The Research Process at the Wellcome

Part of my project was looking through the Wellcome mental health archives. Most of was of it was the professional voice, demeaning, pathologising, silencing. In a strange way this is a good thing. It is evidence of inhumanity. Here are some snapshots of what I found in my search.

One image especially unsettled me and was a perfect example of how madness is represented in art.

This is supposedly an 18th Century depiction of a mad woman.

But what is her story? She is not a real person in more ways than one. This is a fictional character but even if it was a portrait of a real person, there isn’t her side of the story, so she is not a real person.

Those eyes are very unladylike, aren’t they? A sign of her madness? There is a very good book by Sander Gilman called ‘Seeing the Insane’ that shows the mad have to look different to ‘normal’ people, they have to look shocking, frightening. This is true up to modern times. The famous film ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ was filmed in a real psychiatric hospital. They filmed on a ward but the real patients didn’t look mad enough to the directors so they got actors in to ‘act’ mad.

Back to the woman in the picture, could it not be she is just very angry? I look like that when someone has stolen my chocolate! But seriously, what if her husband is cheating and put her in the madhouse. What if she has been hurt or traumatised and chaining her is the best the world can do for her. Maybe she is just a crazy woman with no good thoughts in her head that wants to smack your face. You will never know. Her story is told by people who have an agenda. Your perception is fed by others. Do you have room in your mind for anything else?

Here is me as the art talking back