CHENNAI: Bengalurean Sonaksha Iyengar has started an illustrative series online titled A-Z of Mental Health to initiate conversations on mental health and several of its symptoms. Excerpts follow...
What made you start this series on mental health?
Often, since mental illnesses and disorders are invisible, they are not acknowledged and sometimes even ridiculed. After having numerous conversations with friends about the stigma associated with it and facing difficulties with the way people approach the subject, I really wanted to create something tangible to start a conversation. Sometimes words cannot describe the chaos in the brain, whether it is a bundle of emotions or a mental disorder. The hope is that everyone knows they are not alone and that their struggle is acknowledged, whether it is someone who battles their mental health everyday or a caregiver watching someone go through it.
How do you pick the mental health conditions you work on?
I spend time reading various forums that talk about mental health and collaborate those discussions and finally narrow it down based on the issues that I want to address immediately. Some of them are well known but also end up being on the receiving end of a lot of myths that need to be busted. When its disorders/illnesses that people aren’t aware about, I hope they won’t dismiss it the next time they hear of it. I also hope to continue illustrating them even after I’m done with Z and do as many as possible.
What do you hope to convey to the audience? It seems like an experience but there is also text, so is it also meant to be educative in a way?
I have had my own struggles and experiences with mental health and illnesses and they have always made their way to my work, whether it is writing or illustrating. It is time to have honest conversations with each other about the importance of mental health. There are many layers to what I hope people will take out of this. Some of them are:
It is disheartening to see people make assumptions about mental health, illnesses and disorders. We hear things like ‘Get over it’, ‘Stop asking for attention’, ‘Liars’, ‘It’s just a phase’ etc all the time and it is really unfair to make such statements to people who go through that. Awareness will help us make a start in the right direction towards kindness and empathy. So with the series, I hope to address mental health using a combination of emotions that a lot of us feel in varying intensities.
When you’re struggling with your mental health it is really hard to answer ‘How are you’ questions because you never really know. So I hope that I’m able to reach out to people who are fighting these battles with their health. By doing this, they do get a kind of comfort as they know that someone is at least making an attempt to understand how you feel (smiles). Also, people must spend at least a few minutes of their day reading up on these topics and discussing them with other people.
The images seem like a glimpse of the experience of the illness itself. Do you talk to people who are living with a condition before you paint them?
I would love to work on projects that will be based on interactions, but in future. For now I have browsed mental health forums, read experiences, and stories of people with a certain disorder.
What is your medium?
For my latest work, I’ve used a mix of water colour and digital media.
What is the reaction you have got so far?
I’m truly moved by the kind of responses people have had so far. People have sent in direct messages sharing their stories and telling me how touched they are that I was able to highlight aspects of their illness that no one understood. That for me is the best possible outcome. We can’t even imagine the challenges that so many people are going through every day. And for an illustration to be able to help them feel comfortable for even a few moments is truly heartwarming!
Artists you’re inspired by...
Jessica Walsh and Adam J Kurtz
(Check out her instagram page at: www.instagram.com/sonaksha/)