• Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

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Student with PTSD challenges mental health stigma through art

2023pr019pic1Su Devine at her ‘Curios of the Mind’ exhibition at Abject Gallery

“My aim is to get people to have open conversations about their feelings”

A University of Sunderland student is aiming to break down the stigma around mental health with her first professional solo art exhibition.

Su Devine’s exhibition – ‘Curios of the Mind’ – has opened at Abject Gallery on Fawcett Street, Sunderland.

The free exhibition – which runs until March 4 and has been curated by Breeze Creatives and Sunderland Fine Art graduate and local artist Katie Carr – is inspired by Su’s love of curiosity shops as well as her passion for mental health awareness.

Through a series of sculpture, painting and mixed media works, the exhibition explores how negative societal perceptions of mental health conditions can adversely affect sufferers.

Su, 51, said: “My work is thought-provoking, and my aim is to get people to have open conversations about their feelings and others, while highlighting the need to end the negative stigma about mental health instead of poorly suffering in silence.

“At the moment my favourite piece in the exhibition is a life-size clay cast head with all the cogs and workings of the mind visible.”

Alongside Su’s sculptural pieces is a selection of paintings called ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’. Having had years of different types of therapies herself, Su found the one common phrase used throughout is “there is light at the end of the tunnel”. However, for Su, “the light” often seemed out of reach and these paintings represent that feeling.

Su, from Whitley Bay, came to study her passion later in life, graduating from the University in 2021 with a First Class degree in Fine Art at the age of 50.

After being diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following a work-related incident in 2017, Su didn’t leave the house for many months and even now can struggle going out alone.

However, Su, who is now studying MA Visual Practice, has found her university studies have played a significant role in her therapy.

“Expressing my feelings artistically helps me,” she said.

“The University has been a great support; the tutors and technicians are very understanding and are happy to rearrange times to suit me when I am unwell. This has made my time studying at Sunderland much more accessible.”

Su added: “I really hope this exhibition shines a light on mental health and generates conversation to help end the negative stigma attached to it.”

Professor Arabella Plouviez, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries at the University of Sunderland, said: “It is really exciting that Su has this solo exhibition, we are so proud of her as she has grown her art practice.

“It is not easy to make work that explores such complicated issues as mental health and the stigma surrounding it, it is much harder when you are drawing on your own experiences and using that to engage your audience. Su, however, has managed this, creating thought-provoking and evocative works. I’m sure that this solo exhibition will be the first of many.”