In an ethereal display of art, ninety-nine unrecognizable faces representing the lives of those who live with the symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, have been amalgamated with the faces of those who love them nonetheless, making it impossible for viewers to distinguish who is who.
The portraits are one of four components of the Many Faces of Our Mental Health exhibit, which will open on Saturday at the Museum of Science in Boston. The exhibit is part of an effort to transform the way people view mental health. The sculptor behind the captivating creation, Marblehead’s Lynda Michaud Cutrell, says that “the idea is that no one is really that different.” Cutrell, who received assistance from the National Alliance on Mental Illness Cape Ann and other local supporters, began working on the project 8 years ago, with the intent of bridging the gap between art and science.
Not only does Cutrell’s mission aim to influence the way people view mental health, it also acknowledges the science linked to the broad spectrum of symptoms, from acute to chronic. “I’m trying to change the way people think about mental health,” said Cutrell.
After successfully trying her hand in the world of investment, Cutrell decided to follow her passion for the arts; an area where she also flourished. She then attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and earned a degree while completing an additional fifth year of studies. At that time, she began to paint and explore different outdoor scene techniques as well.
“But when a family member became ill with symptoms of mental illness, it had a powerful impact and I couldn’t paint landscapes anymore,” said Cutrell. “When anyone in your family gets sick, whether with a mental illness or any other illness, everyone has the same reaction. You think, what do I do about this? What can I learn about this? So I delved into the scientific research.”
Having reached out to Dr. Bruce Cohen, director of McLean Hospital’s Program for Neuropsychiatric Research, Cutrell was given a personal tour of the lab in Belmont and was able to meet with the researchers as well. “I had a lot of hope about the future from what I saw under the microscope,” said Cutrell. “So many families suffer in silence, and I thought about communicating the research through art. I had never seen people in recovery from mental illness symptoms, and I started to investigate that. I met so many doctors, lawyers and actresses, among others.”
After becoming active with the National Alliance on Mental Illness on a national level, and later with NAMI Cape Ann, Cutrell learned that those who suffer from mental illnesses can lead fulfilling lives. Cutrell cited Dr. Mark Vonnegut, son of author Kurt Vonnegut as an example of such, as he wrote The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity and is included in the 99 Faces Project: Portraits Without Labels portion of Many Faces of Our Mental Health. “He suffered a psychotic break in his early 20s, but he managed to go to medical school and has a great practice in Massachusetts,” said Cutrell.
“In the media, you only hear about the horrible stories. My hope is that for all the individuals who face that new diagnosis, that they don’t give up. Symptoms wax and wane, and a good life is still there,” she further stated.
Cutrell was wholly interested in showing the authentic, real-life aspects of how people cope with their mental illnesses. “This is not to say it goes away, and not to say it’s not an enormous challenge, but success is out there and I wanted to show the other side. I wanted to show the hope,” said Cutrell.
She further stated that, “most exhibits about people with these symptoms show dark pictures of people who are alone and isolated. But that is only part of it. That doesn’t have to be someone’s entire life.” Cutrell used an array of faces for her portraits. Of those was Glenn Close, an advocate for mental health. Her other subjects ranged from identical twins to award-winning authors.
Many Faces of Our Mental Health can be seen at the Museum of Science in Boston through October 1st, 2017. For more information, please visit http://www.mos.org/
This piece is based on an article by Gail McCarthy for the Newbury Port News, which can be seen here.