Isla Cowan has created a new audio work addressing disordered eating and consumerism, and Iona Roberts has produced a new series of mixed media drawings exploring dreams and memories. They are among eight Scotland-based artists commissioned to create new work in response to the SMHAF 2021 theme of ‘Normality?’. Ranging from a film using drag to symbolise the transformative effects of medicine to a series of photographic portraits highlighting the impact of racism on mental health, all eight My Normality commissions are being showcased on the SMHAF website here.

Isla Cowan

Isla Cowan is a playwright and theatre-maker who suffered anorexia nervosa from the ages of 14 to 20. Though she is now classified as ‘recovered’, she says that intrusive negative thoughts about food and her body are still part of her normal everyday life. Isla has created Consumed, a new spoken-word audio piece addressing disordered eating.

Isla said: “Consumed is an audio work that explores the disorienting experience of eating disorder and the way in which negative, dangerous thoughts around food and the body are normalised in the media and in our society. Blending satirical sketches, details of eating disorder symptoms and statistics, and semi-confessional spoken word fragments, this audio piece delves into the messiness and complexity of connections between control, eating and the body.

“As well as navigating the all-consuming nature of negative body image, Consumed addresses the capitalist consumerism that paradoxically encourages ‘not consuming’ – encouraging dieting and weight loss – in order to sell products and make profit. I suffered anorexia nervosa as a teenager and am very lucky to be ‘recovered’, however, these thoughts still persist in day-to-day life, as they do for many people, fueled by depictions of ‘success’ and ‘perfection’ we see in the media. This is part of the normality of our society, one that is obsessed with body image and consumption. Eating disorders and body image issues manifest in different ways for different people. While a ten minute audio work could never fully explore all the potential experiences at play, I hope it will resonate with many.”

Listen to Consumed by Isla Cowan here

Iona Roberts

Iona Roberts is a visual artist who describes her work as “a pilgrim, a pathway for me to reach and find my way home”, and who has spent lockdown “responding to the local landscape, journaling and drawing my dreams and memories, exploring further my inner landscape as well as the external world”. Iona has created a new series of mixed media drawings as a “a cathartic map of my inner world”.

Iona said: “Who is to say what is normal given that we are all different? As a highly sensitive person, I experience the world around me and emotions intensively which can, often unintentionally, be invalidated by others around me. I have found through the pandemic that my art has been an emotional escape and has given me the headspace to express difficult emotions and experiences. My Normality has been an amazing opportunity, giving me support for me to work cathartically and build a series of drawings exploring my dreams and memories about trying to find somewhere as well as the opera Bluebeard’s Castle by Bartok. A selection of these works will be exhibited at the Compass Gallery where I am soon to have a solo show, as well as the Kilmorack Gallery.”

View Iona Roberts’s artworks here

My Normality

Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts programme officer for the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic the media has been full of phrases like ‘the new normal’ and ‘going back to normal’. But everybody’s normality is different, and that was always going to affect how the Covid-19 lockdown impacted on people’s mental health.

“With this commission we wanted to explore what ‘normality’ means to artists across Scotland, during lockdown in particular but also before and after. The quality, variety and volume of proposals we received was incredible. We had originally planned to choose six but the shortlist was so strong that ultimately we decided to support eight; we wish we could support them all. We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who applied and that we hope we can find other ways to support your work in the future.”

The other six commissioned artists are Bonnie MacRae, Djana Gabrielle, Eilidh Morris, Jordy Deelight, Jack Webb and Nikki Kilburn. You can find out more about them and view their work here

My Normality is supported by Creative Scotland as part of the programme for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2021. 

Header Image: Bluebeard’s Kingdom by Iona Roberts