Durham Oriental Museum teams up with mental health charity to create its latest exhibition

Service users from Sunderland based The Art Studio are exhibiting their work at the Durham museum for three months

A mental health charity has launched the most high profile exhibition in its 25 year history as part of a partnership to make a museum more accessible to the community.

No Stigma Attached, at Durham’s Oriental Museum, will run until April 29 and has seen the university-run museum team up with Sunderland-based mental health charity The Art Studio.

The Art Studio is a referral based charity which treats people with issues across the mental health spectrum from depression to even more debilitasting problems.

At a year in the making, the exhibition is not just one of the longest running projects attempted by the group, it is also one of its most prestigious.

It is hoped thousands of visitors will view the work during its three month run.

Catherine Warwick, artist coordinator at the Art Studio, said Oriental Museum project coordinator Lauren Barnes was behind the push.

She said: “It all started through a link with one of our professional artists, who was a friend of Lauren at the Oriental Museum.

“Lauren is really trying to get the museum known out in the community.

“We, as a charity, are looking to get our members outside of the Art Sudio, and this was a perfect match really.”

Members were taken on a visit to the museum from the Art Studio’s Sunderland base and focused on the Indian gallery at the centre.

Catherine added: “They wanted us to produce some art work inspired by the objects we’d seen in the Indian Gallery - that work has formed the exhibition that’s just opened.

“The project has gone on for a year and around 20 of our artists have been involved.

“This is the largest project we have done over the course of the year. It’s the biggest project and probably the most prestigious.”

Exhibition at the Oriental museum Durham
Exhibition at the Oriental museum Durham

As well as providing a showcase for the group’s work which could expose it to thousands of visitors, the exhibition has helped people battling depression and other mental health issues overcome some of the challenges faced in day to day life.

Helen Robson returned to the North East after being forced to leave her job as a teacher in Leeds last year due to depression.

She completed three pieces of work which were included in the exhibition - and described the experience as liberating.

She said: “I started with the group in the past three months.

“I helped Cath to set up the exhibition and put work on the walls - it was really interesting seeing the work that goes into putting an exhibition on.

“I felt quite proud to see my work up there.

“I trained as a primary school teacher and worked for 19 years but I have a long standing history of depression and it got worse and worse to the point I had to give up work.

“I moved back to the North East from Leeds to be closer to my family.

“I’ve always had a keen interest in art and they have been over-joyed by the fact that I have come here, it has made a marked difference.

“For me it’s felt massive, the benefit has been huge.”

The exhibition’s name was inspired by what is considered to be the centre piece, a lotus flower made up of the casts of hands of the artists providing a play on words title for the exhibition based on the floral connection but curators have also described the as an analogy for life with a journey through dark waters before blossoming.

The museum was opened by Durham University in 1960 to help support teaching at the university.

The first Director of the School, Prof William Thacker, believed that students needed to understand the material culture of the countries they were studying, not just the language and literature and he set about creating a teaching and research collection for the school.

As time has gone on it has become a tourist attraction in its own right regularly bringing in more than 30,000 visitors a year and performing outreach work with schools across the North East.

The exhibition includes work in a variety of media and styles - paintings, lino-cuts prints, sculptures, drawings and ceramics.

Project co-ordinator Lauren Barnes, of The Oriental Museum said: “My job is to improve access to the museum collections and work with groups, and people, who may not have been to the museum.

“We got involved with the Art Studio.

“The great thing for them is it has really helped to boost their members confidence, everyone was just so happy and so proud of what they had achieved.”

The exhibition created by people with health issues at the Oriental museum Durham
The exhibition created by people with health issues at the Oriental museum Durham

Lauren said after a visit to the museum members of the Art Studio took inspiration from techniques on display at the gallery from screen printing to sculpture - many of which have formed the exhibition.

She added: “Using the museum’s collections as a starting point, we have explored many different aspects of South Asian art and culture”.

“It’s been fantastic to see the artists’ confidence grow and their work develop over the last year.

“I was surprised by the range of work they produced.

“There are ceramics, prints - a lot of pieces on display.

“For me the personal highlight is a video we have playing which was created by the members on a look at how things have been made.

“It shows how everything came together and you can just see the hard work and the effort people have put in.

“It’s been great to see how it’s worked.”

The exhibition will run until April 19 at Durham University’s Oriental Museum, Elvet Hill, Durham.

The work displayed is a mixture of individual pieces and group artworks.

The Oriental Museum is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and from 12pm to 5pm on weekends and bank holidays.

Entry to the museum and the temporary exhibition is £1.50 for adults, 75p for children and concessions, and free for children under-5s and for Oriental Museum friends, students, members of Durham University, Armed Forces, Museums Association, Art Fund members.

“No Stigma Attached” is being supported by the Arts Council for England.


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