Treasured objects and tacit acts of resistance in a psychiatric hospital…

Last week I was sent a DVD with all the photos I took when I was attending the photography studio at START, the arts mental health project in Manchester, over 2 years ago.
I remember one particular session- back in February 2010-  for  which  the START photography tutor had asked us to bring objects that we treasured to the studio…we used our treasured objects together with objects at the studio we could  choose from to create compositions which we then photographed.
I chose to take two painted silk scarves to the photography studio, which  I had painted during Occupational Therapy (OT)  sessions that I attended when I was detained in Park House, North Manchester General Hospital, for 3 months back in 2009…I did art in OT sessions twice a week in Park House…the two painted silk scarves had become significant and treasured objects for me.
The art sessions in Park House were facilitated by an OT Technician…I will call him Daniel here (not his real name)…I remember how much I enjoyed doing artwork with Daniel  and how the artwork with Daniel was the   only thing I was looking forward to whilst detained at Park House…the OT artwork was the only meaningful activity on offer there…I also  remember that Daniel (and his OT boss) were perhaps the only people in Park House who treated me as a human being as opposed to a very ill moron lacking capacity and insight- a human being with creative potential, with a biography, with interests and with intelligence, a human being that is worth respecting…I remember Daniel’s warmth towards me and his support and encouragement with the artwork… I remember we used to talk about films during the sessions together…Daniel had sussed out that I loved films…

Psychiatric wards are dehumanising places most of the time…Willow Ward at Park House was too given the complete lack of a therapeutic culture and staff-patient meaningful engagement there… but fortunately there was a crack in that lack of humanity and compassion…and that crack was Daniel…the art sessions with him twice a week  represented  an oasis of creativity, humanity and compassion in the soul-destroying and spirit-crashing environment of the ward where I was deprived of my liberty…Daniel represented a crack, an oddity, a transgression,  a contradiction to the inhumanity of the ward and I guess what he was doing with the patients  arguably signified tacit acts of resistance and subversion, although he would certainly not call it that himself…I am reminded here of a paper by Helen Spandler discussing  the notion of psychiatric spaces as potentially paradoxical and controversial places where one can detect contradictions, inconsistencies and cracks to the system which can potentially work subversively (Spandler, 2009 ‘Spaces of psychiatric contention: a case study of a therapeutic community’,  Health & Place, 15, 672-678).

My two colourful silk scarves that I painted with Daniel’s help have been significant and  treasured objects for me since my discharge from Park House  in 2009- poignant reminders of  a particularly painful time in my life but also of Daniel and what he came to represent for me, ie a transgressive presence of humanity and compassion within a dehumanising psychiatric regime. Earlier this year I went to Park House (first time after 4 years) and met with Daniel. I wanted to see him again and express my gratitude. Both of us were really emotional during that meeting.
My two painted silk scarves feature in a number of the photos I took at the START photography studio back in February 2010. I think these photos – some of them presented below- turned out rather well…

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