The most recent study by the World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 4 people throughout the world suffers from some form of mental illness, yet the stigma surrounding these disorders remains as resolute as ever, evidenced by an assortment of stereotypes ranging from the idea that these individuals are incapable of leading functional and productive lives to the morbid assumption that they are inherently a danger to others. Mood Ring, an ongoing pop-up exhibition at Wayfarers in Brooklyn, seeks to dismantle these preconceptions, or at the very least, to open a dialogue about them through the works of six artists going through the throes of mental health disorders.
The exhibition comes as a reaction to a cultural climate of branded, superficial happiness promoted and enforced by social media: “I think there is great pressure in today’s society to be ‘100%, 100% of the time,’" Brittany Brittany Natale, the curator of the exhibition, tells The Creators Project. "We live in an ‘I'm fine’ culture where people may sometimes be afraid to share how they are really fearing or doing for fear of not being understood correctly." Mood Ring hopes to shake up this element of the status quo.
Predominantly paintings, occasionally interspersed with photography and textual works, the pieces in Mood Ring are often direct portrayals of mental illness and the accompanying, endured stigmas these individuals suffer. In one of Cali Sales' works, a lone, sulking figure dips her feet into a dark otherworldly pool floating in the abyss. Grace Miceli's painting of a Frosted Flakes cereal box reads “I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM ANYMORE, HAHA HA HA HA!” instead of the usual logo and slogan. Six kabuki masked figures mockingly stare at two identical individuals consoling one another inside of a hole in a work by Kitty Nalgas.
Other works portray mental health more equivocally, attempting to represent the hard-to-describe mental space of someone dealing with these disorders. Bianca Valle's paintings are soft, pastel splatterings where each color overlaps and dilutes one another to form a nebulous mass of gentle, if hard to comprehend, beauty. A photo by Samera Paz shows a woman in a kitchen clasping an improvised flower vase tightly, a seemingly benign if confusing act that appears to be offering some form of solace to the person.
Ultimately one question remains at the heart of Mood Ring: Can art change the face of mental illness? Natale is optimistic regarding the change her platform can bring: “My goal through Mood Ring is to redecorate the house in which mental illness lives. To redraw the common image that people have of mental health, while also simultaneously bringing to light that this is something so profoundly human in its purest state—emotion, feeling, depth—something that should be given acute attention to.”
“Because of this, I am developing programming, including more art shows and supportive spaces, that will help further open the dialogue," she continues. "As someone experiencing anxiety firsthand, I knew that one show just would not be enough, that this conversation has to be continued indefinitely. This show was just the very tip of the iceberg.”