Art exhibit is documentary about mental health, mental illness
Release Date: August 7, 2009
PLAINVIEW – Photographer Michael Nye has put a face on mental health through his artwork on display at the Abraham Art Gallery at Wayland Baptist University. But unique to this exhibit, Nye has also given it a voice.
In a traveling exhibition titled “Fine Line: Mental Health, Mental Illness,” San Antonio resident Nye provides a multimedia experience that not only shows the faces of mental illness but also provides a look inside their hearts. Paired with each black and white photograph, identified by first names only, is a sound module with a recorded testimonial from each of the subjects.
Brought to the gallery in partnership with the Central Plains Center, the Llano Estacado Alliance for Families and the Rural Children’s Initiative, “This exhibition allows an interesting collaboration between the arts and the social sciences, and will feature a series of free lectures by mental health professionals, psychology faculty, and subject matter experts,” said Dr. Candace Keller, professor of art and curator for the Abraham Gallery.
“The portraits are visually stunning and offer a deep gaze into the eyes of people whose lives have been dramatically altered by mental health issues. Nye has used his artistic abilities to bring focus to these individuals and their struggle to live normal lives. The lectures will offer more clarity and detail about specific disorders and should be of great interest to students, mental health professionals and the larger community.”
The gallery exhibit provides a much deeper look into the fine line between mental health and illness, one the artist felt was often ignored. His feelings on the subject are strong.
“I don’t know where mental health ends and mental illness begins. This exhibit is about the Fine Line that moves through all of our lives as we weave our ways forward. It is about the recognition of our vulnerabilities and the fragility of control,” said Nye, who before becoming a full-time artist was an attorney for 10 years. “Mental illness touches the deepest parts of who we are: our identity, self worth, the inability to communicate, confusion and loss of control. It can happen for no apparent reason and at any time. Every person has a chance of becoming mentally ill.
“The response to mental illness is wanting and waiting. It is ultimately about redemption, sadness, humility and dignity. There is an urgency for action. Today, as a result of mental illnesses, hundreds of thousands of our citizens, including the homeless and incarcerated, do not have financial support for care and treatment,” he adds.
Nye said it was his desire to educate the public more about mental illness that led to the project, which includes 55 portraits and has traveled to more than 30 cities nationwide after its 2003-04 opening at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. He ultimately hopes audiences will not breeze through the exhibits with their eyes only but will engage their ears to the stories shared by his subjects.
“Anyone who has been to these deep places knows something important and valuable. I thank all the individuals in this exhibit for their courage and for being our teachers, for enlarging and illuminating our lives,” he said. “I ask each person coming into the gallery to listen carefully. Throw away your old definitions of mental illness and start over. Listen to each story as if it could be you or your child or your friend or some stranger you will meet tomorrow.”
Nye has had more than 70 one-person exhibits in museums and galleries around the country, beginning with his first documentary project titled “Children of Children,” an exhibit about the reaching effects of teen pregnancy. He is set to launch his third project, “About Hunger” in January 2010.
He has lectured widely in Morocco, India and around the United States and has photographed
around the world. Nye has been a recipient of a Mid-America National Endowment for
the Arts grant in photography, Kronkosky Foundation grant and a participant in two
Arts America tours in the Middle East and Asia. He is married to poet Naomi Shihab
Nye and has one son, Madison.
“Fine Line” will be on display Aug. 14 through Sept. 28, with an opening reception featuring Nye at 6 p.m. on Aug. 14. The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular gallery hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturday, 2-5 p.m.
As part of the collaborative effort, Central Plains Center has planned a series of lectures on mental health topics to be offered periodically through the exhibit’s run at the gallery. Continuing education credits are available to licensed counselors, social workers and substance abuse counselors who attend the lectures.