A global cultural initiative called Wellcome Trust is using science to take on the biggest health challenges that humanity is facing currently — health deterioration from climate change, infectious disease, and mental health. The initiative organizes advocacy campaigns, forms global partnerships, and funds ambitious global projects and researchers from various disciplines whose aim is to create a healthier and happier world. Wellcome’s aim is to understand people beyond existing networks and find insights into their lives through locally grounded interactions in international settings.
It was this vision that prompted Wellcome Trust to create the cultural enterprise, Mindscapes, whose aim is to re-invent how we interpret, address and talk about mental health by bringing together stalwarts from the fields of cultural, policy, and research. The project is particularly important and challenging at the same time in a place like India, where mental health is still viewed as taboo. Even though the educated urban crowd has access to mental health, the concept of mental health still eludes most of India’s population. The objective of Mindscapes is to create a safe space for conversation around mental health, and then further use that space to further address mental health concerns and issues, and spread awareness.
Wellcome’s Mindscapes project in India is a partnership with the Museum of Art & Photography (Bengaluru), along with partner entities, National Institute for Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), and UnBox Cultural Futures Society which is curating and producing Mindscapes Bengaluru. At the helm of the Mindscapes Bengaluru project, is renowned Bengaluru-based visual artist Indu Antony, who is also the artist in residence at the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP).
During Antony’s Mindscapes residency, she worked with several anganwadis (community centers) to create safe spaces for women, where they exchanged stories of mental health and well-being. All these stories culminated into collective artwork. Art is a vital essence of the cultural landscape of any city. In a city like Bengaluru, multiple identities co-exist with varied languages and dialects which occasionally intersect each other. In a structure where expressing mental health is excluded, what is the language one needs to create that will enable these women of Bengaluru to express their joy, relief, sadness, trauma, and more? That is the crux of what Antony’s project seeks to explore. The project seeks to weave a sense of togetherness in the fabric of the city with art permeating its spaces.
Antony’s exhibition will be showcased at three places — the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), the artist’s studio space Kāṇike in Cooke town, and Namma Katte, a place for leisure for the women and children of Lingarajapuram. The exhibition includes jointly produced works between Indu with women in Lingarajapuram and Namma Katte, which have been born out of conversations over the past two years, but also reflect the artist’s as well as the women’s mindscapes and identities. In one of these collaborations, Indu asked the women to sit together and stitch their names on a piece of cloth. The moment they see their art visually-their name on the stitched cloth, they felt a sense of identity and belonging. The artist marveled at their sublime moment of self-discovery and then the collaboration led to stitching different stories and texts on cloth.
As part of the Mindscapes exhibition, MAP will also showcase the work of Cecilie Falkenstrøm, the Mindscapes international artist in residence, titled I see it, so you don’t have to along with Christine Wong Yap’s co-created zines. Christine is a visual artist and social practitioner and also a Mindscapes artist in residence at large.
Cecilie Waagner Falkenstrøm’s work uses artificial intelligence technology to create a layered visual critique of the tech industry data labor practices, connecting it to larger questions of labor rights and the mental health of content moderators. Using jacquard looms, neural networks, and algorithms, Falkenstrøm invites the viewer to reflect on how contemporary ways of living influence one’s mental health and well-being.
Christine Wong Yap’s work involves weaving together activity sheets co-created with the participating groups. These zines made by them capturing the myriad sentiments and subjectivities of the idea of belonging. Christine has worked with different groups across the Mindscapes partner cities. She will facilitate an international exchange of a box set of zines among the participants in Bengaluru as well as New York City, Berlin, and Tokyo, collecting and sharing a varied and empowering collection of perspectives on the themes of identity and belonging. The Art for Thought will also be on display alongside these zines. The toolkit includes a set of mindful learning exercises developed by the Museum of Art & Photography and UnBox Cultural Futures Society seeks to recreate the reflective experience of engaging with a book in the form of a collection of thought experiments.
Expanding on the mental well-being outlook of the program, there will also be a screening of The film Kāḷaji nagara by Maitri Gopalakrishna and Debosmita Dam (Care/Concern City in Kannada). The film traces the journey of five groups who come together to care for each other’s well-being through drama and the arts. Based on elements from the unique nature and processes of each of the groups, the film observes the articulate meaning and expression of care and community. The film has made beautiful use of contemporary shadow puppetry, stop motion animation, and a rich sound design to carefully craft to story born out of gathering and analyzing data from interviews, process notes, images, and video recordings of participants and facilitators.
Mindscapes: In the company of others
Venues: Museum of Art & Photography, Indu Antony's studio space Kāṇike in Cooke town and Namma Katte
Opens: April 2023
On view till: August 2023
The jam-packed Mindscapes Bengaluru program addresses one of the most pertinent social issues, mental health, creatively through a range of cultural activities which includes an artist residency, a documentary film created by sanitation workers, exhibitions, and events. The program will provide new perspectives on how people and communities in different cultural and geographical contexts live with and seek solutions to their mental health concerns.