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Student's art exhibition to tackle mental health stigma

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Published on 11 May 2022

Su Devine at her 'Curios of the Mind' exhibition
Su Devine at her 'Curios of the Mind' exhibition

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and one University of Sunderland student is using her creative talents to try and break down the stigma around mental health by holding her own unique art exhibition.

Having been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following a work-related incident in 2017, mental health is very much a central theme to mature student Su Devine’s work.

This can be seen in her latest exhibition, ‘Curios of the Mind’, which has been inspired by her love of curiosity shops as well as her passion for mental health awareness.

Su, who is studying MA Visual Practice, said: “My exhibition looks at various mental health conditions and I have tried to express how some of these feel to sufferers. 

“I chose a curiosity shop as a way to exhibit as I love looking around them and looking at all the odd little objects you find in them. As my work is so diverse it made sense that this would show the pieces off well, from paintings to small objects.

“There is one particular piece that represents my PTSD and how full my mind is all the time. It shows my inner voice working over-time. I chose to use metal for this as it’s a physically strong material, so it shows the strength of my bad thoughts.”

Su added: “What I want people to do after seeing my work is to talk about mental health. 

“Too long we have suffered the stigma and the only way to break that is to get people talking.”

At 51-years-old, Su, from Whitley Bay, came to study her passion later in life, graduating from the University last year with a First Class degree in Fine Art.

Following her PTSD diagnosis, Su didn’t leave the house for many months and even now can struggle going out alone.

However, Su has found her university studies have played a significant role in her therapy.

“When I am painting or working on a sculpture it is that that fills my mind, finally pushing all my negative thoughts away,” Su said.

“Even on my darkest days art can lift my mood and mindset.

“The staff at Sunderland are very understanding and have supported me massively, so much so that I am now able to come into the University on my own. With their help and support it has become a safe place for me. 

“I know that if I’m not feeling good, I have people that I can talk to, who will give me space and time with no judgement.”

Professor Kevin Petrie, Head of the School of Art and Design at the University of Sunderland, who officially opened Su’s exhibition, said: “I often pass through Su’s studio and have been fascinated to see her various sculptural elements in development. This includes doll heads, anatomical models, paintings, and concrete coated dresses. 

“What is now great to see is how these elements have been brought together in a complete immersive environment. This is intriguing and unsettling at the same time. This show is not to be missed and I think it will need several visits to really take it in.”

‘Curios of the Mind’ is a free exhibition and runs until Monday, 16 April, at the Showcase Gallery in the University of Sunderland’s Priestman Building.