Mental Health Art Exhibition: AHEAD – Can Art Challenge, Engage and Agitate For Change?

In the midst of all the busyness of A-Head London 2018 Mental Health Art Exhibition, here’s why it’s all worth it. I had a sneak preview of the exhibition, and I highly recommend it. 

To become pioneers in mental health awareness and treatment isn’t easy, but psychiatrists Calapai and Lo Giudice have done just that. Their combination of mental health treatment and art therapy has attracted sponsorship from the likes of Vodafone, Pirelli, Nando & Elsa Peretti Foundation, among others.

A-Head London 2018 is the brainchild of Italian mental health charity Angelo Azzurro and international artists and DJs. Central to the exhibition is the contributions of artists who have experienced mental health difficulties themselves.  The charity works with patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, personality disorder and substance abuse. This brings a personal approach to the exhibition through a sense of shared narrative and open collaboration. A sense of identity, searching and self-realisation is evident in the work and many artworks represent rites of passage, stages of healing and self- affirming identity that many believed lost forever.

Through art, each patient-artists sense of individuality is heightened and the creative process becomes a tool to channel emotions and experiences that would not otherwise have emerged and been worked through in traditional therapeutic settings. Through the exhibition, the viewer is invited to experience elements of this journey for themselves. Thus, the artwork exudes a rawness and authenticity which makes it so exciting and captivating.  

“Through the exhibition, the viewer is invited to experience elements of this journey for themselves. Thus, the artwork exudes a rawness and authenticity which makes it so exciting and captivating.”

Barbara Salvucci, one of the participating artists. Photo credit: Ahead

This truly innovative approach to mental health recovery has been championed by Angelo Azzurro since 2009. Art therapy is combined with a more ‘traditional’ network of support professionals such as specialist nurses, psychiatrists, neuropsychiatrists, psychologists, professional teachers, psychiatric rehabilitation clinical workers, speech therapists, neuro-psychomotor therapists and nurses. The sale of these artworks also goes towards funding new workshops and new artwork production, so the patients actually have an active role in the whole process.

With time and experimentation, the approach of the charity has changed. Initially, artistic workshops were facilitated by healthcare assistants and professionals, with the artists present. Now, there is a much closer interaction between the patients and the artists themselves. The results are an ever greater sense of creativity and freedom, and ultimately, a more positive road to recovery. This move to true collaboration reflects the person-centred ethos at the core of the charity, and its willingness to change is one of the reasons for its great success. Like great artists, the organisation’s staff have absorbed new influences and made them their own.

Exhibition will feature Light Street by Luca Guatelli . Photo credit: Ahead

Such an innovative approach is clearly working. Demand has been so great that a new Angelo Azzurro premises in Rome has recently opened. The new premise will greatly increase the choice and availability of current psychiatric and psychological therapies. The new building is not only a place for psychotherapy but also a space for art exhibitions, training workshops, talks and seminars, art workshops and ultimately a space for constructive creativity. The positive, forward-thinking spirit of this vibrant new place is evident in the exhibition.

Ultimately, this is what good art should be like. A vehicle for self- expression that allows someone else a tiny glimpse into another world. Whether to engage, involve, challenge or agitate, good art demands engagement and draws attention to often otherwise silenced issues, experiences or perspectives. The A-HEAD event promises to fantastic experience that will linger long in the memory.

Book now:

Exhibition opening: Thursday 15th February, 6pm, 2018, No20 Gallery, Islington, London.

3 course fundraising dinner for Angelo Azzurro charity:  Saturday 13th February, 7pm, Kensington, London

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