What: Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond
Where: The Wellcome Collection
But…Why? Because we need to get talking about mental health. And if you don’t know where to start, The Wellcome Collection is a great place. Bedlam explores how the treatment of mental health as a subject evolved and developed throughout history. From patients being declared mentally ill by law, we learn how their inhumane treatment (including one patient being chained to the wall by his neck for 10 years) was challenged and protested both by those within and outside of asylums. It’s also interesting to see the public response to the psychiatric asylum shift from being seen as a social and spiritual refuge in ancient times, to being regarded as cruel and outmoded. Having been on a school trip to Bethlem Royal Hospital as a child (to see the patients’ art; they themselves were quite rightly out of reach of our prying eyes and grubby hands), made me appreciate reading about its history, from crumbling at the foundations to being regenerated and relocated to South London.
Bethlem’s rebirth coincided with the development of products, drugs and instruments, as well as the involvement of patients in their own treatment, through introducing therapy and encouraging artistic expression – the latter of which was especially effective for those who were unable to express themselves verbally. The collections of art and medical records borrowed from the Wellcome Library and Bethlem Museum of the Mind are particularly revealing in terms of how mental illness triggers a dysmorphic relationship between a patient’s body and their perception of how they physically fit into and interact with space. But on a more positive note, it was moving to see how sufferers of mental illness use art today to create and facilitate a dialogue about mental health and pose the question: can the ideal of the asylum as sanctuary ever be reclaimed?
The Wellcome Collection is at 183 Euston Road NW1 2BE, and will exhibit Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond until 15th January 2017.
Image Credits: Shana Molton, Restless Leg Saga, 2012 (above) and Eva Kot’átková, Asylum, 2013 (featured image).