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‘Giving Voice’ to mental illness and trauma

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1_20180828-061059_1 'Endless Darkness' by Emma McEvoy, 2012

'Giving Voice' is a new exhibition of creative works from the Cunningham Dax Collection that showcases the art of people living with mental illness. The Cunningham Dax Collection is the only collection of its type and size in the Southern Hemisphere and consists of more than 16,000 artworks created by people with lived experience of mental illness or psychological trauma.

The collection was founded by Dr Dax, an English psychiatrist who moved to Melbourne when he was appointed as the Chairman of the Mental Hygiene Authority in 1951. Dr Dax was a firm believer in the power of art therapy to help people impacted by mental illness and psychological trauma improve their mental health. He introduced innovative art therapy programs into Victoria's psychiatric hospitals and salvaged thousands of artworks created within these programs when the hospitals began to be shut down in the 1980s.

'Mower Metal Burnt' by Theinert Werner, 2009

Dr Dax died in 2008 but his legacy lives on in the Cunningham Dax Collection. The Dax Centre's programs utilise the collection to promote mental health through the use of art. In the early 2000s, the collection was expanded to include artworks created by artists and community groups living with mental illness in the present day.

The goals of the Dax Centre are very similar to our own – in fact, in January 2018, SANE merged with The Dax Centre. This merger will allow us to collaborate with The Dax Centre on new programs which counter stigma and promote awareness, and ensure the ongoing care of creative works in the Cunningham Dax Collection.

'The Vinegar Woman' by Joan Rodriquez, 1991

The 'Giving Voice' exhibition includes works on paper, canvases, photographs, textiles, sculptures, installations, artists' books and diaries, digital media and films. Some works are bright and colourful; others are dark and atmospheric. Some speak directly to lived experiences of mental illness while others refer to life-changing events like the Black Saturday bushfires that swept through rural Victoria in 2009.

What they all have in common is that they show how important 'giving voice' is to people affected by mental illness, who often face discrimination or feel disempowered. Dr Dax passionately believed the creative arts could be used to improve understanding of mental illness and increase empathy within the community at large. He foresaw the usefulness of art as therapy in clinical settings and was instrumental in the formation of Lifeline, one of the first telephone support services in the world for people in crisis.

‘Hairy Harry’ by Grame Doyle, undated

'Giving Voice' is located within The Dax Centre, which is open every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday between 12-5pm. The only way to view the works on display is to visit, as several pieces cannot be photographed or shared on social media. This is because they were created by people living in psychiatric hospitals as far back as the 1940s and are protected by the Health Records Act. Raw, personal and powerful, they tell important stories of treatment, isolation and stigma.

Group bookings are welcomed. Learn more about our merger with the Dax Centre here.

Full image credits:

Emma McEvoy
Endless Darkness
, 2012
Digital print on rag
The Cunningham Dax Collection

Werner Theinert
Mower Metal Burnt
, 2009
Digital print on meta
The Cunningham Dax Collection

Joan Rodriquez
The Vinegar Woman,
Oil pastel and watercolour on paper
The Cunningham Dax Collection

Graeme Doyle
Hairy Harry the Happy Head,
Digital print reworked with felt pen, correction fluid and ink on paper
The Cunningham Dax Collection

For more information about complex mental illness, call the SANE Help Centre on 1800 187 263 or view SANE's Facts + Guides for concise information on the symptoms, diagnoses and treatments available.

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