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Letters to Cynthia - 3

Ldbth882 Sleeping Man 1975 B

Cynthia Pell, "Sleeping Man" (1975) LDBTH882

My Dear Cynthia,

I have to say sometimes you make my head hurt trying to sort out all of the complexities of your present. Sometimes I love getting lost in the maze of you. But other times it's exhausting. I’m sitting here writing to you in the gallery with your work all around me. There are moments of pause, of peace, connection, of agitation and despair. There is one particular pairing on one wall that gets me. To the left is a tenderly and carefully rendered sleeping man and the other is an abrupt depiction of a women agitated, seeming to be in the midst of erratic movement. I want to pluck them off the wall and move them apart so I can look at one and then look at the other in different spaces. I would put the sleeping man in my bedroom and the agitated women in a room with lots of windows and open space. To compartmentalise one as being separate from the other. But these images coexisted in the life in the E1 locked ward that you lived. It is my own desire for an order and safety, the naive desire to simplify that which I have internalised as incompatible. You make my head hurt Cynthia in the transparent recording of people. You make them real in a way I do not always wish to see or digest. But you make me see what remains blissfully unseen to most, what I need to see, even as it troubles me. Discomforts me. And I am grateful, grateful to have the time and space here to struggle to reconcile your lived experience, one image with another in a single space. It’s in the muddled in-between spaces that I grow best. I’m growing Cynthia, with you, here, in this place and space. I’m ending this one now so my mind can take a rest and process your work I have been taking into myself for a while now. It’s strange that while I’ve been sitting here in your solace, your art, it has not given me any. But it’s not about me is it? It's about you. It’s about us, our silent dialogue.

A stranger and a friend,


Helen is completing her workplace at the Bethlem Museum of the Mind in conjunction with her master’s degree work in Museum Education at the University College London. Join Helen to learn and chat about Cynthia’s life, and life’s work at the museum on Saturday 25 August at 14.00. Click here for more information and to reserve your free tickets.

Ldbth949   Agitated Woman B

Cynthia Pell, "Agitated Woman" LDBTH949