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World’s first major exhibition on hearing voices opens in Durham


Oct 11, 2016

The world’s first major exhibition on hearing voices (auditory hallucinations) is taking place at Durham University’s Palace Green Library from 5 November 2016 to 26 February 2017.

Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration and the everyday is the first exhibition of its kind to examine this experience from different cultural, clinical, historical, literary and spiritual perspectives.

Hearing voices that other people cannot hear is often dismissed as a symptom of severe mental illness. This new free exhibition shows that it is a part of human experience that is often rich in meaning and aims to challenge the stereotypical view of voice-hearers and the stigma attached to the experience of voice-hearing.

The exhibition examines the distress experienced by voice-hearers diagnosed with mental illness, while also looking at the everyday contexts in which people hear voices.

It shows voice-hearers’ testimonies from across the world, original artworks by young people, and voice-hearing experiences in different contexts including imaginary friends in childhood and when suffering bereavement.

Rachel Waddingham, Chair of Intervoice, the International Hearing Voices Network, voice-hearer and contributor to the exhibition, says: “Whilst hearing voices is a relatively common human experience, many voice-hearers live their lives feeling afraid to speak out in case they are discriminated against.

“This exhibition invites us to step beyond the stereotypes and explore the multi-faceted experience of voice-hearing. It celebrates our diversity, and helps to send a message that it’s OK to hear voices – and we can all talk about it. If I had heard this, as a young person who heard voices, it might have changed my life.”

With material spanning seven centuries – including rare manuscripts, devotional objects, art installations and interactive displays – the exhibition also explores the divine voices heard by medieval mystics, the links between voice-hearing and literary creativity, and the inspirational stories of members of the international Hearing Voices Movement.

The exhibition is informed by research carried out at Durham University by Hearing the Voice. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, Hearing the Voice is a large interdisciplinary study of voice-hearing covering clinical, psychological, neuroscientific, philosophical, linguistic, sociological, theological and literary approaches to the phenomenon.

Dr Angela Woods Co-director of Hearing the Voice at Durham University and academic lead for the exhibition, says: “This exhibition sheds new light on a much maligned and commonly misunderstood experience. Many people immediately link voice-hearing with particular forms of distress or psychiatric diagnoses, but this exhibition shows that there are many different types of voices rich with personal, cultural, religious and historical significance.”


Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • The only surviving original manuscript of Julian of Norwich’s short text of Revelations of Divine Love (early 15th Century) on loan from the British Library for the first time. This is the first book in English known to have been authored by a woman. Julian of Norwich was an English anchoress and an important Christian mystic and theologian.
  • Virginia Woolf’s manuscripts for Mrs Dalloway and her autobiographical essay Sketch of the Past, also on loan from the British Library. Virginia Woolf is among the most famous writers to have heard voices.
  • The Isle is Full of Noises – A sound and animation installation by South African artist Victoria Hume about the experience of hearing voices.
  • Original artworks produced by young people (aged 14-24) from Bradford, Leeds and Durham who have personal experience of hearing voices.
  • Powerful personal testimonies from voice-hearers across the world which help tell the story of the international Hearing Voices Movement, and the fight for an end to stigma and discrimination against people who hear voices.

Hearing Voices will be of particular interest to a number of special interest groups: people with a personal and professional interest in mental health; members of faith groups, particularly those in the Christian tradition; writers and lovers of literature; artists and art historians.


Hearing Voices: Suffering, Inspiration and the Everyday will open at Palace Green Library on Saturday 5 November 2016 and run until 26 February 2017. It will be open TuesdaySunday, 10am-5pm, and Monday 12noon-5pm.  Entry to the exhibition and all associated events is free of charge.


The exhibition is supported by a dedicated web site http://www.hearingvoicesdu.org

By Emily