Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Westward Ho residents react to portraits transformed to art featured in New Times

This week the residents of the Westward Ho found out that some of their portraits ended up in an artist's hands, with one female resident being featured in Art in the New Times this week with scribbles and what one resident termed as 'vomit' on it. New Times said that some of the creations almost bordered on defacement of the portraits of people, aging and disabled, in this complex. I wrote to the New Times and asked if one artist's development was worth the risk of offending a number of residents, many of whom have struggled for years with the label of being mentally ill. I know what that is, having been incarcerated after about a half a minute interview with a University psychiatrist, a trip which ended up lasting two weeks locked up, and turned my whole world upside down at only 20 years old.
I felt that whatever I did after that was interpreted as different from how I was perceived before. It was obvious something terrible had happened, since I was walking about like a shell shocked soldier, falling into silence, unable to utter a word at times, which was not understood at all! But people had no idea what had happened to me even after I got locked up, and they wouldn't have believed me if I had told them.
I insist on talking about it now, and try to convince people that if you walked in the same shoes as I did or any of these people, it could happen to you, too. It is human. The effects of years of too much stress can attract the attention of those around you, a visit to a psychiatrist can be suggested, and you could be off on a trip to the crazy house just like that.
I have tried to normalize places like the Westward Ho where some chronically mentally ill live and other disabled, too. A number of people are in here after cancer treatment has partially disabled them. The roof fell in on them, too. People have suffered devastating strokes in here, been in horrible car accidents, have been shot by killers. The roof fell in on them, too. They were never going to be the same again. Some are just old and going to die, so they are going out of here feet first.
An artist who does not think about how his work is going to affect someone else when it is as personal as a portrait he is using as a base is I would say rather self centered. If you consider people's feelings, you might not get there quite so fast.
I want my portraits to make people feel good, because people who have been down and out need a lift. I keep my connection to the mentally ill strong. Becoming mentally ill cost me maybe a career as a recognized playwright. Now I am just a playwright whose work nobody dares do because it is probably too insane. My nervous system got sick from too much stress, too many terrible crises to endure. That is what causes mental illness. It is not a disgrace. It is just what happens to people whose nerves are continually bombarded. It was not my fault.
The original photographer could have settled for just making people feel good, without allowing the photos to fall into someone's hands who might upset the subjects of the pictures, but now I doubt that any outside photographer will be let back into the Westward Ho so easily after this incident. They are learning what signing a waiver is all about.

1 comment:

Paula said...

I think this is terrible and I hope the responsible people hear about it.


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