For centuries art has been used to express untold feelings and passions; thoughts, fears and insecurities. The Outsider Gallery London is seeking to continue doing just that through their latest exhibition ‘Broken Minds’.
Giving a voice to perceived ‘outsiders’, ‘Broken Minds’ lifts the veil of darkness created by ill-health, injury, social exclusion and circumstance, to reveal unseen perspectives through a multidisciplinary of work, including paintings, digital media, poetry and even an album mastered at Abbey Road Studios.
Speaking with the founders of the gallery, Ben Wakeling and Jon Hall, I wanted to discover what initially drove them to curate such an expression of emotions.
Giulia Catani: Where did the idea for ‘Broken Minds’ first come from?
Ben Wakeling: For the last two years, myself and Jon have been working on NHS mental health wards in North London. Together with the patients, we felt a strong desire to celebrate the purity in which their artwork and music is created. This led us to organise, operate, and set up, the Outsider Gallery.
Having a history of mental health myself, I always saw an innocent side to it, beautiful in a way - the beauty of a broken mind. The fact that only society labels us broken became a constant conversation of mine over the years and ‘Broken Minds’ became a natural conclusion.
GC: Who are the ‘Outsiders’ and why are they labelled like that?
BW: ‘Outsider Art’ or ‘Art Brut’ are terms used to describe psychiatric artwork made in mental health institutions; individuals who are locked away from society for months, years and even whole lifetimes. There are also many individuals outside of hospitals that are excluded for various reasons. We simply want to work in therapeutic settings with individuals that are excluded.
GC: What is expressed through the ‘Outsiders’ art? Which feelings, if any, are recurrent in their works?
BW: Through therapeutic interventions, the work that unfolds tends to be their life story - situations and events that have played out in their lives. It's always a case of the person not knowing what they are actually drawing, and it being a way that their unconscious feelings can come out. Getting someone to doodle musically or artistically is often a powerful and moving way to work with people.
GC: The exhibit displays a mix of media: paintings, digital, music and poetry. How important are the artists’ chosen medium in ‘Broken Minds’?
BW: In a sense the medium is irrelevant. It's more to do with the journey that we take the individual along; they will naturally find their own medium to express themselves. Music is a great way for people to explore and channel their creativity, but the medium is less important than the story that is told; that’s what the viewer - the public - sees.
GC: ‘Broken Minds’ tackles emotionally charged subject matter. What was your experience working with the ‘Outsiders’?
BW: In many senses, it's not the work but rather building relationships and supporting them while they expose and express their journey. It's not like going into an art school and curating trained artists with a clear direction. To me that's calculation and there is none of that here; just raw emotion that pours out - pure art. That's what’s beautiful. It's very difficult to explain in words.
GC: What else would you like to tell our readers about the gallery?
BW: The gallery itself is portable. We want to roam the world sharing our music and art with people. Seeing the work in person is more effective than online - not everyone lives in London so we have to go to them. We have to break the boundaries of our four walls – of our gallery walls. We have to be portable.
Outside Gallery London curates physical and artist platforms, events and productions that speak into the issue of mental health and other personal issues. The ‘Broken Minds’ exhibition can be visited at White Post Lane, Queens Yard, London, E9 5EN.
Words: Giulia Catani