People who experience mental ill health have been mistreated and ostracised throughout history. Although we have come a long way, it can still feel a slow and uphill struggle.

So, a mental health exhibition which brings artists, organisations and individuals together to exhibit their stories in public spaces is powerful to see. It symbolises a refusal to allow society to push these people and their histories back into the shadows.

For its fifth year, the Out of Sight, Out of Mind exhibition has been shaped around the theme reclaim, and many of the creative pieces can be found in the expansive basement of Summerhall. The motivations of the 165+ contributors are just as varied as the forms their works take. Yet they all locate a space which seeks to reclaim and redefine holistic mental health narratives by and for people with lived experience.

A Space To Be – Edinburgh Community Mental Health Drop-in

To explain what it is like when you experience mental ill health can be to attempt to communicate the indescribable. Art can provide an alternative way for people to articulate this complexity and make sense of their illness and their lives in relation to it.

Amidst Fiona McKenzie

Amidst – Fiona McKenzie

Many of the works exhibited appear to respond to the theme of reclaim as something which yields hope. This is communicated through pieces exploring the act of reclaiming and rebuilding life after a mental health crisis. There are other works depicting the reclamation of identity from medical diagnosis and treatments.

Colourful Collage of Courage

Colourful Collages of Courage

As one artist writes underneath their work: ‘I have slowly been pulling back the medicinal picture and beginning to reclaim the original me…and actually, I am OK!’

Reclaiming Myself B

Reclaiming myself – B

Some contributions express fear and despair at what is happening in the world around us. People are fighting to reclaim marginalised identities and stories in a society and under a government which stacks everything against them. As one contributor writes: ‘Due to budget cuts, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off and sold for scrap.’ How do we reclaim any sense of hope for the present and future?

The Future is Lauren Stonebanks

The Future is… – Lauren Stonebanks

One answer to that can be found in the art contributions provided by different organisations around Edinburgh. Those like the Edinburgh Community Mental Health Drop-in offer emotional and practical support and bring people together as a community outside a medical setting. This is represented in the installation of a living room, surrounded by media created by and for people who use the space.

A Space To Be Edinburgh Community Mental Health Drop in

A Space To Be Edinburgh Community Mental Health Drop in 2

A Space To Be – Edinburgh Community Mental Health Drop-in

The diversity of the works reinforces the idea that each expression of mental health is unique to the individual and their circumstances. This can be visualised in the patchwork collage created by members of the Gypsy/Traveller community. Each piece allows for the reclaiming of individual experiences and contributes to what is important to the community as a whole. There can be hope for the present and future if we ensure mental health discussions include a range of societal perspectives and acknowledge the wider histories of people’s lives, particularly the discrimination and oppression they face.

No Less a Traveller MECOPPs GypsyTraveller health and wellbeing project1

No Less a Traveller – MECOPP’s Gypsy/ Traveller health and wellbeing project

It is everybody’s responsibility to have more than “awareness” that mental ill health exists. When spaces and narratives are being reclaimed and reframed, it’s important we listen, support, value and learn from what we see and hear.

No Head Clutching Please Creative Industries students at Edinburgh Napier University1

No Head Clutching Please – Creative Industries students at Edinburgh Napier University

by Z Nugent


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