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Exploring the link between art and mental health

Robert McLaughlin Gallery and Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health ambassadors team together for new exhibit “In Our Minds”

Ian Hakes, Lori Lane-Murphy and Jordon Beenen, ambassadors for Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, created pieces for the “In Our Minds” exhibit at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

he newest exhibit at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery focuses on art through the lens of mental illness.

“In Our Minds” is the end result of a long collaboration between RMG and the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences.

Exhibit curator Sonya Jones told The Oshawa Express that gallery officials wanted to promote its permanent collections in a way that also engaged the community.

Earlier this year, Jones reached out to Ontario Shores, and partnered with three ambassadors Jordon Beenen, Ian Hakes and Lori Lane-Murphy.

Beenen, Hakes and Lane-Murphy have all faced struggles with mental illness.

Jones says they engaged the trio with works by Painters Eleven, a collective of abstract artists, who founded their group at a cottage located near the Oshawa-Whitby city boundary.

Beenen, Hakes and Lane-Murphy chose pieces that connected with their personal experiences to be displayed in the exhibit.

“They also actually responded to those works in creative ways,” Jones added, as the three contributed poems, paintings and videos to the exhibit as well.

For Jones, abstract artwork may provide a more personal connection than other mediums.

“There’s creative expression that is open for interpretation, people can see themselves and their own stories within it, as opposed to seeing a portrait or landscape which tells one story,” she notes.

The RMG owns the largest collection of Painters Eleven material in the world.

Jones says the exhibit is a “new, exciting way” to promote that collection, and also “encourage a conversation within the community about mental health.”

Oshawa Shores CEO Karim Mamdani said the exhibit allowed three people with mental health issues to show their creative side.

It develops the idea that “people who suffer from mental issues can have this incredible talent and energy that they can bring to society, and our failure as a society is when we shun them or put them away in different places,” he adds.

Beenen, who is bipolar, says prior to this year he had a very negative relationship with art. After his prior attempts at creative work, Beenen was told his art was “subpar,” and not indicative of someone with talent, and his role was as an “observer, never a creator.”

Taking part in “In Our Minds” also allowed him to break free of being defined by his mental health.

“Previous to this experience, my mental illness was a label, one that I identified myself with. It came with a preconceived notion of ‘this is all I have to offer the world, this is all I will ever be,’” he says.

“This afforded me the opportunity to be an important person,” he adds.