Art exhibition reflects creative activity among mental health community

Patricia Walsh is one of about 60 artists who is showcasing work in Cork Mental Health Foundation’s Reflecting Through Art exhibition, which opens this week in Cork International Airport.

Open to anyone using the mental health services throughout Cork City and county, the project aims to encourage creative activity, raise the profile of the artists, increase awareness of talents, and use art as a bridge between artists and the wider community. In total, 87 paintings go on display.

“Any of the artists will tell you this exhibition empowers them and gives them a sense of purpose,” says Brendan McCarthy, development manager at Cork Mental Health Foundation.

“To be able to put their name to art, under the auspices of the Mental Health Foundation, gives them a great sense of ownership of their issues. It goes a long way towards recovery to say: ‘This is me, this is my art and I have experienced mental health problems.’ ”

Ballinhassig mother of two Patricia Walsh first became ill in 2007. “It was due to pressure, emotional and financial,” she says. “I was hospitalised in January 2007 and it was a horrifying experience. I’d never experienced hospital except for having my two children. I had a relapse last summer — I’m still recovering.”

Patricia, who has two paintings in the exhibition, sums up the impact of exhibiting her work in the phrase: “Self-expression.”

“For me to express myself since I got sick has become more difficult because I’m aware of the stigma attached to mental illness, yet I won’t hide the fact that I’ve been unwell. I’ve met so many beautiful, sensitive people through becoming sick — people who were so misunderstood.”

One of her paintings is Hoopoe Bird, which, for Patricia, chimes with the idea of elation, a feature of some types of mental illness.

“It’s a tropical bird, an exotic one you don’t see in Ireland,” she says. “In an elated mood, everything can seem exotic even if it’s as grey as dull paint.”

Her painting Forest Door was inspired by the idea of Celtic deities and a door into the other side, by the notion of a parallel universe or consciousness.

Mr McCarthy points out that there is still a “huge stigma” among the public about mental illness.

“Reflecting Through Art is a way of publicising it in a different way — having this art up in Cork Airport especially over St Patrick’s weekend, when so many people will use the airport.”

* Reflecting Through Art Project 2013 will be officially opened by Lord Mayor John Buttimer at 3.30pm at Cork International Airport on Thursday. It remains there for six weeks before moving to venues throughout Cork city and county.


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