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Facing Challenges in Displaying and Interpreting Mental Health in Museums - Part Two

In this short series of blog posts on the museum’s current temporary exhibition The Four Ages of Woman, I will focus on this question, tweeted by @catherineh_ms

“What are the main challenges around displaying and interpreting mental health in museums?

In the first post, I focussed on one of the main challenges of interpreting mental health in our temporary exhibitions; writing effective text, and in particular, contextualising artwork with artists’ biographical information.

Some artists represented in the collection have no biographical or contextual information recorded alongside them (there are also many works in the collection by anonymous artists) and in these cases reading the artwork is absolutely key to using it within an exhibition.

Ldbth91  Psychadelic  Woman B

Psychedelic Woman (undated) by Linda Bamford, on display in The Four Ages of Woman exhibition is such an image. In the painting’s catalogue entry there is very little information about the artist or many details surrounding the painting’s entry into the collection. Looking at the components of the painting, its style and the use of colour, information can be surmised not only about the message of the artwork, and perhaps even about the artist themselves. In the absence of biographical information, we could conflate the experience of the central figure with that of the artist.

The hands of the woman in this painting are held up in a stance that could be interpreted as an act of resistance or submission, suggesting a reaction to an unseen force of domination – the male gaze, perhaps. The psychedelic woman is rendered in colours that convey warmth and in shapes, lines and patterns that convey nature, movement and majesty. These jar with the subject’s stance and the worried expression on her face. The painting was chosen to be included in the exhibition because of the figure’s countenance; she is clearly demonstrating distress. Within The Four Ages of Woman exhibition, we chose to supplement the lack of background information with further research into gender disparities and mental health diagnoses, as it supported the exhibition’s overarching aim - to explore women’s mental health.