The Bethlem Gallery is a unique place. It sits in the middle of the leafy campus that makes up the Bethlem Royal Hospital on the outskirts of southeast London, and is a space that supports and exhibits artists who are current or former patients. Its current exhibition, IN/DI/VISIBLE, takes as its starting point Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s trilogy of films, Finding Fanon. Frantz Fanon is best known as a philosopher and revolutionary, who in his short life inspired many liberation movements and contributed to the fields of post-colonialism and critical theory. He was also a psychiatrist, and his 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks examined the psychological effects on black people of colonial rule.
The exhibition features work that explores themes of race, identity and globalisation, and includes self-portraits and a work using discarded e-cigarette packaging, all from past or current patients at the Bethlem. It’s worth a visit for these alone, but the central piece, Finding Fanon, is what really struck me. Achiampong and Blandy collaborated with a current patient of the Bethlem’s medium-secure services, Mr X, to create an environment in which to show the three films. Mr X has sourced materials from the hospital buildings and grounds, and created a sculpture that incorporates three screens, showing the films, surrounded by the detritus of hospital life: we see crutches, a wire trolley for ferrying notes around, a discarded motherboard and a guillotine.
The result is arresting and hypnotic – as you watch these seminal films your eye is drawn to the pieces around the screens, and the provocations of Fanon blend with the mundane, and with questions about Mr X – why these pieces, what did they mean to him, who is he, has he been thrown away along with the crutches?
Fanon died in 1961 from leukaemia, in his mid-thirties. I like to think he would have been pleased to see his legacy survive in this way and in this setting. However, I suspect he’d be less pleased to see that many of the issues touched on in his writings persist. This is a cultural review, not a political one, so I’ll stop here, but for me, the best art is political. Do go and see the films in this unique setting.
- Reviewed by Sally Marlow, who is Engagement and Impact Fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, and Associate Editor for Culture
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