Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art!, Art Building Bridges and Moving Forward are three art collections displayed as part of Out of Sight, Out of Mind, a collaborative exhibition spread across Edinburgh. Drawing inspiration from within themselves, professional and self-taught artists with past or current experience of mental ill health reveal the power of art to raise awareness, fight preconceptions and move forward. 

Walking along the corridors and talking to the volunteers, you start realising that no matter whether or not you have experienced mental health problems, we all share the same struggles, whether it is fear of dentists or social anxiety. Once fully immersed with the art, it is not difficult to see the beauty and the emotions caught in each painting, drawing and installation. The idea of art as a way of representing feelings and fighting stigma finds expression in Oto Kano’s work displayed in Summerhall. 

It shows us that depression can also be beautiful if only we could overcome what feels like an inborn urge to simultaneously look at or run away from sadness. Exploring her ‘semi-blind’ drawings of faces and dark paintings of tsunamis and stormy waters, one really starts getting a feel of how excruciating living with alternating depressive and manic episodes must be. At the same time, a closer look makes the edgy black contours of the faces milder, the eyes warmer and the golden splashes sitting on the top of the black, turbulent waves more prominent. 

Two bright and spacious rooms at the end of a corridor, hidden in the basement of Summerhall, host Moving Forward and Art Building Bridges. These are two collections of work created by members of Contact Point Art Group and TollX Art Group, respectively, that show how art groups can have a positive impact on mental health by creating social circles in which everybody can find a safe space to relax, focus and express themselves. Sketching electric circuits with open ends, drawing boxes, interlaced with spheres and matryoshki, cracked by heavy labels around their necks becomes a way of exploring the conscious and subconscious, of identifying the real struggles, accepting the imperfections and moving forward. 

Break Every Chain: Breaking Chains Through Art!, an exhibition held in Argyle House, displays paintings by Margaret Ramsay. Walking into the room, a massive painting catches the eye – an eagle in the sky symbolising the broken chains and achieved freedom and empowerment. Margaret’s works tell a personal story of how art could be part of a healing process, acting as a vent for accumulated feelings, freeing the imagination. 

Composed of paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures from modelling clay, these three exhibitions show us how art can help every one of us acknowledge their struggles, identify the roots, accept the imperfections and in this way release themselves from the chains that hold them, achieving tranquillity and gaining confidence. But it could also build bridges through creating a safe space for expressing emotions, sharing experiences and stories of recovery. 

by Katerina Gospodinova 

Katerina is a final year PhD student in molecular psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh. She believes that art and science can work hand in hand to raise awareness and fight the preconceptions surrounding mental illness. Follow her on Twitter at @KaterinaGospodi.


Out of Sight, Out of Mind continues at Summerhall until Sun 29 Oct, and venues across Edinburgh. There is no need to book.