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Eternal Maternal: New Exhibition at the Bethlem Gallery

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Perinatal Unit at the Bethlem Gallery, the new Gallery exhibition will consist of paintings, drawings, sculpture and photography exploring the theme of motherhood. Experiencing mental health problems during motherhood, or as a result of it, can still invoke stifling social taboos and stigmas. The trail-blazing service was designed to treat mothers whilst accommodating their babies at the same time rather than separating them. It has helped many families to recover and live fulfilling lives. The artworks have been made by artists, past and present, who have used the services of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Among the large-scale oil paintings and intimate sketches, the exhibition also features photography by patients from the Perinatal Unit, who have used the medium as a therapeutic tool.

Denise, a former patient of the unit, recounts her experiences of Bi-polar disorder and post partum psychosis, and the time she spent on the unit: “I think the mother and baby unit saved my life. At the Bethlem it was wonderful to be surrounded by people with such great experience… I was under 24-hour care and my daughter was with me from the start, which was a huge thing… You know, it would have been such a different experience without my daughter there with me. With her, I felt people trusted me. I wasn’t so barmy, and it was a reality check because my child needed me…. I was involved in occupational therapy sessions like digital photography, baby massage – which was lovely – and, oh yes, taking walks around the garden in the morning…. It’s so good when you see the medication working. Chemically, there’s a big difference between being ill and getting better. Your thoughts are paranoid and jumbled and then slowly you start to come out of the fog. All the time, there’s a net around you – people you can turn to; people who can see when you’re having a bad day.”

Women who experience difficulties often feel afraid of seeking help in case their parenting ability is questioned, and they risk losing their child. These days, wherever possible, mental health services try to help families to stay together, and to provide specialist support to keep people in their lives. The exhibition celebrates the remarkable achievements of the people involved and shows a wide variety of mediums, styles and perspectives. This moving subject matter encompasses tenderness, distress and jubilation in equal measure, all told from personal viewpoints whilst carrying messages which have universal resonance.

The exhibition opens on Wednesday 31 August, 3 - 6pm.

Exhibition continues: 1 - 23 September, Wednesday - Friday 11am - 6pm

Museum & Gallery open Saturday 3rd Sept, 11am - 5pm

Free Entry - All Welcome!

Address: Bethlem Royal Hospital | Monks Orchard Road | Beckenham | Kent | BR3 3BX

Travel: Nearest British Rail: Eden Park / East Croydon