I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart. You’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful….William C Hannan
I was thrilled to have been featured artist at Blue Fringe Arts and Literature prize last week during their annual exhibition and art/literature prize. I had the opportunity to speak at the awards ceremony and I will attempt to share what I MEANT to talk about. I tend to get side tracked and forget some of the things I want to say when I speak, which is probably why writing is so much easier for me to do. I can go back and edit… Public speaking isn’t quite so flexible. So I will share with you here, the gist of what I meant to say.
Three years ago I was in a really bad place, both mentally, emotionally and physically. I was in an horrendous housing situation which was triggering my PTSD beyond belief. Reaching out to politicians, media, authorities, anyone who would listen, I was desperate to find my way out of it. I got some practical help from our local State Member of Parliament, the wonderful Trish Doyle. She helped in many ways, but one of those was to put me in touch with some organisations who might be able to help me deal with the emotional side of what was happening.
So I had one of the workers come out to see me and I showed my art. I’d only been doing it for about a year at the time and so was not confident with it. She suggested I should enter Blue Fringe Art prize which is for people with a lived experience of mental illness. I, of course, said no. No was my first reaction to everything at the time but I felt my work wasn’t good enough to be exhibited.
The next time she visited, she brought the entry forms with her. I told her I couldn’t afford the entry fee.. She told me it was free. Sigh! That excuse gone, I caved and entered just to shut her up. It is indicative of how worn down I was, that I didn’t have the energy to sabotage myself as I would usually do. So I went to the op shop to find a frame to use as I couldn’t afford professional framing. I found one for $10 (still more than I could afford to be honest) and framed a work I’d already had printed.
On the day of the awards, I went along and I came second in the photography section. I took my seat again and as usual, my mind started to wander through the rest of the awards. When they were announcing the overall winner, I realised that it was my work that was being described. I went hot and cold. My stomach started to knot and ache. I had difficulty breathing… Classic anxiety attack for me. My son sitting next to me realised it and said quietly.. “just breathe mum”. I got up, accepted the award with what probably looked like a nonchalant attitude. I was masking the anxiety.
But amongst the inner turmoil, something changed in me that day. I started to believe that maybe my art was actually good enough. In fact, maybe I was good enough. Because up until that time, if I’m honest, I was just sitting back, waiting to grow old and die. I felt I had nothing of any worth left to offer the world. Suddenly, I started to see my art with fresh eyes, which then rolled onto making me look at myself a bit more kindly. I finally felt alive again.
Since that time, I’ve had numerous opportunities that I could never have dreamed of having. I have had a residency at Arthur Boyd’s Bundanon Trust, I have spoken at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, I have had my work published and have won other soul enriching awards. I currently have work on display in Brisbane and at the Melbourne Arts Centre. Last year in the lead up to Blue Fringe, I was having treatment for breast cancer and working on my entries into Blue Fringe kept my mind off the invasive procedures that I was undergoing.
I credit that all to Blue Fringe 2016. Because that is the day my soul started to grow again. The committee, volunteers, sponsors, supporters, TAFE, the workers who encourage entries and the dignitaries that always attend are amazing and I thank them all for their tireless work. But mostly, I want to thank the artists who are brave enough to bare their soul and put it on display. They show the world the beauty within. They are changing perceptions. In the media, people with mental illness are often portrayed as tragic, angry, anti social people who are not worth anything. They are so wrong.
The work on display is anything but tragic or angry or anti social. It is bright and beautiful and its shows the hope that lives in the heart of the artist. It pays homage to the resilience of the human spirit. By speaking out through their art, these beautiful and brave souls are changing the way mental illness is seen. And only by sharing our stories and changing perceptions, can we change the world.
(These photos are merely a tiny slice of the work on display. Head over to Blue Fringe Arts on Facebook to see more of the day)