Film - Making Sense: Art and Mental Health
Film - Making Sense: Art and Mental Health, 2016
5 minutes 42 seconds
Produced by Tiny Empire Collective for The Dax CentreContributors
This film is provided for research purposes only and must not be reproduced without the prior permission of the copyright holder.Copyright
The Dax Centre
The film gives an overview of the Cunningham Dax Collection which has over fifteen thousand works, comprised of paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photography and poetry. The works in the collection have all been produced by people who have had an experience of mental illness or psychological trauma.
The film features Sandy Jeffs, a Melbourne poet, who has the most poems in the Cunningham Dax Collection. Sandy's poetry is about more than mental illness, it is about her relationship with herself and the world.
Carly Richardson: The Cunningham Dax Collection is comprised of over fifteen thousand works. They can range from anything like paintings, photographs, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photography and poetry. They have been produced by people who have had an experience of mental illness or psychological trauma. Seven and a half to eight thousand of those works were produced by people who were institutionalised in Victoria between the 1950s and 1980s. And the other half of the collection is the contemporary collection and they are works that have been produced by artists or people who are practicing art and have an experience of mental illness or psychological trauma.
One of the artists in our collection is Sandy Jeffs and she is a Melbourne poet.
Jennifer Harrison: Sandy has the most poems in our collection. Sandy has a strong career as a poet outside the Dax Centre. Her poetry’s about more than mental illness, her poetry’s about her relationship with herself and the world.
Sandy Jeffs: My name is Sandy Jeffs and I am a poet who has lived with schizophrenia for forty years. I was diagnosed in 1976 when it was an absolute death sentence and the prognosis in those days was nothing, it was poor, it was seen that with every episode of schizophrenia I had, I’d go further into madness from which I’d never ever recover. And having this mental illness changed my life irrevocably and I started documenting my madness in poetry.
And what the poetry did was really important because when I held a poem on a bit of paper, that I had written, in my hands, that poem was evidence that I was actually alive.
By 1993, I had quite a few poems and it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Susan Hawthorne at Spinifex Press who I’d gone to university with, she said ‘I’d really like to publish your poems’. I went from being invisible in the world to being visible. I knew in my bones that I was more than just my label schizophrenia.
I’ve now had seven books of poetry published and a memoir.
Carly Richardson: I guess for us here, we want to promote to a broader community, different experiences of mental illness and psychological trauma and try to reduce stigma in the community about mental illness.
Jennifer Harrison: In every reading of a poet or listening to a poem there is an interaction that changes the listener. And if you think of how that interaction and that dynamic translate to community thinking, this is how I think stigma can be tackled.
Sandy Jeffs: It’s about inviting the reader into this strange, bizarre world that they might not know about but might find some inkling of understanding through reading the poems. And for people who have a mental illness and their carers, sometimes it’s about them recognising themselves in the poems or recognising their loved one and having a little more of a glimpse into what’s going on in their mind.
Carly Richardson: Someone like Sandy Jeffs is a really important advocate for anyone that has had an experience of mental illness because she doesn’t let it define her.
Sandy Jeffs: I just love writing poetry. I love the process, I love feeling creative, I love seeing the world through a poet’s eyes. It’s also for me a sign of good mental health to be writing poetry. I think it’s a sign that I’m okay. The more I write the weller I feel.
Carly Richardson: I think for everyone it’s a very individual experience and I think that’s what we want people to take away. We want people to reflect on how they’re feeling and if they’re okay and if they’re not what things can they do to help manage that situation.
It’s really important that people can walk away with some greater understanding of how different other people’s experiences can be from their own and hopefully they can walk away and either share that understanding with someone else or maybe be more understanding with others.
What is The Dax Centre
History of The Dax Centre
The Art of Psychiatry
Trees and Their Meaning
The Art of Ekphrasis
The Stigma of Mental Illness - Donna Lawrence
The Artist as Outsider
The Art of Reflection
Art in a Therapeutic Context Today
Story education resources
Education Making Sense: Art and Mental Health Education Kit
This Education Resource links to relevant learning outcomes for:
- VCE Psychology (Units 1 – 4),
- VCE Health and Human Development (Units 1-2),
- Health and Physical Education: Health and Promotion, AusVELS levels 8 – 10.
- Other areas that may be relevant are: VCE Art, VCE Studio Arts, Visual Arts AusVELS levels 8 – 10, Humanities (History) AusVELS level 10.