years I’ve been committed to bringing the creative arts into the secure settings where I work and I have collaborated with comedians, actors, musicians and artists to introduce contemporary theatre and the other arts to Broadmoor Hospital and psychiatric forensic units such as River House at the Bethlem Royal Hospital.
There are several posts on this exhibition on Gemma Anderson’s blog: