Equity and Identity
The sane/insane question is a sometimes silent, but always present, aspect of survivor culture. In the Still Sane project, both artists identified as survivors, but found that viewers and reviewers sometimes responded differently to each of them because Sheila’s survivor experience was more front and centre than Persimmon’s. Difficulties also arose periodically within Solidarité Psychiatrie’s programming and cultural initiatives between those who had psychiatric survivor histories and those who did not. In other projects, such as Maladjusted, participants said they didn’t believe that there was a divide between survivors and non-survivors, and the survivors involved felt the experience was empowering.
In a cultural territory with an explicit social justice agenda, equity needs to be understood as a complex issue. In survivor culture, art has been employed as a vehicle to explore intersections between mental health inequities and other forms of discrimination and marginalization. The Crazymaking project and some essays in Shrink Resistant make clear the effect of colonization on mental health for Indigenous peoples. Likewise, the Still Sane project focuses on the historical treatment of queer people by the psychiatric establishment. The projects showcased here only just begin to open the door to an understanding of how gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, and economic circumstance, among other forms of oppression, complicate a mental health diagnosis.
Most of the projects showcased in this exhibit were initiated and completed by people who identify as psychiatric survivors, though some don’t use that label. A few prefer to be described as consumers, a term that does not fit the activist, engaged history we tell here. Others connected to the exhibits, most notably the young artists involved in the Crazymaking project, don’t identify with any specific mental health term. We chose to use the word “survivor” not because it is perfect, but because it is perhaps the best descriptor among those available.