Representations of Mental Illness Through Media

Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt from February 12th to March 28th at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Written by Balbina Yang

Mental illness has always been stigmatized, considered by the general public as something to be ashamed about. Through the decades, however, mental illness has gradually become more accepted or, at least, more known. However, mental illness covers an even wider spectrum than just depression and anxiety. Through a variety of media such as embroidery and chiffon curtains, Leslie Holt’s Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art embraces the variety of mental illness itself. 

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A common theme through the exhibition is Holt’s use of embroidery. Depression Stain (knotted) is exactly what the title suggests: various colored threads are knotted in order to show how depression appears in the brain. Most of the knots are shades of blue, but some of them are vibrant, such as the yellows and oranges. These brighter spots allow the viewers to understand that depression is not all gloom. Furthermore, the knots give the piece a visually stimulating appearance because it provides texture. This texture renders the work 3D, which is tantamount because it gives the piece an organic feel and thereby heightens it from a sterile image of a brain scan to a more human one. 

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Another piece that utilizes embroidery is Bipolar Stain (steady). This piece is juxtaposed by acrylic paint of pinks and yellows. Unlike the previous artwork, however, Bipolar Stain (steady) isn’t knotted. In fact, in frontal view, the embroidery seems to be arbitrary marks stitched throughout the piece. From the back is a different story: these marks are actually the words “Steady.” This duality not only requires active participation from the viewers, but it also challenges the viewers on their perceptions of mental illness: superficially, mental illness may be indiscernible but through its depths, there is clarity. 

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While embroidery is a motif in Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art, Holt also takes advantage of oil paint in order to portray her message. Anxiety Scrape is a small square of canvas that features a brain scan of greens, oranges, and blues against a backdrop of pink. Just like Depression Stain (knotted), this piece relies on texture. The paint isn’t smooth but rather streaked across the canvas. Although streaked, there is a kind of placidity apparent in the piece holistically. This technique seems to reflect the state of anxiety; that, although there may be blips, there is also a sense of order. 

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Embroidery and painting aren’t the only media featured in this exhibition. Chiffon makes a special appearance through Holt’s chiffon curtains of the brain scans. This piece is wholly different from the others in that it acts as both an interior furnishing and a barrier from the outside world. Mental illness may be more acknowledged in this day and age, but it is still stigmatized. Sometimes, too, people with mental illness may just want to escape from reality and just reflect in the privacy of their own mind. These curtains surround the back nook in the gallery where visitors can come and lounge in the bean bags and just relax in peace. 

Holt embraces a variety of media to celebrate the wide spectrum of mental illness. She doesn’t shy away from combining these media in order to emphasize that mental illness is just as varied as the people who have them. Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art is not just a display of colorful brain scans; it celebrates – accepts – mental illness in a place that doesn’t always do so. 

Leslie Holt’s work is included in Neuro Blooms: Mixed Media Art by Leslie Holt at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from February 12th to March 28th. 

For more information on Leslie Holt, visit https://www.leslieholt.net/



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