My ongoing series “Dat Bipolar Lyfe/Scrap Notes” is an autobiographical comic exploration of navigating life as a femme with mental illness. In our society there are illnesses divided by public perception “safe” and “dangerous”. While any illness is a cross to bear, one that comes with social stigma put an individual against so many more odds.
People love to champion a white, put-together, ‘safe’ middle class person while they perform a kind of monkey-dance feel good story about “overcoming” depression or anxiety. Heck, I have been that person. But the support and enthusiasm dries up pretty quickly when more “taboo” and nuanced stories arise. Psychosis. Substance abuse and addiction. Eating disorders (especially experienced by folx with larger bodies). Anger. Sexual abuse. Trauma. Suicide….Suddenly people become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s confusing or threatening or maybe they’d rather have the privilege of just not thinking about it. They look away.
This drawing series has a two-fold purpose; the first is a kind of art therapy that helps me express my emotions and challenges. The second is to share some of them. Letting others bare eyes on this gritty stuff is kind of gross and embarrassing. But it also gives people to bear witness to some of the more taboo stuff, for a moment, validating its existence as a very (albeit often steered-around) real thing.
Selections from this series have been exhibited in group shows in Vancouver (2018) and Edmonton (2020), as well as online for the 2020 Bi+Arts Festival Crush Zine. With that being said, it is very much a work in progress, the final goal of which I have yet to discover. I didn’t set about this practice with some lofty goals or concepts to woo a jury or look great in a gallery. It was very much a private, personal journey into an expressive practice that helps me get through life. However, do think it is important to talk about some of this stuff that is more taboo. Response I have received from people to the bits and pieces of this series I have shared has confirmed this.
If these scraps of paper serve no purpose other than a means for personal survival, I am grateful. However, as this process unfolds I wonder if they might serve as a starting point for further work sharing my story & fighting stigma around mental illness.
Click here to explore posts related to this project.
Edmonton Journal (Jan 28,2021):Exhibit and artist talk on isolation and mental health couldn’t be better timed by Jenny Feniak