Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings: Mental illness and me, 1997-2008
26 February 2009
Comprising 158 high quality photographic prints of watercolour paintings, the exhibition shows one person's experience of severe mental and physical illness and recovery.
The drawings chart Bobby's treatment in day hospitals and acute psychiatric wards, psychological therapies, medication and the NHS mental health 'system', as well as her family life, friends and work, and the joy of slowly getting better.
These figurative drawings use various styles, such as caricature, surrealism and the more classic techniques of life painting. The images, carefully selected by Bobby with her daughter Dora Whittuck, a trainee clinical psychologist, are drawn from 711 drawings made over the last 11 years.
The drawings are captioned by Bobby and present a clear account of her journey. The exhibition displays the harrowing realities of living with mental illness and society's lack of understanding, using artistry and humour to break down the barriers commonly associated with talking about mental health.
Image credit: Bobby Baker
Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings
19 March-2 August 2009
Press preview: Wednesday 18 March, 09.30-13.00
A chance to preview the exhibition and meet the artist and curators.
Contact Mike Findlay for details.
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
Gallery opening times
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10.00-18.00
Closed Monday (except bank holidays: 10.00-18.00)
About Bobby Baker
Bobby Baker is one of the most widely acclaimed and popular performance artists working today. She trained as a painter at St Martins School of Art but, on leaving, found cake and performance more effective ways to express her ideas. In her career of 35 years she has, among other things, driven around London strapped to the back of a truck screaming at passers by to "pull yourselves together" and cured pea patients with her performances of 'How to Live'.
"I never intended these drawings to be shown to anyone," explains Bobby Baker. "My friends at the day centre liked them, though, especially the horrific ones. The responses varied from gales of laughter to comments about my being barking mad. They also became a useful way of communicating with the 'professionals' involved in my care. From their desperate origins they grew into an essential part of my life as an artist.
"They seem to communicate, more effectively than words, aspects of what my experience of mental illness has been, on so many unexpected levels. A good dollop of humour sometimes comes in handy when looking at the darkest times."
Bobby began her diary drawings in 1997 when she became a patient at a day centre. They were a survival mechanism, a valuable way of processing and commenting on what she was going through. Originally private, they gradually became a way for her to communicate complex thoughts and emotions that are difficult to articulate to her family, friends and professionals.
Throughout this period Bobby has continued to work prolifically as an artist, raise a family and forge a successful career. The drawings illustrate many of the stories behind these achievements and the journey travelled - making these internal thoughts and feelings visible in a world where much mental anguish remains unseen.
A small collection of her diary drawings have been shown in a variety of galleries, hospitals and educational settings. This exhibition of 158 works, curated into 17 ''stages', will be the first time she has shared the drawings with a wider public.
Dr Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at the Wellcome Trust, commented: "Wellcome Collection has been a proud supporter of Bobby Baker's remarkable work for a long time. Her well-known performance pieces have done much to open up often-unconsidered aspects of domestic life and, more recently, mental health, to broad new audiences. Her brave decision to unveil these diary drawings through this exhibition shows her characteristic sharp wit and profound insights applied to an area of medicine too often shrouded with stigma."
Bobby Baker's work has been funded by the Wellcome Trust in the past - notably her sell-out Barbican show 'How to Live'. She is also an active campaigner for greater acceptance of and human rights for those categorised by society as 'disordered'.
Coinciding with 'Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings', and also on the theme of mental health, Wellcome Collection is launching 'Madness & Modernity' - an exhibition exploring architecture, art and mental illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire from 1890 to 1914 - on 1 April 2009.
Bobby Baker events, March-April 2009
To coincide with the exhibition, a lively programme of discussions, debates, performances and workshops will allow visitors to engage in dialogue about Bobby's work and mental health.
On the Mend...
Thursday 19 March, 19.00-20.30
Comparing recovery from physical and mental illness
What is the difference between recovering from a physical illness and from a mental illness, and is it possible to really 'get better'? We bring together those with professional and personal experience of life-threatening illnesses to explore these issues.
Speakers: Bobby Baker, artist; David Pilgrim, Professor of Mental Health Policy, University of Central Lancashire; Jill Cooper, Head of Occupational Therapy, the Royal Marsden Hospital.
Thursday 26 March, 19.00-20.30
Should psychiatry categorise personalities?
There are more than ten categories of personality disorder in use by psychiatrists today, such as antisocial, borderline, avoidant and dependent. What does it mean to be given one of these diagnoses? Are such categories useful and how have they come to pass? This event will explore one of our most contested diagnoses, from contemporary, historical and medical perspectives.
Speakers: Paul Moran, Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist, Institute of Psychiatry; Lisa Appignanesi, author of 'Mad, Bad and Sad'.
Bobby Baker in Conversation
Thursday 16 April, 19.00-20.30
An opportunity to hear from the artist about her life and work
'Bobby Baker's Diary Drawings' charts her experience of day centres, acute psychiatric wards, 'crisis' teams and a variety of treatments. This event will be a chance to hear directly from Bobby about her life, art and work. She will be joined in conversation by Kamaldeep Bhui, Professor of Cultural Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
Peas, Placards, Protest!
Saturday 18 April, 11.00-17.00
A day of workshops and protesting peas
Bobby Baker's Daily Life Ltd presents an inspiring posse of human campaigning peas - periodically protesting with placards and powerfully pertinent chants.
There are many silent 'p's in the professions that deal with the mind, whether in psychology, psychiatry or psychotherapy. All of us are patients and some of us are professionals, too. You can hear the 'p' in 'patient' but can you hear what we all really think? This day gives 'p's a chance to speak their minds.
You can also speak your own mind, by popping into the workshop, making your own placard and participating, if you feel like it!
All events are FREE but must be booked in advance - except for 'Peas, Placards, Protest!', where no booking is necessary.
For further information visit the Wellcome Collection website or call +44 (0)20 7611 2222.
Senior Media Officer (Wellcome Collection)
T +44 (0)20 7611 8612
Notes for editors
Bobby Baker is a woman and an artist. She lives in London, England. In her career of 35 years she has, among other things, danced with meringue ladies, made a life-size, edible and tasty cake version of her family, to be eaten by visitors, opened her kitchen to the public and subsequently many kitchens around the world, driven around the streets of London strapped to the back of a truck screaming at passers-by through a megaphone to !pull yourselves together" and cured thousands of her pea patients with their many 'unreasonable' psychological and behavioural problems with her Therapy Empire in 'How to Live'.
Major works include 'An Edible Family in a Mobile Home' (1976), 'Packed Lunch' (1979), 'Drawing on a Mother's Experience' (1988), 'The Daily Life Series 1-5' (1991-2001, commissioned by the London International Festival of Theatre), and five shows including 'Kitchen Show' (1991) and 'Box Story' (2001). Her work has been shown widely in the UK and abroad. Her major production, 'How to Live', funded by a Wellcome Trust Sciart Production Award and Arts Council England, was launched at the Barbican in London in 2004. It returned there in September 2006 and is touring nationally and internationally. Specially commissioned productions of selected shows have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
In 2005 Baker was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council Creative Fellowship in the English and Drama Department at Queen Mary, University of London. As part of her fellowship, a retrospective of her 35-year career, 'Bobby Baker: Redeeming features of daily life' (edited by Michèle Barrett and Bobby Baker) was published by Routledge in October 2007. She currently has a 0.2 Senior Research Fellowship at Queen Mary, where her work involves research into producing a major new artwork entitled 'A Model Family' in 2010. Much of her work is currently based on her own experience of mental illness, the British mental healthcare systems and practice, and the stigmatisation of people who are categorised as mentally ill.
Bobby Baker's company, Daily Life Ltd, is a charity, regularly funded by Arts Council England, based at Artsadmin, east London; it produces most of her work. The aims of the company are ambitious: to produce artworks that explore the value in this world of ambiguity, altruism, awareness, arithmetic, agony, accessibility, attention to detail, arduous application…oh and, of course, art - in a (dis)arming, amusing and occasionally alliterative way.
The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.
The Wellcome Trust's former headquarters, the Wellcome Building on London's Euston Road, has been redesigned by Hopkins Architects to become a new £30 million public venue. Free to all, Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises three galleries, a public events space, the Wellcome Library, a café, a bookshop, conference facilities and a members' club.