Talking Heads reporter Emily Walker writes about the artwork at All, Entire, Whole, an exhibition at the New Glasgow Society curated by See Me Community Champion Sean McGugan. 

Presenting work from a range of artists, All, Entire, Whole hosted a number of pieces created around the broad and pliable theme of mental health. The exhibition was free and open to all. From soft sculptures to photography, the exhibition has a wide scope and offers unique and individual perspectives around mental health. There were some specific pieces that really struck me on my visit. It’s clear even from this one small room that our experiences of mental health are varied, and the exhibition offers an opportunity to reconsider many misconceptions around mental health.

Lesley Antrobus’s photography series grabbed my attention as soon as I walked in. The piece seems to be reflecting upon the loss of a loved one after they had taken their life. Questioning how we should remember this person in her caption beside the series, Antrobus really dives in to grief and shows how isolating it can become after such a death. In the photographs, we are shown a young woman sitting on the bathroom floor in distress, a death certificate, a welder working, a bench with a beautiful inscription and then boots in the mud. The series shows part of the grief process she had been through, followed by the process of deciding how to remember someone. 

In her bio, Lesley questions why we remember the last few moments or days of tragedy; why not focus on the whole life of a person? This was an observation she made after she found that people treated her differently after the passing of this loved one. These memorial benches become part of a landscape for many who walk past them daily, however to a family or loved one they are a physical representation of a life no longer lived. The series really touched me as it is clear that this discussion is one that we are fearful to broach in society. The physical bench and its representation of reflection captures the essence of remembering a loved one. The series shows the importance of remembering someone fully instead of focusing on their last moments and appreciating these memories for the joy they can hold.

Sekai Machache uses photography to express a Zimbabwean understanding of mental health and how this differs from discussions and understandings in Scotland. Machache discusses Shona Culture in her captions, explaining that, in this culture, mental health is a medium for people to communicate messages to and from the spirit realm. This is a stark contrast to how we discuss mental health in our own culture, but it really makes you think about how we perceive mental health and what this can mean for the stigma and discrimination around such illnesses. 

However, it’s clear that the conceptual discussions around mental health are something to be interpreted uniquely in each country and culture, and by each individual person. Although the concepts are completely different to how we might perceive mental health, it allows us to access discussions around the subject with a new view. 

Machache’s photographs are simple but beautiful. They show a young woman standing in the middle of the frame with a black background naked using her hair to cover her body. The photos are striking and are unique within the exhibition. Her hair and stance are the only thing that changes in the two images. Her face covered and identity shrouded by the anonymity of the images, it seemed to be a comment on how mental health can impact our understanding of self and what it can take away and add to our experience of life.

Exhibited in the back section of the room was artwork from Artspace, an arts programme held in Stirling working with adult participants who have been diagnosed with mental health problems. The programme is described as a safe environment for participants to engage and develop their artistic expression and each individual works with a professional artist to learn new skills. The participants describe the group as a place to relieve stress, join in discussions with others, build connections and their confidence. This project is giving the participants a different medium for expressing their struggles with mental health as well as not discussing it at all and enjoying learning new skills without being defined by their diagnosis.

The exhibition explores many of the touch points and discourses surrounding mental health, from the perspective of those currently experiencing problems to those with second hand experience. Using art, the general and broad themes of mental health offer people with little understanding a first step into this big and daunting discussion. It’s easy to see from this exhibition why art and mental health fit so seamlessly together. An expression of emotional, physical and mental experiences within a life, art works perfectly to allow us to view another’s reality. 

The variety of the exhibition is representative of the variety of mental health experiences humans face. Whether it be losing someone to their battle with mental health, to understanding what cultural concepts and stigmas around mental health discussion can offer us, or the therapeutic expression art can provide those with a mental health diagnosis, this variety allows viewers to question their own mental health journey and how we speak about it with others as well as within ourselves.

by Emily Walker

The Talking Heads project, in partnership with See Me, brings together a team of volunteer journalists to produce written articles and other creative responses to festival events. Click here to find out more.