NOTHING TO HIDE: Mental Illness in the Family

April 30, 2009 to May 23, 2009

In keeping with the mission of ArtRage to exhibit art of social importance, and in collaboration with NAMI Syracuse (National Alliance on Mental Illness), we presented an exhibit of art by and about survivors of schizophrenia. Jamie Campbell, featured in the photo essay of NOTHING TO HIDE, is a young woman with schizophrenia. “When I first got sick,” she says, “almost all of my friends gave up on me. One friend even called me a ‘schizoid’. For me, losing my friends is the saddest example of the stigma of mental illness.” Mike Campbell, Jamie’s Dad says, “Living with mental illness is a struggle and a real test of your faith, but getting through it proves that the human spirit can survive.”

The exhibit featured work of mixed media from three sources including the art of Amber Christian Osterhout, a Syracuse native, painter and family member dealing with mental illness in her family. Her series of richly colored paintings titled Gaining Insight gave us a glimpse into a world as frightening for family as it is for those afflicted. Also on display was a photo essay from Family Diversity Projects offering photographic portraits by co-founder Gigi Kaeser and compelling stories from interviews conducted by Jean Beard and co-founder Peggy Gillespie of family members who demonstrate strength, courage and accomplishment in the face of adversity and stigma. Also featured was artwork from courageous local artists, Zachary Penfield, Wayne Turner, Barb Higgens, James P. McCampbell and Fred Hickey who are currently consumers of the mental health system.

Films and presentations accompanied this exhibit throughout the month featuring psychologists Bill Cross and Shelia LeGacy and artist Amber Christian Osterhout.

ARTIST STATEMENT: Amber Christian Osterhout

I am so inspired by my brother’s courage to overcome this serious illness. I realize how our views of mental illness have become skewed by misperceptions and stereotypes. It is very important to evaluate how we react and contribute to this stigma. Through this exhibit, it is my goal to educate and inspire others so that they may view mental illness in a positive light. By gaining insight, we may begin to erase stigma. Those affected by schizophrenia or another mental disorder should be commended for their bravery, not judged.

I dedicate this exhibit to my brother, my inspiration, my hero.

Born and raised in Syracuse, New York, I am one of five siblings. As a shy child in a large family, art has brought life to my imagination and has shown others what I am not able to express with words.

My love for creativity has never overshadowed my interest in medicine. As a long-term goal to become a doctor, I obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY, with intentions of becoming a physician’s assistant. However, I soon realized how important it was to me to allow my creative side to flourish. I decided to go back to college and study graphic design, and at the same time, I worked as a tissue culture technician at Taconic Biotechnology. Two years later, I received an Associate of Arts degree in graphic design from Sage College, Albany, NY.

I currently work at Shannon-Rose Design, Saratoga Springs, NY, as an art director. Working in this field has shown me the role graphics play in all forms of communication. When my brother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, I was inspired to create an art exhibit titled Gaining Insight. This exhibit is designed to educate others about the reality of mental illness. Through this exhibit, I was able to demonstrate both my creative and educational backgrounds to examine the relationship between mental illness and stigma.

About NAMI Syracuse

NAMI Syracuse has served the Central New York area since 1981 and is a non-profit, self-help, support and advocacy organization of families and friends of people with psychiatric diagnoses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression), sever depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders and other severe mental illnesses that affect the brain. They advocate on a county, state and federal level to expand opportunities for rehabilitation and recovery for all persons affected by serious psychiatric disorders.

About Family Diversity Projects

Congressman Barney Frank said of this organization, “Believers in free speech and other basic American values should welcome this contribution to information about who we are in all of our diversity.” Family Diversity Projects, a non-profit organization in Amherst, Massachusetts, has created six award-winning traveling rental photo-text exhibits that tour communities nationwide and internationally. By educating people of all ages to recognize, support, and celebrate the full range of diversity, their exhibits are designed to help reduce prejudice, stereotyping, and harassment of all people who are perceived to be “different” from the “norm.” In another testimonial to the value of exhibits like NOTHING TO HIDE, Martin Luther King III says, “Thank you for the opportunity to view a powerful expression of truth by many families. May change come from those who have the opportunity to view it.”