Stigma is Bananas: a conversation

| Fri 2 Aug 2019

This year artsdepot Open celebrates its 15th anniversary. The Open call-out invited artists, both emerging and established, from across the UK to submit their work. We received over 300 artworks, 83 artworks were submissions by students.

Becky Dann is Marketing Assistant at artsdepot and an emerging photographer. She uses photography to explore disability and the stigma around it, and finds passion in work that challenges perceptions of disability and mental health.

In this blog, Becky speaks to Julianne Chauhan about her photography piece STIGMA IS BANANAS, a self-portrait in protest of the stigma around mental health.

Becky Dann: Could you give a bit of background to why you created the photography piece STIGMA IS BANANAS?

Julianne Chauhan: I created the piece STIGMA IS BANANAS around the stigma I have faced being diagnosed Schizoaffective (Bipolar and Schizophrenic). I created the piece as part of a module for a master’s course in Photography at Sunderland University.

I wanted to do a humorous series tackling mental health that was tongue in cheek. I did preparatory work around English idioms such as "away with the fairies" and "lost my marbles" and "bats in the belfry". I found it quite liberating as I took selfies based around each idiom, I dressed up as a fairy, surrounded myself with marbles and put plastic bats on my head.

I choose self-portraiture as I found it both more ethical and personal than asking other people with a similar diagnosis. I first started out in my garden and house and then progressed to the studio where STIGMA IS BANANAS was taken.

The title is from the phrase "gone bananas" as in crazy but it’s got a more socially activist message in the poster.

BD: How long have you been creating work around mental health?

JC: I didn't create work around mental health for a long time, it seemed too sensitive. But eight months ago I started thinking of doing self-portraiture and lampooning the discrimination I have faced. I wanted to challenge and subvert classic representation of mental health as tragic or pitiable. I wanted something humorous and celebratory.

BD: Photography has traditionally challenged people's perceptions by depicting other truths. Think of Diane Arbus, for example. Why do you think it is important to challenge the stigma around mental health through photography?

JC: So often our society is confident it challenges mental health through talking about anxiety and depression. This is a positive step but psychosis affects a significant portion of the population and this is rarely part of public debate. 1 in 100 have schizophrenia, 1 in 200 have schizoaffective disorder. This might seem small but think of your school year, if you had a large year chances are someone you grew up with will face these issues at some point in their life. Further to this 1 in 10 have hallucinated at some point in their lives.

I think it’s important to challenge stigma directly, it’s important for people to challenge stereotypes and change media misrepresentation of psychosis. Psychosis is human and relevant to understand, neither in a derogatory nor glamorous way. Society's prejudice is so enveloped in the media's misrepresentations of psychotics as dangerous it forgot that these are exceptions that made the news.

Life is full of rich and rewarding paths for every person and just because someone experiences the world different to you it doesn't make their life any less true or worthy.

BD: What has the reception been for your photograph?

JC: I'm very pleased with the reception as it got into the artsdepot shortlist! I've never managed to get into a competition before so this is a big step for me.

BD: Has applying to the Open and having your work chosen encouraged you to get your work out there more?

JC: Getting into the artsdepot Open exhibition has given me more confidence and I am in the process of getting my work out there further.

To see Julianne’s work and more artwork by artists across the UK, visit artsdepot Open in our Apthorp Gallery until Fri 30 Aug. Open Mon - Sat, 10am - 4pm.

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