When it comes to mental health, who really knows best how to help?
That question will be explored in a fun but informative micro-festival The Expert View in east London next week organised by Daily Life Ltd, a Stratford-based charity led by artist Bobby Baker.
It will feature entertaining cabaret, thought-provoking performances, visual art and a specialist symposium – exploring arts and mental health.
“We want to examine who is the expert?,“ says Tuffnel Park resident Bobby.
“From my experience of being someone who was mentally ill and got better, one of the really pivotal things for me was realising it’s a collaboration and you have to develop what is personal to you that you like doing and use that as your strengths, rather than just being told what to do.“
Bobby was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 1996 and says: “I cracked up quite badly in the ‘90s partly to do with working too hard and the difficulty of making an income as an artist and raising two children.
“I was in the mental health system for 11 years and became very interested in it and started to make work about it myself.“
Her first big project, in 2000, saw her being driven around London yelling at passers-by to ’pull yourselves together’, and in 2007, she performed How to Live at the Barbican.
But it was her exhibition Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me at the Wellcome Collection, in 2009, that she says was a life-changing experience “The response was extraordinary. We got 55,000 visitors and it went on to be made into a book, which won Mind Book of the Year 2011. It was amazing and I thought I had had the good fortune to get better, so wanted to use it to find other work and get people looking at the subject.
“For me to get better was hard work and I had to stop thinking I was responsible for everything. I suddenly realised the world was mad not me.“ Bobby will host and compère the festival and there will also be performances about obsessive compulsive disorder, our relationship with food, a relaxed cabaret evening and the main symposium discussion, debate and performance, with artists, leading academics, activists and practitioners.
“All of the people performing have some personal experience of mental distress like me, “says Bobby. “They are people who are what we call experts by experience.
“In society there is so much more awareness of mental health, but there is still a feeling that you go to the doctor or psychiatrist and they will help you. We want to get people thinking a bit more about it and art has a great way of doing that.
“If you just sat people in a room to talk it would get shouty, but if you have great or funny art it somehow changes the situation.“
The Expert View takes place on May 7 and 8 at the Bromley by Bow Centre, Kingsley Hall and Queen Mary University in East London. Details: dailylifeltd.co.uk