Exploring mental health through art
Burmese photographer Shwe Wutt Hmon documents her sister’s struggle with schizophrenia through mixed media works in the exhibition Noise and Cloud and Us. (Photo: Shwe Wutt Hmon)

Exploring mental health through art

An introspective photo art exhibition by emerging Burmese photographer Shwe Wutt Hmon, 35, in collaboration with her younger sister, hopes to encourage more people to have open conversations about mental health.

Her exhibition, Noise and Cloud and Us, features photographic and mixed media work that documents her sister’s struggle with schizophrenia and how she deals with her sister’s mental illness. It is exhibited at the visual arts space Objectifs until 18 Jul.

Read on as the photographer, who is based in Myanmar, shares why she chooses to explore trauma through her photos and feature her personal life in her art.

What made you decide to create the deeply personal work?

I have always been more interested in the simplicity of daily life and ordinary things as compared to big ideas. I am always inspired to tell personal stories of people and things that are very close to my heart.

One of my close friends encouraged me to photograph my sister when she started experiencing paranoia two years ago. Initially, I questioned why I would do that, but as an artist who is also struggling with mental health problems, I realised it might be an interesting topic to explore. The final push came when I had to spend the COVID-19 lockdown in Myanmar with my sister in her deteriorating condition.

What did you try to capture through the photos? 

This project reflects my experience of coping with mental illness in the family, and also my sister’s experience of schizophrenia. Even though I can never understand how she feels, or know what she is going through, I get a brief look into her world from her struggles with hallucinatory sounds and delusional paranoia.

How has this project impacted your relationship with your sister?

My sister gave me permission to photograph her at her most vulnerable and allowed me to turn my lens on her private and difficult life. Because of this project, we have become a lot closer as sisters and as collaborating artists.

What impact do you hope your work will have?

I want my images to move people to see, question, talk and think about mental health, and its underlying issues. While I don’t expect my work to make a substantial change in society, I want to believe that my work will be able to act as a catalyst to advocate for and promote conversations about mental health.

Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.

Learn more about Noise and Cloud and Us here.

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