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

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 two posts, I focussed on using artists’ biographical information when writing text, and the contrasting amounts of available information about two artists represented in this exhibition. Despite the archival information available about Stanley Lench and the contrasting lack of documentation about Lynda Bamford, discovering and appraising their respective works of art is arguably the most valuable and enjoyable undertaking for an exhibition visitor.

In some instances, works of art and lived experience are indistinct, and deliberately melded together. In Lisa Biles’ mixed media work Make Me Beautiful (c.2009), on loan to The Four Ages of Woman exhibition, the artist clearly communicates her experiences

Lisa Biles Beautiful

In her own words, Lisa Biles explained that

Make Me Beautiful... attempts to hoodwink popular culture by attacking social media and magazine publications. The pressure of perfection constantly surrounds us, and is impossible to turn off. It brainwashes the vulnerable to make them weak and to conform to the 'unreachable'. The body undergoing all kinds of treacherous ordeals to attain an impossible goal. I try to reverse this media poison by physically destroying the 'ideal' through cutting and tearing images from different media types. Only to piece back and recreate other images that tell a different story of 'me' having power and in control. A position where I control the media. A modern day Frankenstein.”

Although there are challenges involved in finding a balance between effectively and sensitively interpreting the art in our exhibitions, part of our organisational process is to continually work on improving and developing our output, by listening to the views of our visitors and stake holders.

When opening the new, rehoused Bethlem Museum of the Mind in 2015, artist Grayson Perry said “Art should not be viewed just as a visual culture but as an essential human process of self-exploration and communication. The work the gallery and museum do is of vital importance and will create a legacy for the understanding of mental health for years to come.”