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Art in the Asylum exhibition

A major new arts and mental health exhibition, curated by IMH Arts Co-ordinator Dr Victoria Tischler and Dr Esra Plumer, ran from September to November 2013 in the Djanogly Art Gallery at the University of Nottingham.

Art in the Asylum, Creativity and the Evolution of Psychiatry presented the first examination of the evolution of artistic activity in British psychiatric institutions from the early 1880s to the 1970s. Highlighting key institutions and influential figures in the history of British mental healthcare, the exhibition traced the historical shift from invasive treatments of mental disorders to a more humane regime in which creativity played a significant role.

A video of the exhibition, with narration by  Dr Victoria Tischler and Dr Esra Plumer, is available on the Vimeo website.


The exhibition told the story of the strong influence of continental psychiatry on British practice, and the wider recognition of patient artwork by leading modern artists. Uncovering fascinating stories, this historical overview provided insight into the diagnostic and therapeutic use of patient artwork, its influence on the development of humane psychiatric practice, and its wider recognition by artists associated with Art Brut and so-called Outsider Art.

Running alongside Art in the Asylum  was a new video installation by Canadian artist Althea Thauberger featuring a performance of Peter Weiss' 1963 play Marat/Sade at the Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital, Prague, in 2012. Originally set in Charenton asylum, home to the infamous Marquis de Sade in 1808, it told the story of the bloody assassination of the revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday.

A time of great institutional reform, this period saw the beginning of the reformation of the treatment of mental illness from punishment to therapy. In the 1963 play, the inmates of the asylum enact the drama, and are always partly themselves, as 'patients', and partly in historical character. Thauberger's film included interviews with psychiatric staff and the patients at Bohnice, giving the participants a voice and raising questions about institutionalisation, power and self-determination.